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Denise Blake

Copyright © Denise Blake 2018

First published in Ireland by

Revival Press

Limerick, Ireland

Revival Press is the poetry imprint of

The Limerick Writers’ Centre

12 Barrington Street, Limerick, Ireland




All rights reserved

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Book Design: Lotte Bender

Cover Image: Standing on Rutland, Artist Lisa McGill (www.lisamcgillatsea.com)

Author Image: Damien Blake

Managing Editor: Dominic Taylor

ISBN 978-0-9957333-7-4

A CIP catalogue number for this publication is available from The British Library

We acknowledge the support of The Limerick Writers’ Centre Community

Publishing Project


The financial support of Donegal Co Council

For Ríain, Noah and Willow

May they carry the stories forward

And Laurence



The following poems have previously been published or broadcast:

The Beaching - The SHOp magazine of poetry, Numéro Cinq

– Uimhir a Cúig

Rutland Island Lore - Stony Thursday no.14

For Sale: 1091 Bonnieview - Sunday Miscellany RTE Radio 1 The Dream Turns - Numéro Cinq

My Father’s Hands - Sunday Miscellany Faded in the Shadows - Boyne Berries Lines from West Cork - Southward Journal After the Shortest Day - Sunday Miscellany

In Times of Candle Light – Sunday Miscellany Christmas Show Dear Muse - Three Drops from a Cauldron

Becoming Shepherds - Sunday Miscellany This is the way it is - Spontaneity Breathings - North West Words Spaces Beyond the Front Door - Poethead Poetry Blog

Mother Goddess - North West Words magazine, Numéro Cinq Mother Goose - Three Drops from a Cauldron Lughnasadh 2017 anthology

Circus Days - Sunday Miscellany, Numéro Cinq Blending - Sunday Miscellany Moving House - Sunday Miscellany

Ultrasound - Poethead Poetry Blog

Grattan Beach - Skylight 47

Butterfly House - Sunday Miscellany

The Breaking - Sunday Miscellany

Seaweed and Rotten Potatoes - Numéro Cinq

Banishing Snakes - Abridged 0-37

Rural Sounds – Sunday Miscellany Invocation - The Irish Times, Numéro Cinq

Towards Rathmullan - on CD, The Donegal Collection, Donegal Hospice

Full Sail - Sunday Miscellany

Aboard - Numéro Cinq

With grateful thanks to Joan and Kate Newmann, Summer Palace Press for my collections, Take a Deep Breath and How to Spin Without Getting Dizzy; to Errigal Writers for all their support; the Poets’ House, Falcarragh; Afric McGlinchey, Kevin Higgins, Garden Room Writers, and the Art Dogs Group who all have prompted some of these poems; Maureen Curran for her advice; Imelda Maguire for her proofing skills, her lovely blurb and all her support; Moyra Donaldson for her kind words and encouragement; Traolach O’Fionnan, Donegal County Council Art’s Officer. Thank you to Sunday Miscellany producers Cliodhna Ni Anluain, Aoife Nic Cormaic and Sarah Binchy. With special thanks to Lisa McGill for her wonderful image for the book cover. To Dominic Taylor and the community of Limerick Writers’ Centre, thank you for publishing this collection.

And finally, thank you to those in my community who continue to encourage my work with those words in greeting: “Are you still writing? Good!”


