Winter Picnic

Evan Costigan
Whenever my father returned from his travels, the house filled with tales
of moaning bears and night skies fractured by the branches of trees
he’d rolled his bed under. Jade and camel-bone snuff bottles
bullied rock fragments to the precipice of our mantelpiece. 
There were mornings we woke to new alphabets on bedroom walls
or the bugled blast of a sankha last sounded on monastery grounds,
where he’d persuaded a monk to barter it for a penknife. He spoke 
of the ruby-red eye of a hare in the Arctic, sudden blizzards,
spheres of perfect silence, a beast abominable only 
in its loneliness. Within weeks, he grew quiet, until the tug 
of the next adventure. We were bolder in his absence. 
That day we emerged from the brambly tundra of the lower garden, 
arms and faces scissored by briars, to burst into the attic. I flung open
the battered suitcase with broken clasps. Inside were letters 
tied with twine, sellotaped maps, out-of-shape matchboxes 
that rattled with the husks of winged insects. We found a journal.
Opened, it released a withered stem for a bookmark. There were faint
sketches of flowers, a bird with a Mohawk of feathers. On a loose page, 
the portrait of a woman with a hook nose, her eyes pencil-grey tones. 
An entry: Fatherhood?
That last trip. His face shaggy as a yak when he got back; how he
hugged each one of us and then hung on. An excursion our mother 
forbade we ask about; from our listening post on the stairs, we learned of 
a dust storm so fierce he thought the world was coming undone.
After he remained, we had lessons in languages, our dreams swelled 
with seas of moving grasses, snake charmers, the call to prayer.
Most of all, I remember that picnic. The five of us on a blanket,
drinking tea from small glasses under trees stripped of leaves.
Page 16, Poetry Ireland Review Issue 119
Issue 119

Poetry Ireland Review Issue 119:

Edited by Vona Groarke

Poetry Ireland Review Issue 119 includes new poems by 48 poets including Frank Ormsby, John Kinsella, Rachel Coventry, Aifric Mac Aodha, Gerald Dawe, Alice Miller and Claire Potter. Also included are translations by Richard Begbie and Kirsten Lodge, an essay on Bishop, Lowell, Heaney and Grennan by David McLoghlin, and reviews of Paul Muldoon, Paul Durcan, Sarah Clancy, Medbh McGuckian, Kate Tempest, George the Poet, and many more. The issue also features photography by Hugh O'Conor, Dominic Turner, Sheila McSweeney, Fergus Bourke and John Minihan.