Dancing on Sliabh an Iariann


Darkness gives way to diaphanous folds
of golden cloud, daylight claims the mountain,

empurpling grey ridge with pink, fire in the risen sun
burns away the fog in my soul.

My teachers told me many things, the same mantra repeated.
‘Look to the sky.’

I painted white flakes through blue horizons,
rainbows of violet, blue, green, gold, orange and red,

Sunsets, flaxen as wheat, crimson as poppies,
dawn skies, day skies, night skies, stars,

till I became still and listened to my mind and body,
went to Sliabh an Iarainn and began to dance

under the moon through diaphanous folds of golden cloud 

The Moon, The Calico Rose and The Umbrella

We spend the day making a calico rose,
edged with damask, my granddaughter and I.

Eager to see if it grows,
she plants it in a raised bed in the garden.

When it rains, she puts a
small white umbrella over her nursery.

Nightfall, moon walks through the hedge,
shines her blue light on the flower,

dances in and out of trees,
dodges behind feather clouds.

Stars plummet as yellow hibiscus,
petals open, stalk increases in shadow.

Little hands bathe in the light
of even folds. 

In my next life

as a woman,
I’ll make a counterpane of cerulean blue,

sunset yellow and candy apple,
spread it over my sisters while we sleep.

Blush our faces with folly red, pink roses in our hair,
grow locks to our waists.

Draw portraits of my first love,
his arms around me, .

wear a spiral ring,
Make a quilt of copper, beige and gold

embroider pomegranates,
mistletoe and calla lilies in the centre.

From our fulfilled embrace
children conceived, born.

Grow a field of sunflowers, teach them to paint
azure skies, sage leaves, umber seeds, gold petals.

Butterflies drinking milkweed nectar.
Bumblebees feeding on black eyed Susan’s.

They’ll learn to paint faint lines of coral
sweet pea folded over shades of white satin.

The universe of our souls singing
to the sky above clouds.

Reflection

Angela performs 'Reflection' at the July 2019 launch of her latest poetry collection The Hermit and the Lion's Roar.  Featuring a saxophone performance from Adrian.

The Invisible World


Sliabh an Iariann always near through veiled
filaments of cloud, delicate as a Japanese print.
Silent grey ridge,

home to Ultacts and Tuatha de Dannan.
Hidden links to an invisible world.
Angels descend and play with spirits by the old river.

Drink cool water.
The child lost in the forest runs to his parents, hugs them.
The old man with the crutch throws it away and begins to dance.

A girl is plaiting her long red hair by the pond.
The girl you thought you'd lost.
Go to her. Ask what tales she has.
.
If she shows you footprints of dogs in the snow, smile.
When she says, ‘Come and meet my friends, we’re getting the children ready for school.
But my son skips classes, distracted on his way by cats,’ laugh.

And when you hear the 'meow' put your hand down
and stroke the black one you cannot see.
This girl will comfort you Allow her to wipe away the film from your heart.

That veiled filament, delicate as a Japanese print.

Come Dine with Me; The Bingo Truce; Installation

Three illustrated poems. During the war in Northern Ireland, I was targeted by paramilitaries because of the religion I was born into. In the art performances photo-documented below, I wanted to process and emerge from trauma by using art to help my society do the same.

One performance called 'Come Dine With Me' was part of a series of performance and installation pieces entitled 'Dinner After the Explosion' staged at Crescent Arts Centre in 1982. I invited the audience to 'do dinner talk' with me in a stylised restaurant setting, then exploded bags of coloured paint across my body, the table, dishes and the floor.

Come dine with me

at this topless table, sit on these chairs with no seats,
read the hanging menu, order wine and bread.
My mouth is wrapped in silence, feathers quiet me.
You do the dinner talk, use plates and cutlery hanging in the air.
I have so much to say if I open my mouth
words will spew like the ash of Hiroshima.
I wear a marriage dress in memory of that great din,
fire and debris before the sirens cry.
Smoke rolled upward, murderess to Heaven.
I could not run or I would have run forever,
the country so full of trouble, too anxious to let me sleep.
So join me, join me, let us eat the last supper,
might heal unseen wounds, might sweeten my upside down world,
and rid me of my deepening chaos.


