The songs I sing are sisters,
Cáit O’Neill McCullagh & Sinéad McClure
Dreich, 2022 £6.00
Songs that sing
Two poets share the same space, their poems intermingled. It’s impossible to know who wrote which — unless the index at the end is consulted. The poems flow well this way, themes and words echo, and a sense of belonging pulses through.
Sinéad McClure’s ‘Signs’ sings out for me, because of the poem’s spirit of place. It begins with a return: ‘For the first time in years the sparrows have come back’. Later, ‘looking northwards for signs’, the poet notes that
a forest has been cleared, the ravens are flying
in from Carrowkeel and for the first time I can see its tombs.
Feel the weight of ancient silence press upon my shoulders.
I feel that weight of ‘ancient silence’, and know well the surprise of a view opening out with a forest’s clearance. I love this poem, its airy couplets, the sparrows in the honeysuckle.
Some poems are deep, like the opening piece (Cáit O’Neill McCullagh’s ‘Kin’). I spend more time on it, intrigued:
Listen, your song is spiralled in stone
in water and the underthought of words
trace it in the carry of your life-stream.
The deep past brings a depth of belonging. Thoughts of ‘the underthought of words’ sweep me away for a while. This is a pamphlet for lingering long over.
Some poems are dreamlike imaginings, but McClure’s ‘Sunfish’ feels real. The story begins:
They anchor at Dalkey Sound
Da’s brown arms shake
from the crossing.
The imagery rolls on. Reading the poem now, it takes me back to my own experience: a boat on a river, dad rowing, me sulking, wanting to be by the sea, not on the river.
I’m surprised I’ve not mentioned the sea until now. The cover image is McCullagh’s ‘Embo — Western Sky’, and the sea’s a fine thread patterning the poems, entwined with themes of becoming and belonging, love and loss.
Not only images and ideas but also the language of the sea recurs. McCullagh’s ‘Saline’, for example, is a language-rich imagining of mother as selkie. It’s a lovely myth-like creation that begins:
My mother was mermaid silver
all secret scales and fish tail flicks
she changed the air to wave-spray
and like that — she disappeared