In honor of Maureen Flannery’s Birthday.
Voices of Roots Salon is a feature of the J. O’Reilly Productions blogs,
profiling one of the artists of Roots Salon and presenting selections of their original work.
Would ya look at the pair of them
there on the sand
lovin’ like a gale come up on a green sea,
the spray savory on their lips
and a heaven of thick-cheeked babies just waitin’
to be sprinkled on them like holy water.
Sure’n it’s cairn stones that will rise in their spines
and fine words course in the tea of their veins.
(Sprinkled, by Maureen Flannery)
Arrive. Walk. Climb. Follow. The directives in her poem
To Find Your Irish Heritage, reflect the everyday choices the prolific and wise writer Maureen Flannery makes, as she pays close attention to the world around her, helping the rest of us make sense of its density. In honor of Women’s History Month, which shares its status with Irish History Month, I am delighted to feature Maureen as a “Voice of Roots Salon.” A founding member of Roots Women’s Salon Community of Voices, Maureen is the real deal. A complex, and Renaissance woman, she possesses an ear for language, a compassionate soul, and a grand, fresh imagination. I am constantly dumbfounded by Maureen’s work. Her artistry moves seamlessly from crafting fairy habitats from orphaned tree branches, to writing the sensual allure of a magnificent oak for a willing woman, (as in her lush poem Woman Becomes Heartwood, copied below.) Take time to read the selections of her poetry I include here, read them aloud and share them with others. Look for her books and watch for selections in anthologies, journals, literary reviews, and on-line publications. Maureen’s bio appears at the end of the blog and links to her readings and video. (All selections copyright of the poet.) -jamie
POETRY SELECTIONS FROM MAUREEN FLANNERY
Peggy, his wife expecting their first child,
has never been far from Hartford,
needs a map to envision his positioning.
Her letters describe how forcefully
their active baby kicks her awake.
At last he’s allowed to reveal his whereabouts—
Khartoum, Egyptian Sudan.
He takes care not to describe
how his plane can plummet like a diving hawk
if he is not precise, does not do everything right.
Calculations only slightly off, they could be shot down.
Relying on defective instruments, they might land at night
in the inhospitable, nowhere bush of Italian Somaliland.
Instead, he assures her of the pilot’s skill,
the expertise of their whole crew.
Accuracy matters for both of them.
She will need to time contractions,
for feedings at three-hour intervals through the night,
schedule a pediatric visit every three weeks.
She does not mention dizzy spells, swelling,
protruding veins, irregular positioning
nor the probability of breech birth.
She tells him of the swell support her family provides
how strong and well she feels,
and that she hopes their baby has his eyes.
“Divergent Concerns”, is from Navigating by Expectant Stars, 2014
A Blessing on an Irish Woman
The blessing of soft wind be upon your mornings
and steadfast stars on your nights.
The blessing of generous rain
when your field complains and sun when it is sated.
The blessing of strong lungs be upon your children
and agile tongues that rest in the presence
of your shortcomings,
knees to bend easy at the pew
and lock at the slight of a tyrant.
A blessed sense of irony be upon you
so that you battle unfairness in other lives
and laugh at the ill that befalls your own.
The blessing of wild landscapes and calm waters.
The blessings of marriage be upon your sons
and fine, working men to be eyeing your daughters.
The blessings of straight shoulders above your back
a quick eye and a gentle heart
to the lacking of a hungry traveler.
The blessings of an early-closing publican
be upon your neighborhood,
a sober man with sweet breath upon your bed.
The blessings of forgetfulness be upon
your elders who have held a grudge
for longer than you can recall.
The blessing of a wise friend at all your confinement beds
and that Anam Chara beside you when you die.
“A Blessing on an Irish Woman” was published in Feile-Festa, Spring 2010
She stops chopping broccoli
and sits down at the yellow Formica table
sobbing guttural cleansing wails
that issue from a deep, unnamable pain.
She is home in her mother’s kitchen
which she knows better than her own.
Her hand reached to turn on the radio
that was always on the counter.
Frantically she searched the house
and found it on the floor by her father’s bed.
As a god restoring order
to a chaotic universe,
she righteously returned it
to the kitchen counter and plugged it in.
It’s a wine colored Motorola,
surely as old as she,
with two large black dials
that give it the look of a geometric gremlin
with far too much knowledge
of the nature of things.
It should have offered over
The Sons of the Pioneers
singing Tumbling Tumbleweed,
but it didn’t,
so she cries
because she can’t find her
mother’s cabbage grater either,
and because Randy Hillhouse has died
and she didn’t even know it,
and because her mother,
who would have told her in time,
is also dead, and because
the god damned Podunk
radio station probably
doesn’t even play
Woman Becomes Heartwood
She’d always lusted after trees
as if she sensed the softness in her
needed to couple with the grain of oak.
As a girl she befriended the plum,
plucked and sucked bitter green wisdom from around the pits.
She climbed into branches of a lodge pole pine
that towered over the spring house
and lent her a view of the timber and saw mill.
From that high vantage she first saw foresters.
Drawn to the scent of pitch on their skin,
she tried bunking in with lumber jacks–
then carpenters, carvers, tree trimmers,
even a salesman in a Christmas tree lot.
But men could not satisfy her longing.
Being held loose in the arms of trees was never enough,
and she was not content
to live among fragments in paneled rooms.
