Two poems by Anathema McKenna

‘We Woke’ manages to contain much within its sparse waste-no-word form. There is the sharply distilled beauty in phases ‘We turned to folk remedies,/colour theory, blue cloths’ and ‘that melted ice goes somewhere,’ as well as the hissing alliteration which really does convey the seething anger of the poet. McKenna pulls no punches but still manage moments of bleak beauty. She writes intelligently, defiantly and without pretension. There is even some sharp, dark humour in the words ‘Cnutish countrymen’ which caused me to do a double take. ‘Night Crossings Abandoned’ is heartbreaking in its direct and undressed honesty. It gave me an actual, physical pain. – Jane Burn, guest editor.

We woke

We woke

to poison inheritance,
toxic birthrights,
legacies of pus;

to venomous heritage,
lies left untreated
as sepsis set in.
We turned to folk remedies,

colour theory, blue cloths
to staunch bleeding,
sidereal ciphers,
the pattern of blinks

as the Queen read the speech.
Quoted Shakespeare, Shelly, Blake
and Sophie Scholl. We gestured
to the rising sea

our Cnutish countrymen
sat on their thrones
and broadcast
of the Channel’s saving vastness,
not remembering

that water wears down rock,
that melted ice goes somewhere,
that the sea has never been obliged
to accept what we say is its level.

Night Crossings Abandoned

Sometimes I lie awake, thinking of bridges and buildings.
Forty-six metres, they say. Seven storeys. The minimum fall.
They say, aim to land on your head. I have always been clumsy.
On average, they say, it takes five rotten minutes to die.

As I lie I can hear the vents, which are never not running,
like a ship’s engine spinning its way through the maritime night.
Sometimes I imagine this isn’t a room but a cabin.
A cute thought, but it doesn’t make it more likely I’ll sleep.

The vents run all night because we cannot open the windows:
a condition of this building’s switch to habitual use,
a concession, a promise to not over-mar the street fabric.
I agree. I approve. And still I lie here awake,

thinking, they say those who clean the crime scene
are eight times more likely to go on to do it themselves,
but still picturing pills, bags and train tracks, and helium hooding,
night crossings abandoned each dawn in the same stretch of street.

Aj McKenna

AJ McKenna has performed poems while stripping, handcuffing herself to a microphone stand and having dry rice thrown at her in an attempt to understand the true meaning of love, though not, as yet, all at the same time. She is the author of A Lady of a Certain Rage, names and songs of women, Incidents of Trespass and, most recently, England is the Enemy, which is not so much a book as a scream of inchoate rage at a country with which she feels increasingly at odds, though you may if you so wish purchase it in book form. In her spare time she worries. 


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