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.

From the archives – 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

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, April 21, 2017

photo is in the public domain

Last Things by Ciaran Parkes

Last Things

Mid-fifties London, the world outside is spinning
from ration books to free love, rock and roll.
The condemned prisoner, not long out of school,
is listening to a radio show and winning

another game of cards. He never loses,
indulged as some sick child who’ll never mend,
no lost games or angry words offend
his last unraveling days. He chooses

tomorrow’s meal. The chaplain comes to call
and softly talk his sins away. He walks
one final time across the withered stalks
of winter grass, beneath the high stone wall,

hearing the city going by outside. He sleeps
one last time, or tries to sleep, and must
have drifted off somehow because a burst
of voices wake him. The hurried breakfast creeps

with dreadful slowness. Calming words are spoken
by the guards. A door he never knew
about slips open. The hangman and his two
assistants come in on silent feet. He’s taken

by the elbows, half lifted off the ground,
and glided backwards through the waiting door,
a hood pushed on his head, and up the four
steps to the wooden platform. He hears the sound

of birds begin to wake, feels something lop
soft round his neck, then hears a muffled prayer
go speeding past his face, then the rush of air
as breath leaves him behind, the final drop.

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: This poem is both shocking and beautifully written. The rhyme and meter unobtrusively hold the narrative together until the ending creeps up and stuns the reader at the very end.

New Year’s Eve on the Moon by 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

Editor’s Note: This delightful poem calls to my mind astronaut Chris Hadfield singing “Space Oddity” on the ISS. And also, the flip of perspective seems strangely apt for the end of this particular year.

I Dreamt of a Broken Bird by Ciaran Parkes

I Dreamt of a Broken Bird

I dreamt of a broken bird that couldn’t fly
left by a child in a box of grass and found
years later making the same lost sound
so it seemed a miracle that it didn’t die.

I dreamt of someone clutched around a pain
that wouldn’t go away, a wound, an injury
that put on layers, grew outwards like a tree
until it seemed impossible to contain

within a body’s span. I saw the bird
still try to move, still pulsing desperately
in the sheltering place constructed for its safety
by that well meaning child. I saw the hard

growth round the tender wound. It took no art
to see my dream was all about the heart.

by Ciaran Parkes

Editor’s Note: This sonnet is built for the volta where the dream is uncovered, much like pushing a shroud aside to see what’s beneath it.

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.