Layers Of Time 11

The Beaching 12

Rutland Island Lore 13

Embedded In My Name 14

A Summer’s Picnic 15

For Sale: 1091 Bonnieview Avenue 16

The Return Home 18

The Dream Turns 19

Lady Liberty 20

Lost In Photographs 21

Crockery 22

Tastes 23

My Father’s Hands 24

Faded In The Shadows 25

Lines From West Cork 26

Setting The Pendulum 28

Lough Salt 29

In Flight 30

After The Shortest Day 31

In Times Of Candle Light 32

Shape-Clouding 33

Dear Muse 34

Denise Believes 35

If I Could 36

The Bridging Meal 37

Becoming Shepherds 38

Love Sestina 40

This Is The Way It Is 42

Breathings 43

Beyond The Front Door 44

In The Middle Of A Boston Wedding 45

Mother Goddess 46

Mother Goose 47

And They All Lived Happily 48

Against Words 49

Moving House 50

Turbulence 51

Circus Days 52

Blending 54

Ultrasound 55

Grattan Beach 56

Butterfly House 57

Conversations In Derry 58

The Visitor 59

The Breaking 60

Rutland Island Urchins 61

Waiting For The Island Boat 62

Seaweed And Rotten Potatoes 63

Deliverance 64

Banishing Snakes 65

Surfacing 66

Signs Of Prayer 67

Rural Sounds 68

The Rabble Children 69

Invocation 70

Crossing Borders 71

Towards Rathmullan 72

Full Sail 73

Aboard 74

Note On Revival Press 75


Layers Of Time

A small silver rock, shaped into a heart,

lies on the shoreline. Layers were compacted, heart upon heart, moment upon moment, fusing into a strong physical presence.

All the threes around: three grey terriers weave along the water’s edge, three whooper swans fly towards the wild ocean, three oystercatchers feast off the low tide, they source abundance.

Rushes clutch to the rise and fall of sand dunes. Damp moss clings to bare granite and to a rusting anchor, in a choking invasion or soft protection; only each host knows what it receives.

Close my eyes, condense the richness into a perfume of sound and touch: a child laughs, waves lap

as lightly as a spoon-stir in a cup, the wind breathes on my neck and brings my cheeks to full flush.

I catch a thought before if takes hold, if only the sea was in high tide, it would be breathtaking. If only: two words as invasive as the moss.

Take a deep breath, there is beauty

already in this moment. When I next return to this place, time will have passed. Slivers

of moments upon moments, fusing into a lifetime.



The Beaching

The pod of whales beached themselves on Rutland Island, chose the isolated sweep of the Back Strand to come ashore. My grandmother in her final years would have understood.

Those long-finned pilot whales suffered some trauma, became distressed and confused. And so for her that winter when told her grownup daughter had died suddenly.

Three years later, hearing that her eldest had also passed on threw something within her off-kilter. Sent her mind homing towards the Back Strand.

The whales had wandered together, over thirty of them, swam through Scottish waters to the Sound of Arranmore, heading towards the crescent of shoreline and their ending.

She would have understood, the Rutland-born woman

who had long left the island but yearned for that place; called

for it constantly, rose from her sickbed in the middle of the night.

I need to go now. They will be waiting; it will soon be low tide. She wanted to journey, follow those already gone,

float ashore, let grief beach her there on the Back Strand.



Rutland Island Lore

The beached whales are gone from the Back Strand.

She stands where over thirty had lain rotting

and says, I tell you, they were here.

Long-finned pilot whales, their fierce silence,

their bruised peeling. I tell you, they left deep indents

in the sand that I believed would stay forever.

Her father stands at the island’s granite jetty

where he used to watch trawler after trawler pass by. He says, I tell you, I heard them, the way their engines would slow down in gears, the sky filled with seagulls, the way the water divided in a white wash

rushing to my feet. I thought they would always be here.

Her grandfather stands on the grass of Duke Street, names the litany of souls in the slate-terraced houses. He says, I tell you, the sixteen families would mix through each other’s homes. There was so much life.

The schoolhouse, pub, customs house. How they rowed to the Port. I thought there would always be islanders here.

They carry the stories: scraw cut from soggy bogs, herring-saturated waters, seamen who navigated

by instinct, Napper Tandy landing with French forces, whole buildings lost under shifting sandstorms,

and how, even on these Rosses islands nothing would grow when the potatoes rotted.



Embedded In My Name

The woman on security at Belfast airport said, Fill out this boarding form, and don’t forget your new name. I can spot newlyweds a mile off. Earlier, sunlight had shone through cathedral stained glass windows as McGill became Blake.

Years beforehand, a young bride was seasick

on the ocean crossing to their new life in the States when Eileen McGlinchey had become McGill. Before that, before she had even met Basil McGill, herself and a friend spent an office afternoon picking names for an imaginary daughter. Denise appeared from the ether, hung in anticipation.

Way before that, Mary Callaghan met Pat McGill who had travelled from Gortnavilly to Schull. Neither knew that spores of dread lay in his lungs, would make her a widow with small children, his name on a gravestone with Callaghan in-laws.

Parallel to that, Sarah Boyle left her island home to marry her suitor, a newly qualified vet,

under the disapproving eyes of Mother McGlinchey.

