Sunday 13 February 2022

Five Poems by Peter J. Donnelly




I saw them once at Aberystwyth Pier,

before I knew what a murmuration was,

or even that they were starlings,

nevermind their Welsh name, or if they had one.

Again years later near the racecourse

as we walked by the canal.

Today they fly over your garden,

I was going to say like plumes of smoke

from your chiminea, then I see that

in fact it is smoke.  When they come

in the other direction they are not camouflaged,

but like tea leaves in glass as the water's poured,

or glitter in a snow globe.

It's not their call you hear

but the flapping of their wings;

not the size of the flock that surprises,

but that of the birds themselves. 


Your Second Book


I was never in your house

but often in your car - maroon,

I couldn’t guess the model.

You always left it at the bottom

of the difficult driveway to Pant-y-Nos

so that we could walk and talk

before and after Meeting.


You didn’t go the long way

to Capel Dewi, but I think I liked

your lifts best.  I was flattered

you remembered me from the workshop,

I’m sure you meant it when you said

that I wrote some good stuff.

I was glad but not surprised


when I found your first collection

in a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye,

but when years later I came across

your second in Oxfam in York

I almost wished I didn’t have it already,

hadn’t read it several times.

Why couldn’t it have been your third?


I wonder who it belonged to,

where they got it,

why did they give it away?

Had these things been different,

so would this poem have been.

Whether it would have been better,

neither you nor I can say. 


Many Mysteries


I’ll never know what colour

the Nigella flowers would have been

or if the seeds ever sprouted

that I sowed in a plastic pot

and put next to the Christmas Rose

my mother placed by your headstone.


I’ll never know if the pot blew away

or if vandals stole it.  I wonder

what you’d have thought -

maybe you’d have laughed,

as you did when you heard

that one of the chocolates


in the box you bought my great-aunt

had a beetle inside.  You weren't there

when she bit into it, but could just see her,

as I can see you now, looking down

on Christ Church, snoozing, waking up

and saying, what happened to my flowers? 




I never knew which came first -

the colour or the fruit,

like the chicken and the egg. 


Nor did I know why we didn’t say carrot, 

for I’d never seen a purple carrot,

perhaps not even a blood orange


which is only red inside.

Did I wonder why we didn’t

call lemons yellows, or limes greens?


I knew mustard was a 

different shade of yellow, 

grass a deeper tone of green.


Blackberries were black

although their juice was not,

and if we said something  


was apricot-coloured

we didn’t mean it was orange,

though of course it was. 


Coming Back to Iris Murdoch


It's fifteen years since I last read A Word Child.

I take it off the bookshelf and out falls a bookmark

from Endeavour Books.  I’d forgotten I bought it in Whitby


that weekend in September I came home.

The novel will always remind me

of my last winter in Lampeter,


in the flat above the Mustard Seed,

as I worked towards my M.A.  I little knew then

that when I came to read it again


I’d be the same age as its hero-narrator,

that the book would go with me to Aberystwyth

and then back to Yorkshire, survive four house moves,


the bookmark from Whitby staying inside.

It’s not the lounge or my bedroom where I read it 

that I think of, but for some reason that narrow kitchen


where I cooked pesto pasta on dark evenings,

the flavour reminding me of those days

like chocolate does Hilary Burde of his tragic past.

Peter J Donnelly lives in York where he works as a hospital secretary.  He has a degree in English Literature and a MA in Creative Writing from the University of Wales Lampeter. 

He has been published in various magazines and anthologies including Dreich and Writer's Egg, and recently won second prize in the Ripon Poetry Festival Competition.

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