The Men I Keep Under My Bed

Alvy Carragher

Note: the following is the opening section 
of ‘the men i keep under my bed’

out the door, down the stack of steps

September dark and street lights lead me along the North Circular Road
slow at first, easing myself into it, 
limbs stiff and dissatisfied from lack of sleep

my runners slap the pavement
6am cars slug by in a blur of light
my breath is a cloud to run through

I argue

part of me would like to turn around
push my key into the lock, go back indoors
melt butter into toast, brew some coffee

(not the cheap kind, a man with coffee-snobbery sold it to me)

in that version of events, I do something wholesome
one of those activities Kasia suggested like yoga
she tutted when I told her about the running
bent over, her slight frame leaning forward
as she tapped my kneecap with her finger

what about your knees, are they not going to hurt 

I shrugged, always the shrug
the half-answer to uncomfy questions
I rarely consider the fate of my knees
or any of the advice Kasia gives me, like

embrace the healing properties of yoghurt
a teaspoon of ascorbic acid per day

(keeps all sense of joy at bay)

two minutes into the run
Phoenix Park sits, white gates against the dark

I will myself to think like an apple
which is to grow and be and fall
I read it in some mindfulness book, that
and a chapter about pretending to be a seed

but I don’t feel seed-like, they’re all untapped potential
that’s the kind of metaphor Mrs Ryan loved

compare yourself to fruit 

a leaving cert English teacher’s idea of poetry
then university professors go salivating over fertile pomegranates
until we’re all products of poor metaphorical training

a stitch develops, nestled in my ribs, I slow
focus on filling up my lungs

half a mile into the park
the Garda Barracks to my back
I take the boring road
snake along the border walls
one flat line out to the trails
I save the hills for when I’m tired
for when the effort matters

11 minutes in, too soon to go back

when I run, I think of Scott Jurek
foot bandaged, suffering across Death Valley

I tried his technique before, shortening steps
increasing turnover, it felt treadmill heavy

(I should stop reading about Scott, he subsists on rice balls)

the length of a stride 
feels like my body yawning across the ground
waking itself up

the grass that lines the road is wet and leaning
it smells like rain has been and rain is coming

I wear little glove skins
an old cotton race t-shirt, ratty leggings
the t-shirt has I’ve been to Hell & Back scrawled across it

(it feels silly or ironic
it’s hard to differentiate)

if rain comes, cold will crawl into my lungs
make me into its home, spend weeks escaping from my nose
that’s if I don’t get gutted by a deer first, splatted by a car

I always scare myself with death

I’ll run a little further
I don’t want to deal with him
I’ll have to ask him to leave
or make him breakfast
let him leave without a fuss

I’m good at pretending
smile, chit chat, then after he leaves
never reply to any texts he sends

(assuming he’s the sort to text)

I need to find his Facebook page, he must have one
that way I can check where he’s likely to show up
and avoid all those places

ah, this is my favourite bit
the dark is softer now 
trees stretch toward the last chunk of moon

the moon will be gone
by the time I turn to go home
the sun will be coming up in front of me
its low-slung glow forcing me to watch the trail closely

I cross the back of the park
consider going further
but I can’t miss the bus

it’s best to act normal

people do this all the time, it’s nothing to feel anything about
I need to stop being whimsical, me and my romantic notions

I’ll veer here, loop through the wood
come out in front of the embassy
I love that stretchy piece of grass 
it goes on for miles, deer skirt its edges

once a French woman stopped me
about half a mile into the park, she was desolate

they said there were deer, do you know where 

I told her to keep going, they go wherever they feel like
she was wearing stupid shoes, I doubt she went any further
but you won’t just stumble on beauty, it doesn’t hang around waiting

maybe he’ll be gone by the time I get back
what was I thinking, I wasn’t thinking, not really
is that a valid excuse for acting the mouldy slut

I push the thought back

it’s not very feminist to consider myself a mouldy slut
I’ve agency over my body and all that 21st century shite

there’s the road again
return across the trails or down the main road
that cuts through the centre of the park

I don’t want to ruin the trail by associating it with this morning

I must be careful when I’m fragile
a subtle stump of wood
might stick in my subconscious

then months later
when I’m the new me
I’ll take that trail
notice stumpy and 
it will all come back

as if it never got put away

I’m being dramatic
this is, of course, grand

the road is spotted with the odd runner now

morning-time soul-searchers

cars slip into the city

I slow again, come close to stopping
the thud of dehydrated head hurt
I’ll glug a pint of water, painkillers
recover from this ritual of pain

in six months, I’ve not learnt that
Dublin isn’t kind 

one glass becomes five
each glass a reminder that
I’m worn out by it all

it’s okay for Sarah, Fridays start late for her
blundering out of bed at 11am
right about the time I slot into my desk
down my third coffee

it’s hard to resist her, I tried

ah come on Beth
Diarmaid is driving me mad
would you not go for one
it’ll do you good to get back out there

