Swimming in Antarctica by Ciaran Parkes

Swimming in Antarctica

How she accepts it. How she enters willingly
into the cold. How her skin, almost immediately,
becomes cold as the water is, her body’s heat

pushed deep down under, to protect
her internal organs, that flush with blood, that float
like fish in some warm Mesozoic ocean

as her heartbeat thunders round them, as they move,
just for now, companionable, together.
She see penguins on the dipping, rising shore

and people bundled up who look like penguins,
black against the snow. Her back up team
lean from their inflatables as she threshes water

up like bed sheets, speeding, swimming faster
than she ever swam before, to generate
more warmth, to stay alive, then something

shifting inside her as she starts to swim
straight out to sea, moving so fast they
can do nothing now but watch her slip away.

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: The opening line of this poem hooks the reader with a fragment—tension is immediately established. The imagery supports the narrative, and the lines support the movement of the swimmer. This is one of those perfectly written poems that linger in the mind for a good long while after reading is done.

After by Ciaran Parkes

After

In the weeks after your death,
your face, the sound of your voice
disappeared from my memory,
then came back, projected onto people
on the street, turning up everywhere, as if

you had swung into a darkness where
not even thoughts could reach, and then
echoed back, amplified. The dark side
of the moon perhaps, I remember you telling me
how the moon dragged all living things towards it

and we had to fight against its pull. Too late
now to balance out the pull
it had on you, for you to give your side
of this conversation, bring me down to earth,
tell me strange facts I hadn’t heard before.

Gone, like your pain and all the things
we could have done together, your smile,
your restless intelligence, your touch.
I could have phoned you once or wrote, but now
can’t reach to you, can’t lose you from my sight.

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: The narrative imagery in this poem amplifies the confusion of grief. The heart still loves, even when the person is gone.

Michael Jackson by Ciaran Parkes

Michael Jackson

In a dream Michael Jackson
is playing a concert in the town I live in
or a dream version of that town, beside a river
that doesn’t quite exist. Earlier, a priest

had preached a sermon, not quite condemning
Jackson from the pulpit, but talking about him
in such a way that no right thinking person
would be going to his concert. I watch him,

somehow from above, begin to sing
to an empty field in which there’s only
a sleeping homeless man and dog. The river
flows in front of him, makes the edge

of the stage he’s standing on. The light
is that light which sometimes comes in dreams,
brighter than normal light, as if it’s shining
from another world, in this case, from the one

outside the half closed curtains where the sun
is all set to wake me up but there’s still time
to see him realize the audience aren’t coming
and see how little it means to him. He sings

Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough or maybe one
of his mellow, mid-seventies hits like One
Day in Your Life or You’ve Got a Friend. His voice
the kind of voice you only hear in dreams

but, for him, just how he always sings
or how he always used to sing, back then. By now
a few odd people have started wandering in
to dance and sing along. The homeless man

and his dog have finally woken up and I’m
just about to, still half asleep, still listening
to Jackson in his blaze of sunlight, singing.

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: The rambling prose-like lines of this poem mirror lucid dreaming’s abstracted focus, until the last few lines wake up the reader with stunning imagery.

Lascaux Horse by Ciaran Parkes

Lascaux Horse

Where are you heading to, Lascaux horse,
rust and bonfire coloured, running
across the eggshell coloured postcard?
Never mind if your legs appear too thin

to bear your weight, they were never meant to.
You were born like this, caught between the earth
and sky, under someone’s moving
fingers clutching clay and charcoal, lit

by uncertain fire light, so you seem
to move in and out of shadows, one
of Plato’s ideal creatures, not needing
anything more than this to be alive

and permanent. On the other side
of the postcard, words of love and greeting
from years ago, in some unknown hand.

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: This poem carefully feeds images to the reader, and with each line, the ancient horse becomes more alive. It isn’t until the closing stanza that one realizes that this poem encompasses so much more than a picture of an ancient animal.

Moss by Ciaran Parkes

Moss

Hesitant, your voice
when I pick the phone up
but soon we’ve returned
to a remembered flow

from two years earlier.
I hold your warm
words against my face.
It’s winter outside.

As we talk I scrape
moss from the windowsill
and watch it falling, so much of it.
I hadn’t noticed it before.

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: Spare lines and imagery effortlessly carry this poem’s central allegory of loss.

The Speed of Sound by Ciaran Parkes

The Speed of Sound

Slower than the speed of light, slower than
a speeding bullet, its effect is seen
when a child falls and there’s a gap between
his falling and his cry as if the world
had been paused then started up again.
Sometimes slower still, the cry creeps on
silently, to catch him years from then.

by Ciaran Parkes, first published in Chiral Mad 3.

Editor’s Note: End rhyme lends this poem a subtle sense of structure, and supports the emotional punch of the closing line.