Thursday 17 November 2022

Four Poems by Jeanna Louise Ni Riordain

 




Clair-Obscur

 

One December afternoon on Patrick Street

As I was waiting for my friend

Two elderly street photographers approached me

And asked if they could take my picture

 

I agreed and they instructed me to fix my posture

To relax and put my shoulders back

As it was nearly Christmas, everyone was in good spirits

I had on a sequinned dress and a red check scarf

 

When my friend arrived, they took our picture

Capturing us in just one snap

With their vintage, hand-held camera

Its enormous lens and booming flash

 

Afterwards, I shared my details and we parted ways

The two gentlemen went to take more pictures

Like they did every Saturday afternoon for the last fifty years

My friend and I headed off to the museum

 

They never sent our photograph and I often wondered why

Had they mislaid my details or did they just forget?

Was the picture grainy, was the photo not developed?

Or was one of us only smiling a half-smile?

 

Some time later, my friend stopped being my friend

Without any reason or explanation or even saying goodbye

I had no choice but to move on and accept

We were no longer in each other’s life

 

It’s a pity that, in the end, all we remember is the way things end

Not the sweetness of new beginnings, not the good times in between

All the little moments that make up a friendship

Though fleeting, no less real

 

Sometimes, I wish they’d sent that photo, to have as a memento

Of that perfect day when we were still good friends

But instead it’s just a blurry, ever-fading memory

Forever lost in the endless rolls of film.

 

 

Strafsingen

 

(Strafsingen refers to the practice of punitive singing imposed on prisoners in Nazi concentration camps.)

 

Sing in the mornings

On the march to work

Sing in the evenings

During the interminable rollcalls

 

Sing as they raise their batons and yell ‘not loud enough!’

Sing out from your tired, raw throats

Sing until every last sap of energy

Has been used up

 

Sing the old folk songs

That remind you of another life

Sing forth each ‘infernal note’

Every slow and tortuous line

 

Sing whenever the guards demand it

Sing on command

Sing while they drink and kill

Sing while you starve

 

Sing ‘Ave Maria’

When they hold a gun to your head

Sing, sing aloud when they kick and punch you

And beat you to the ground

 

Sing for your choir mates

Being directed towards their death

Sing and don’t stop singing

Until you’ve sung your last breath.

 

 

Death Camp

 

for the suicide victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau

 

They flung themselves on the electric wires

In an act of certain suicide

From the watchtowers

The machine guns fired

 

I admire them

For this final act of defiance

They chose death on their own terms

They found their own way of escaping Hell. 

 

 

Untimely

 

I’d never been to a funeral like that

Even before the mass started

The crowds gathered inside the church,

And outside in the churchyard, were already crying

 

Mourners went to sympathise with your family

Whose eyes were completely glazed over

As if they’d been put in a medicated stupor

Just to get through the day

 

In his sermon, the priest recalled

How he baptised you in the same church

And praised the lasting impact you had made

In your short but precious life

 

I remember thinking as I watched your boyfriend

Carry out your coffin in his ill-fitting, rented suit

How young and vulnerable he looked

To shoulder the burden of such grief

 

The graveyard was a long drive away

When we got there, I was struck

By how lonely it looked, with no pretty views,

No planted trees, miles from anywhere

 

I watched as they lowered your coffin

Into that cold, unsheltered spot

Before returning to the car

And crying all the long journey home.




Jeanna Louise Ní Ríordáin is an Irish-language translator and language tutor from West Cork, Ireland. She has a PhD in French literature, a BA in Irish and French and an MA in French, all from University College Cork.

She has always loved writing and has recently started writing poetry. Her work has been featured in The Quarryman and Poetry in the Time of Coronavirus: The Anthology, Volume Two. Among her favourite poets are Victor Hugo, W.B. Yeats, and Langston Hughes.





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