Easter by Roisín Kelly

As it’s Easter, and Roisín is one of Cork’s own (well, we claim her!) here’s her lovely poem, which first appeared in The Guardian. Just had to share it on my blog:

You walk by holding a bunch of flowers
never knowing that you’ve just performed a miracle.
Are those flowers for your girl?
I imagine her dressed up like an Easter egg
in yellow and pink. I’d tap at you like an egg,
cracking your thin chocolate shell.
If I were made of chocolate too, I’d break
off parts of myself to give to you and your girl.
Once, I gave my words for garden
and water and moonlit and love
to a man who kissed me. After he rolled
a stone over my heart and shut me off
from the world, I had no words left
to describe the dark dream that followed.
Now you’ve walked by, godlike in jeans
and an old t-shirt, the sun glinting on one
silver earring. Now a rose is once again
not only rose but also soft and red
and thorn and bee and honey.
Now a bird is singing song and tree
and nest in a high place and blue speckled egg.
You yourself are glowing with words, they move
up and down you as if they’re alive.
The words bring themselves to me
and tell my tongue sweetness over and over.
The words are everything. With them,
I’ll turn water to wine at your wedding.

And here’s Carol Rumens’ analysis of the poem. Hope she doesn’t mind me sharing it:

From Mercy, the first full-length collection by the young Belfast-born poet, Róisín Kelly, Easter seems to have a special glow to it. And no, the glow isn’t only that of romantic love. The latter is a strong contributory factor, of course: its pains are rekindled for the speaker when her ex-boyfriend walks by “holding a bunch of flowers”. The question “Are those flowers for your girl?” contextualises it a little, while retaining the tonal mystery. Is the voice angry, sarcastic, sorrowful? We might guess it’s all three.

I like the mixed emotions playing throughout the earlier passages of the poem, and how they are finally resolved. Easter eggs initially supply the poetic calories. All three players in the love triangle are turned into chocolate, the man’s current girlfriend being a particularly sickly and triumphant example “dressed up … / in yellow and pink”. The man is seen as the more vulnerable.

Writing a kind of verse letter to the man in question, the speaker imagines tapping him and “cracking your thin chocolate shell”. Birth may be suggested, but death occurs first. She imagines her own comic-extreme self-sacrifice, breaking off parts of her chocolate self to give the man and his girl.

Later on, imagery from the Passion of Christ recalls the numbness and sense of being buried alive “after he rolled / a stone over my heart / and shut me off from the world”. Probably the same boyfriend was the culprit, though not necessarily. Kelly’s change of pronoun leaves it ambiguous. The “sepulchre” analogy is pitched high, yet it’s also faithful to the experience of severe depression, a suffocating stone that’s all too real.

Now the speaker returns the ex-lover to mortal form, a little self-mockingly at first – “godlike in jeans / and an old t-shirt, the sun glinting on one / silver earring”. The mood has changed, perhaps with the recovery of simultaneously erotic and sublimated feelings.

Words withheld and words given become the dominant theme. In line nine, the first of the special, italicised words and phrases, garden, helps the transition to biblical analogy. There is an implied betrayal. But the words are magically potent. They ignite the rose, although they include thorn. They produce birds who lay “blue speckled egg(s)” in nests high in trees. Kelly’s italics slow the reader, so we savour these archetypal symbols, these ordinary happy words, and, importantly, imagine them as the especially meaningful gifts originally offered in the poet’s native Irish language.

Six lines from the end, the poet turns on her full power with that marvellous image of the man clothed in, covered in, words that “move / up and down you, as if they’re alive”. Most significantly, “the words bring themselves to me / and tell my tongue sweetness over and over”. They enable the speaker to find her own words and “The words are everything…” Once more, I was reminded of a passage from the New Testament: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. And the word was God.”

Out of the rediscovery of inspiration and language comes the generosity of forgiveness – and, of course, the miracle. A miracle was first attributed to the man in the poem’s second line: now, an old-new miracle is performed by the speaker. What could be more generous than turning water to wine at a rival’s wedding feast? And of course the wine is also the poet’s gift-to-self – part of her own word feast, now freely flowing.

Easter appears in the forthcoming collection, Mercy, to be published by Bloodaxe Books in 2020.

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