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


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


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.

Island by Ciaran Parkes


A lake the size
of a small room

an island no bigger
than a single bed

when you set out in your boat
you’ve already arrived

to lie on your back
beneath a dazzling sun

so small you can blot it out
with one finger

by Ciaran Parkes, first published in Poetry Ireland Review.

Editor’s Note: Ten simple lines still somehow paint a startlingly vivid picture in this poem.

Sisyphus Decides by Ciaran Parkes

Sisyphus Decides

Sisyphus decides—why not—
to let go of the stone he’s been rolling
up a hill for what seems like forever.

He falls back, onto the long grass, noticing
the deep groove his stone has made
in the hillside, remembers

how he would always get so far and then
it would somehow slip his grasp, start rolling
back the way it came, to wait for him

at the bottom of the hill. Now it tumbles
over a field he’s never seen before,
getting smaller, disappearing

into the blur of distance. He knows
this is hell he’s in, no doubt of it
with all the treasure here, the brightness

dragged down from the upper world and spread
out like scattered flowers and all the people,
doomed to torment, misery, the loss

of everything they’ve ever loved but still
looking, for the moment, almost cheerful.

by Ciaran Parkes, first published in The Threepenny Review.

Editor’s Note: Three line stanzas carefully control the pace of the narrative, giving a reader a sense of the deliberation of Sisyphus and his fateful decision.