The Bingo Truce

He flung himself to the ground
at the barracks on Platers Hill
and crawled his way to Pagnis,
racket of rifles.
It was only cigarettes he wanted.
He edged himself the long way home,
cursing the day he left England.
At the door he met his wife
dressed and ready to go.
The shooting’s bad tonight
you can’t go out, he wheezed
through a grey cloud of smoke.
Fixing blonde curls she sighed,
don’t you know after all this time,
they stop when ma and me
walk down to bingo?

Installation

Two goats graze in our garden
off the Malone Road in Belfast.
Each morning we put them in a horse box
drive them through Shaftesbury Square
to Royal Avenue. Release them at Carlisle Circus
lead them along York Street to the Art College.
Punks with pink Mohicans cheer us.
Shoppers laugh out loud,
a few moments when souls are free
from the fear of a bomb.
It’s the doormen who try to stop us
as the genteel creatures foul the floor
with neat brown balls of dung.
But this time we have a paper
which says:
Goats are part of the exhibition.
These wide eyed animals like the lift.
When we let them free for the day
where grass grows in a studio
and bales of hay hang low
they munch and ignore
the smell of oil paint
and rancid discontent.

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?

Border


Live audio performance of a poem for all those who've ever had to cross the Northern Irish border.

My Mother, My Life; Divided by War; Suspicion

Three poems illustrated by photography from my 1978 performance art piece 'Walking Blind Belfast'.

I spent a year learning how to use a white stick from a friend who’d been blinded in an explosion. I’d been wounded in an explosion myself during what was called ‘The Troubles.’ So now, as an art student at Belfast’s University of Ulster, I created a performance where bandages occluded my eyes.

Art helps us think on our reflexive actions. As Northern Ireland’s civil war spiraled badly out of control, I choose regular days to perform ‘Walking Blind’ in the streets of Belfast.

My Mother, My Life

Their feet are guns,
their eyes are bullets in my lungs. 
From Remember Spain by Robert Galvin.

I
Sunday morning darkens. The phone rings. They threaten again,
say they’ll throw my body into The Black Water. My bones stiffen, heart freezes.
I have nine lives. I am a walking miracle. Will the lioness save me?
Pressured to Mass by my father’s side, bribed by a petite fit new gabardine coat
epaulettes and belt.
Oh, come home fearless woman before dangerous barrels open fire
and you find my flesh torn in pools of blood.
I don’t want to be buried, I forgot to tell you. Cremated. Make a bed of straw,
a gurney of ash wood, set it alight. Push this funeral pyre on to Lough Neagh.
I will watch the Antrim hills step off into whiteness, and will follow.

II
A red Cortina approaches the lane, turns on the street, our Nissan on its tail.
Navy coated woman dismounts, stands by the driver’s door, stands and stands again.
Windows roll down, my father resolute by the passenger side A gun points out.
She presses her chest against it. Positions held for an eternity.
Slowly the Cortina reverses its’ cowardly wheels along the side of the house.
My heart closes and opens.
I hear her voice: ‘No one will touch a hair on your head, daughter so long as there’s breath in my body.’ Stops my trembling. Mother makes tea.

I bury myself in her shatterproof coat.



Divided by War

We pull the curtains,
avoid the world outside,
bathe each other
in a silence hard to bear.
You want to pretend
we are just the same
and rise above it.
We have our love,
and lives of uncertainty,
the impossibility

I know so well.


Suspicion

Hearts tighten in terror
hushed by an occupying force.
Trust sinks in fiery nights.
Suspicion of everyone
even themselves.
No one comes unless they belong
to the family, the clan.
Cries drowned out by gunfire,
souls darken, a fog closing in.
It isn’t the strangeness that petrifies,
but the unknown depth.
Years of whispering.

Years of being voiceless.

Tom Jones

Angela performs the poem 'Tom Jones' during a book launch party for her latest collection at Ballinamore's Natural Healing Centre in Co. Leitrim, Ireland. 