Before that, Sea Captain Boyle met Brigid Melvin

in a boarding house in Ballina, married her, spirited her away to a salt-soaked island where only potatoes grew.

And moving forward from them all: the Blake name carries forth, our sons grow onward, the trail continues.



A Summer’s Picnic

Back in the Sixties: a weather-worn picnic table covered in paper plates, jugs of iced tea, bowls of Mom’s coleslaw and sauerkraut, Tupperware with cold cuts and home-bakes as family converge at the centre of the park. Children on the seesaw and swings, a lifeguard blows his whistle at the pool, squirrels run up trees, the ants begin their invasion.

Cleveland is on the distant skyline. Lake Erie will freeze over in the winter. Early next summer,

I’ll belly-flop off the high dive, my brother will fall

from a slide. A storm will rise violent off the water

on a July 4th. in the future. The time approaches

when we’ll be visited by loss. Not this day, as we gather

around a sturdy table, laden with love and security.



For Sale: 1091 Bonnieview Avenue

This single-family residence is in Lakewood, Ohio.

A colonial-style building, white aluminium siding,

central location, suitable for raising young children. Two flags fly from the front porch: the Stars and Stripes and a Tricolour, although the Irish credentials of 1091 are well documented and don’t necessarily need flag-waving.

The porch contains a glider and chairs that can be covered by car-rugs, shaped as tents during summer sleepovers. Living-room area is dilapidated in a cozy, kids-running-about, kind of way. The fireplace mantle carries stockings for Santa and various school-made ornaments. Dining room has space for Sunday brunches and Thanksgiving dinners.

The sparsely furnished kitchen holds a homely atmosphere filled with aromas of freshly baked yeast-bread or chocolate Whoopie Pies. Side-entrance with screen door is perfectly placed mid-house for the return-from-school shout, Mom! I’m home! Stairs lead on down to the basement for shelter during Kansas-type tornadoes and nightmares of Oz.

This residential property has four bedrooms and one full bath. A bathroom door opens onto a small balcony where children carried from their sleeping can witness their first eclipse. Electric fans fit into window frames. Bedrooms are big enough for three daughters, a baby boy and homesick immigrant parents. Tooth fairies and Easter bunnies do deliver to this address.

Bonnieview is divided by the Nickel Plate railway line. Freight trains passing are as soothing as a lullaby, the tracks provide boundaries: you can Trick-or-Treat that far and no further, but carry stories of young men dying while playing Chicken. Sidewalks have squirrels, neighbours’ dogs, lines of ants, lightning-bugs and a safe space for learner roller-skaters.



1091 Bonnieview has a back yard, driveway and detached garage which are all prone to appearing bigger in memory than reality. The property was built in 1914, has had many careful owners, is still remembered by one family that lived there in the ‘60s. This mid-range purchase will provide a suitable residence

for a young family needing the foundation of a happy childhood when later visited by tragedy. The proximity to Lakewood Park ensures that the buyers of this house will always know it as home.



The Return Home

When History clicks her fingers, lives alter. My father says it was during those days, after Martin Luther King was murdered, that he realised it was time to leave, time to transplant his family back to Ireland.

He heard Robert Kennedy’s speech,

read Cleveland’s Plain Dealer over

and over: The mindless menace of violence

stains our land and every one of our lives.

While they waited for the city to erupt in riots the Dream became as fragile as a firefly’s light. He must have thought of his job Downtown, the opportunities we had all been given.

Eight weeks later as my father waited in a queue outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, filing past Bobby Kennedy’s coffin, his surety solidified. He knew there would be changes. We couldn’t flit lives seamlessly from Ohio to Donegal.

Settled home in Letterkenny, if he had regrets, he never shared them. But when riots erupted on Northern streets, he must have shuddered.



The Dream Turns

Everyone sees what happens on the front porch, we were lucky to have a swing-set in the back yard. I was going to be a ballerina, until I saw how much practice it took be left standing on my tippy toes.

Holy smokes Batman. My mother saw me belly-flop

off the high-diving board as she was stuck behind a fence. There were birthday parties on picnic tables in the park, lightning bugs, and fireworks on the fourth of July. The Yellow Submarine was just one long cartoon.

I was thrilled when Oswald was shot. Hated Johnson

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