A huge congratulations to the overall winner of Funeral Services Northern Ireland’s National Poetry Competition 2015, Stephanie Conn.
Read the first, second and third winning poems here.
The month you died there was nothing but light –
the days lengthened with it, soft rays found gaps
between the tilted blinds earlier each morning;
marking the time on the graph in my head
took up less than a minute of my insomnia.
As the room warmed, I kicked off your double quilt –
iridescent pearls on midnight blue above tangled sheets.
My single room at the front of the house was cooler,
with space enough around the hospital bed. The dates
stacked towards the solstice by way of your birthday.
Grey clouds refused to gather. A weathergirl, in a sleeveless
dress, reported a lack of rain in the long-range forecast.
Someone remembered to water the flowers. Your rose garden
shone as a steady stream of visitors passed by with small gifts –
a book of poetry, pineapple strips, a thick woollen blanket.
When I was two, I slammed the door and locked you out, blinked
at the sun streaming through the letter-box as you coaxed me closer;
issued instructions: drag the stool, climb carefully, reach for the handle,
find mummy’s keys in her bag, yes, on the stairs, pass them through –
and suddenly the long hall was filled with the most glorious light.
That same light is rising to its highest point in the sky. In Iceland,
cold or not, the sun doesn’t set, but here the roads are melting, glass
is setting the tinder-dry grass alight, the fire-brigade are on high alert,
knowing the call will come sooner rather than later. A siren wails.
I hold ice cubes to your lips, drip pineapple juice into your open mouth.
A hundred and sixty-eight days have passed since the year began.
You’ve stopped counting; have left the calculations to the holders-on.
You loved words most of all – their unexpected meanings, their origins,
dusty and half-forgotten, brought to light in a midsummer bonfire –
like solstice, from the Latin solstitium – the moment the sun stands still.
Tight to your bed,
I curl up in a ball
in the hollow oak chair.
On a nettle leaf
beneath your window,
a chrysalis breaks free.
Crumpled wings unfold and fly into sunlight.
Soon, I will plant you a wildflower garden:
corn-cockles, cowslips, ox-eyed daisies,
foxgloves, poppies and blue cornflowers.
All the colours of you.
I’ll carry the oak chair
down to the summerhouse,
and I’ll wait there,
tight to the window,
for the melting of winter.
As Light Leaves
When all of this comes to pass
I want it to fall in autumn
After a full summer
When gardens have been plumped
By brief showers and sunlight-
Fruit and flowers just on the verge
Of passing their prime,
The air a light bristle of distant lawnmowers,
Their baskets brimming
With what should be the last cut,
And the air scored with swifts and swallows
Not knowing if their imminent departure
Is really a leaving, really a going home.