How Can I Tell the Stories? Tender We Find Our Way

Two poems alongside performance art imagery.

I used a lot of primary colours in 'Wearing My Body Inside Out' and Navigating Belfast with my Bike.' Splattered paint highlighted wounds, internal and external, sustained during the war in Belfast. When I was invited to lecture about my work to the University of Ulster's Art History department, I still couldn't disclose that I'd been targeted by sectarian violence. My security was still under threat. So the work had to speak for itself. Bright colours, always including red, marked fabric, objects, environment body. Once everything was muddied, it was time to cleanse and purify. That's something I hoped would happen to the wounds of my society.

How Can I tell the Stories?

I want to play the piano
and croon a lament:
A chequered coat,
draped over the cast on her leg,
as we sit on a nineteen seventies
bus, in Belfast.
I want to sit by a fire,
in Connemara, local women
‘winding me on,’
as I hum ‘sean nós.’
Masked gunmen breaking in,
barrels at our heads.
I want to sing country:
Unspoken fragments of debris,
the bomb that kept us on the run.
I want to chant deep and low:
Casualties of war,
our silent ache.
I want to write a ballad:
Growing older,
don’t mention
murder or deception,
lest this iced render,
this unbearable weight
would shatter our world.
Already fragmented.
Each May I say:
Accept these flowers,
this shrine to your memory.
Now I will sing the songs

we wrote together.


Tender We Find Our Way

I ordered hot chocolate and cinnamon toast, looked round
each time the door opened. He walked in
with two friends. I stared ahead at the menu board.

My face blushed, then my neck, my hands.
My stomach jumped and I was glued to the floor in my black

brothel creepers.
Heard chairs scratch the tiled floor where he sat,

rolled a cigarette and drank black coffee.
Felt those deep blue eyes pierce the tartan jacket I’d made,

conscious of my slicked white hair. Combed it with my fingers,
unsure of the spikes. The tea lady

asked if I wanted nutmeg on the chocolate.
‘Yes’ I said, wringing my hands along the counter rail,

wet now with sweat.
His friend grabbed a tray and stood near me. He rocked from side to side

on the balls of his feet, making me dizzy.
I moved a step away and said a silent prayer:

‘Let there be a bomb scare and we’ll have to vacate the premises.’
The Black Mountain was in a dark mood, plumes of fiery smoke

belching upwards. An explosion somewhere in the Shankill.
‘That’ll be fifty pence, love.’ The tea lady’s voice

came from outer space. I moved along the line,
fumbled through my purse, navigated a tray into the grey room, found

a table by the window.
Melanie walked in. I gestured to her, unbuttoned my jacket: ‘It’s warm,’

my eyes drawn to the boys table, ‘Let me help.’
She stood behind me, gently pulled the shoulders down, stroked my arms, my rib cage freed so I could breathe.

She folded it, red lining outward, draped carefully. I pushed

the toast and chocolate toward her. She glanced
in their direction, nodded and began to drink.

She touched my hand, said: ‘I like your hair.’
I stole a glance at his flame red hair, natural curls alive

with sunlight from the dome in the ceiling. We watched
the fire brigade hose the blaze.

On a scrap of paper I wrote: ‘He’s ten years younger than me.’
‘So what?’ All eyes were drawn to the window, hailstones tap dance glass.

He caught my eye and tilted his head toward the door.
We walked out into the dimly lit hall, down the back

stairs, whirling through one of many
pheromone orbits in a chemical romance.


Oh, how to make a new beginning?


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