30 minutes, almost home

a man practices Tai Chi between the trees
a strange place to be at peace, so near the road
but I suppose the trick is finding peace there anyway

people can’t seem to keep calmness to themselves
it seeps out of their pores, gets right up in my face
asks why I’m ticking over a thousand thoughts

up around the Polo Grounds
a runner strides on the other side of the grass

I pick the pace up, not slogging, not me
my stomach lumps at the new tempo

the tall thin loping figure goes by
I give him the runner’s nod
once his footfalls are out of earshot
I slow to a waddle

I can’t do this

the zoo’s green fence holds in the sound of animals
their morning chorus, strangely haunting

how weak I am
the slower pace brings him back to me

I hope he’s not asleep
that he got up, slipped out, left no note
so, I can romanticise

what if

I hadn’t gone running
left him slumped across my sheets

It’s unsettling to watch a stranger sleeping
to feel their weight pressed along me in the bed
to see how vulnerable they can be in my presence
or how they reach towards me in their sleep
me or some memory of a girl they once loved
it is she they clutch at before waking

once awake
they realise she is gone

once awake
there is stilted conversation 
or half-baked sex
to fill the not knowing
the mutual not wanting to know

this man was no sleep-reacher
not the sort to get hung up on hauntings
he was the nightmare of first attempts
rough and quick and rolled over

he left me wet and wanting

I didn’t ask him to leave
I let him sleep

by morning, his light snore 
took up all the room in my head

steady in the dark
I moved across the room
found my runners

now, I jog alongside the Barracks
a batch of Gardaí set out to run
the light is piecing the day together
people have that tired Friday slouch

I pass a uniformed girl with her mother
it seems sad that someone so young
is so perfectly pressed
her footsteps skip, bag jolting behind her

I should not be getting so down in the drudge
not wishing I could sleep all day Saturday

no sleep, it’s Granny’s birthday
I’ve to bus-haul home

Granny is eighty
one of those ages that seems impossible

imagine explaining to Granny that I’ve slept with a man
because I wanted to be held, but then he never held me

stop this, breathe, cop on

200 metres to the door
I need to quit moping
quit longing for boys that spoon
or have encyclopaedic knowledge
of topics I am ignorant in

I tried explaining to Sarah
about wanting someone fascinating

she asked

but like fascinating how 

a butterfly enthusiast
someone who builds intricate watches
trains themselves to write the Japanese alphabet

Sarah says

that is the definition of being too fussy

I suspect the reality of a Japanese-writing butterfly enthusiast
would involve the kind of person who alphabetises their socks
sucks the last bit of chicken from the bone in a slurpy sound

creak of gate, I jog up the steps
fiddle with my keys at the door
try to remember his name
perhaps I’ll need to use it

was he a Conor or maybe an accountant
I associate accountants with bland names

(if you name a baby Conor
you might as well sign them up
for spreadsheets in the womb)

I push open the door
the hall is the dark of rest

I pause, before entering

Page 20, Poetry Ireland Review Issue 122
Issue 122

Poetry Ireland Review Issue 122:

Edited by Eavan Boland

Fifty years after his passing the poet Patrick Kavanagh is remembered in Poetry Ireland Review 122, in a perceptive essay by Eavan Boland which invokes Chinua Achebe and Anthony Cronin, among others, to position Kavanagh in a pre-eminent place among the poets of his time, and ours. Richard Murphy is also celebrated in a fascinating interview ranging over all of his ninety years, in which he discusses a number of his poems – reproduced in the issue – framed by their social and political contexts. There are new poems from John O'Donnell, Mary Montague, Julie Morrissy, Colm Breathnach, and Moya Cannon, among many others, Alvy Carragher is our Featured Poet, and titles subjected to critical scrutiny include recent work from Paddy Bushe, Jacob Polley, Paula Meehan, Rachael Boast, and Matthew Sweeney. Liam Harrison provides a perceptive essay on Derek Mahon's connections with artist Edvard Munch, while the images in this issue are provided by artists from the Olivier Cornet Gallery, a neighbour to Poetry Ireland on Parnell Square.