From the archives – New Year’s Eve on the Moon — Ciaran Parkes

New Year’s Eve on the Moon

You’ve got telescopes. You can see more
than the Great Wall of China. You can measure
the moving coastlines like someone on a train

watching the landscape gliding by, imagining
themselves a tireless runner, leaping hedges,
trees and houses, or in your case, oceans,

continents. The night reveals much more,
like turning a light on, like x-ray. You can choose
a city to focus on. It’s almost New Year’s Day

or it’s already been for hours. For one whole day
you can watch the flare of fireworks in the darkness
as cities come alight and, in the distance,

the brighter sway of sunlight sweeping in
over the horizon. On the moon who knows
what time it is, what day or year or month?

What’s to celebrate? What slow tides are moved
by the earth in all those dried up seas?

by Ciaran Parkes

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, December 31, 2020

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

Horoscope by Ciaran Parkes

Horoscope

I photograph your horoscope
from The Irish Independent
with my mobile phone
to send it to you miles away
along the coast in Enniscrone.

Now the stars
might as well be closer
than you are. On a good night
I can see them easily.
But I’m grateful for the magic
that brings me your voice

every day. I remember,
before sending, you don’t
look at the horoscopes
we used to read together
these Covid days, can’t even

bring yourself to look
at the crowded stars, the moon
in its solitary splendour.

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: This poem’s stanza breaks (in between sentences) are carefully chosen to mirror the difficult distance between the speaker and their loved one, reinforcing the final image of a solitary moon in a crowded space.

Instead of an Elegy by Ciaran Parkes

Instead of an Elegy

Two of my friends committing suicide
in the same twelve months. One of them
on his birthday, his mobile phone
full of unread messages, his body

full of drink and drugs, as if he’d been
having too much fun. The other found
on the street, as if she’d flown down
from her high window, following

the pigeons that she loved. Both were alone
in the end, both sociable. I swim
in the evenings late, alone, like some
half-hearted suicide. The other half

of my heart stays waiting on the shore,
keeping watch. It wants to be alive.

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: This poem’s contradictions form its backbone—survival plus grief plus guilt summed into a moment of life.

Scar by Ciaran Parkes

Scar

Eight years old, the window pane exploding
into shattered glass. Not feeling anything
but a kind of drowsy shock. All the way to hospital,
a neighbour holding the wound shut. Now I feel
like reaching back some days, to try and slip
my arm away from her life-saving grip.

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: This poem cuts the reader to the quick.

Sunburn by Ciaran Parkes

Sunburn

Remember sunburn. Your whole skin
turning red and peeling
off in delicious layers

after the pain had gone.
No sunblock to be found anywhere, using
anything you could find

instead. Baby oil maybe, beauty cream.
Remember checking
the slow tide lines of tan, pressing

arms and legs together
for comparison. Remember freckles
spreading out across your face

like raindrops and how you couldn’t sleep
all night, sheets burning
against your heated skin. Remember

the cool plunge of swimming,
how good it felt and looking down
to see your legs, pale and distorted

by the wavering water, and maybe
a crab, scuttling sideways, reaching
up its delicate claws towards you.

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: This poem’s imagery centers on nostalgia with a myriad of scents and touch and sights, holding childhood closer to the surface than one would expect.

Butterflies by Ciaran Parkes

Butterflies

On a brochure for child abuse victims
there’s a pattern of white butterflies against
a blue background. They can’t fly,

of course, being only made of paper
and words. Inside, there’s a list
of helpful services. I imagine

a caterpillar somehow condemned
to crawl his whole life, never taking flight,
the transforming magic never happening

for him, or happening too soon
so it doesn’t turn out right. I’m sure
in nature such phenomena occur.

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: The central allegory of this poem hits like a punch—this much truth all at once can be brutal.

Your Birthday by Ciaran Parkes

Your Birthday

Your birthday in the quiet
days just after Christmas.
The castle you wanted to visit
that no one local had heard of,
and, when we got there
it was early closing day.

We sat in the cafe,
wandered the grounds,
both sick, our various ailments
held at bay like the rain,
always threatening to come
down and fill the trees’ expectant arms.

Or at least I remember it that way
and how we found a weeping willow tree,
a green castle when we stepped inside.
The shadowed light, the rough trunk
just waiting to be caught in your embrace.

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: This poem’s careful enjambment and delicately drawn narrative offers the reader a glimpse of how to make the best of something imperfect.

The Bath by Ciaran Parkes

The Bath

—after the photograph of Lee Miller taking a bath in Hitler’s apartment on the night of his suicide, 1945.

I admire, despite myself, his white
and gleaming bathroom. There’s a row
of soap dishes fixed above the bath,
one for his shaving soap perhaps, his high

maintenance moustache that needed to
be taken care of. There’s the loop
of a shower hose, safely tucked away
against the pristine tiles. A small

statue of a Greek goddess is placed
on a sideboard and, surprisingly,
a portrait of the man himself displayed
at the foot of the bath, just there

for the shot perhaps. Like Artemis
surprised while bathing, the photojournalist
is looking up from where she’s cleaning
her pale back. I washed off the dirt

of Dachau in his tub, she said. Her boots,
lined up on the floor, have brought
in the outside world, have trampled mud
all over his immaculate white rug.

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: The last few lines in this poem highlight with stark simplicity the complicated mess of history and war and human nature.

Powers of Ten by Ciaran Parkes

Powers of Ten

The richness of our own neighbourhood
is the exception,
the calm voice over says
at the point when the imaginary cameraman
has swung out to a distance from the earth

where galaxies appear as distant stars,
small and far apart. This loneliness
is the norm,
he says, then turns
the camera round, heading back again

to where the film started out, the lake side
in Chicago, the couple sleeping
after a picnic, their blanket on the ground.
The camera zooms in on the hand

of the man but doesn’t stop there, goes
deeper in, sliding like a beam
of radioactive light to show the worlds
that wait inside. Finally we come

to the heart of an atom, two electrons
dancing in a circle, in a tight embrace
of mutual attraction. Deeper down,
chaotic darkness swirling, empty space.

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: The closing lines brilliantly highlight the central image of this poem, where loneliness and an eternal longing for connection keep pace with the insistent reality of space.

Drowning Stroke by Ciaran Parkes

Drowning Stroke

A kind of stroke you never have to learn,
it comes installed already like the long
lazy crawl you practiced in the womb
before you could even breathe. Your feet go down,

your head goes up, like someone standing
up in water, or trying to, like someone
who’s forgotten everything they’ve ever known
about how to float, how to keep on living

in this world. You stick your arms up, waving
about for help. You stretch your mouth wide open
for a final breath or two. You turn
streamlined as a fish, a stone, then something

grabs you from below and, like a midwife,
pulls you, gasping, backwards out of life.

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: This sonnet’s brilliant enjambment almost fools you into believing that all will be well, but as the title states, this particular stroke of the pen ends in tragedy.