She accepted gifts from buckeye and maple
and admired her hawthorn’s bulbous burling over of old wounds.
She learned to trust a redwood for its massive trunk,
a white oak for its gentle thrust of upturned limbs.
Then one dusk she saw it,
a magnificent hollow oak with a sizable hole at its first branching.
Secretly resolved to union that moon-washed midnight,
she stripped on the grass, took the pins from her hair
and climbed to where she could
lower herself into its very core.
Scraped by its rough interior, she bled into its side.
Touching soil, her toes grew deep down
and she felt the sap surge upward in her as a kiss that lingers.
Raising her arms into the branches
like a bride putting on her gown,
she smiled into the darkness
while leaf buds formed on her fingers.
(image by Arthur Rackham: Daphne transforms into a Laurel)
“Loss” and “Woman Becomes Heartwood” appear in: Ancestors in the landscape:
Poems of a Rancher’s Daughter, John Gordon Burke, Publisher, Inc. 2004
To Find Your Irish Heritage
Arrive in Dunmore just as the sun climbs
from behind roofless stone walls
of the medieval church.
Fergus will be sweeping
cobbled streets in front of his pub.
Ask where you might find the priest,
keeper of knowledge old registries hold
about who married whom and where
they brought their begats to be baptized Catholic.
Walk beside the impatient stream
that winds out of sight
between green, sheep-dotted fields.
Take the path that follows the water
under the old stone bridge
to where the cemetery whispers
of those who were once alive in Dunmore,
then more vibrant in the stories
of old ones in whom their memories thrived.
Petition the Celtic knot-etched crosses,
those still standing,
ones upended by irreverent roots of trees,
others leaning as the old woman who walks among them
with her sheepdog and her deep set eyes.
Climb into thick walls of Dunmore castle
until you reach a stairway suspended
between a great hall which is no longer there
and the dank air within the moss-grown tower.
Speculate about a childhood spent ever half-hungry
playing within these fortress walls
that rise from the knoll of a neighbor’s field–
stone remnants of the rich history
an Irish boy was destined to leave behind.
Follow a line of school children on field trip
their cherry-blossom cheeks
round as the mounds of the bog they walk around.
Ask their teacher if any one of them
bears the surname of your mother.
Wait till school is out
so she can show you the house
where your grandfather was born.
Singer on the Isle of Stones
He sang in a pub on Inismore and his song has followed me home.
His powerful timber of a sea-wind voice blew itself into this poem
The room fell silent when he started to sing. All pints remained on the table.
The revelers stared at the peat-fire embers and breathed, if they were able.
As he wove a spell into the notes of his song of the nightingale,
the men grew sober by degrees and the women all turned pale.
His words emerged from the bond of lovers who wandered, hand in hand
but the sound came out of a magic place that none there could understand.
We called for more but that was all—one song to blow us off course
then finish our Guinness, walk out into stars unaware of the sound-spell’s force,
forever adrift on the nightingale tune of the publican on Inismore
who sang us a song with a charm as strong as the fairy singing of lore.
Listen to this poem as a song, set and sung by Robert Bowker
between Gandhi Electronics and The Sari Palace
is a store called Genuine Time.
Tired of being taken for a ride
by some cheap imitation,
I stride right up
thinking to myself
today, whatever it takes
I’m going to get me the real McCoy.
So I say to the clerk in the corner
waiting for his first sale,
“Just wrap me up one genuine day—
finest you’ve got.
Don’t bate-and-switch me no fakes.
I’ll take it with me.
Pay you tomorrow.”
Death by Poetry
When they opened her up
she was riddled with poems.
They didn’t even try to transcribe.
They just sewed her up again and sent her home.
Three months later in the spring of the year
she died of poems,
her body alive with them–
protest poems in her spleen
love sonnets in both auricles of her enlarged heart
arteries clogged with blockage
her lungs so cloudy with poems
each breath must have been a labor
her breasts, hard as on the third day
when the milk comes in,
engorged with poems she could not let down
safe poems in situ–haiku tightly formed and cyclic
ruptured poems spilling infectious mixed metaphor
|into her abdominal cavity
an ectopic poem that could not gestate,
ready to burst the tube
that stretched in holding in its will to life,
plagiarized and feeding on the good bacteria
one last magnificent poem, almost spoken,
lodged in her throat like a piece of steak.
that she died of beauty undigested
like rough rubies
and we need only read her death
to be gifted of it all.
Death by Poetry, Singer on the Isle of Stones, Genuine Time, To Find Your Irish Heritage are from Tunnel Into Morning, Puddin’head Press, 2011
Maureen Tolman Flannery is the author of eight books of poetry, including Tunnel into Morning, Destiny Whispers to the Beloved, and Ancestors in the Landscape. Her latest book, Navigating by Expectant Stars, is a poetic response to the discovery of her parents’ wartime love letters. Maureen and her actor husband Dan are western transplants who have adopted Chicago as home. She is an English teacher, wood carver and home funeral guide. More than five hundred of her poems have been published in anthologies, journals, literary reviews, and on-line publications, among them: North American Review, Xavier Review, Winning Writers, BorderSenses, Wisconsin Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, Calyx, Pedestal, and Atlanta Review. Contact Maureen by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is the first the opening poem “Sprinkled” appears in print, © Maureen Tolman Flannery.
Hear poetry read online at the Poetry Storehouse,
Maureen reads her poem Age, video follows.