Ardboe; Refuge; Bag Lady

Three poems illustrated by performance art.

Jackson Pollock said, 'the paint had a life of its own', and I came to understand that during these performance art pieces working with spattered paint in bright colours. 

After the shock of being in an explosion, I realised how much disorder was created. Blood was splattered among shards of glass and debris. The world of ordered shapes transformed to chaotic mess. Colours, shapes, sounds, smells and tastes heightened and overloading the senses. I wanted to bring awareness to this 'overload' experience of the world. Something in my senses and perception had shifted forever. 

Ardboe

Here we are driving along our favourite road,
Lough Neagh nudging in and out, flat as a plane.
I have finally returned after all these years, we are still in love,
have a second chance and take it.
Windows down on this balmy day, wind fluttering through our cotton clothes.
You stop at our old haunt to drink a glass.
The barwoman unbolts the door, cameras, mirrors, sensors scorch in the sun.
Inside, dark, airless, grills on windows, locks on doors.
What is she hiding as she buffs glasses, already polished? Why is it quiet?
‘Please, please don’t bomb us. This is all we have, this is our livelihood, our lives.’
Eyes follow me to the bathroom and back, burn holes in my handbag.
This is not what we remember, take our leave. Outside the sun heals.
Before we reach the car, the woman runs to us clutching her summer dress,
‘Who are you? I’ve never seen you before.’
I hold the woman’s hand, tell her our names and where we live.
They’ve been bombed so many times her soul’s broken, her heart shut.
I cannot help but hold her, allow her to sob.

Her tears are warm and salt, like the sea and come from a woman all washed out.


Refuge

Donna Dunlop sewed rice paper
onto fine white linen,
painted it with cherry blossoms,
parasols and bamboo plants.
On the Ormeau Road in Belfast
beside the graffitied post office,
she replaced synthetic curtains
with her prints, in the two-up two-down.
She kept the lights on
and these curtains drawn.
Shoppers and pub goers
gathered to gaze at them.
When they were caught in crossfire
on Saturdays, she opened the front door
and called the women with shopping bags

to rest inside till the shooting stopped.



Bag Lady

The third time
the phone rings
in the hallway
of our flat
I lift the receiver.
A man’s
voice says;
We know
where you are
and we’re coming…
I drop
the hand piece,
run from the still
talking phone.
Inside, grab
two carrier bags,
fill one with clothes,
the other with books,
pull on
my great trench coat,
wrap myself
in a wool scarf,
walk through
the University area.
Nights I sleep
in different places.
Tonight it’s
Cathy’s couch,

and a dream of a new home.

Nights of 1969

Live audio performance of a new poem accompanied by audience participation and song.

Silence; Ragdoll Cat; If Anywhere Needed Punk, it Was Belfast

Two poems illustrated by images of performance art including a series called 'Mattresses' performed at the Crescent Arts Centre. I lay inside a white painted mattress, it's springs mostly removed. Other mattresses lay in a line like coffins in memory of those who'd died. 

Silence

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. Maya Angelou

We could not tell the story
of the spy and the girl.
Her innocence
and my ignorance:
afraid to confess
how she was captured.
So we let the silence ring,
like church bells.
Forbearance was all we had.
Our unspoken love for each other,
sweeter than honeysuckle.


sweeter than all the pain.


Ragdoll Cat

A man with the pellet gun shot her sister. I zip her
into my parka every morning, cover us both with the hood.
She vibrates, purrs deep in her throat, as pigeons coo and jackdaws caw.
Safe along the lane now, she leaps onto the hedge, climbs a gnarled tree
the shape of my heart. Fluff ball clouds between the mountains, mist on the hills.
Field: a blanket of sacred spider webs. A thousand drumlins, a trillion drops of dew.
Buddhists walk carefully, say mantras for any creature they may step on. ‘Tread softly.’
I whisper to her. She’s taken
to walking on her hind legs, stance of an orangutan, waddle of a penguin,
sings of birds and fish. They say enlightened beings
can reincarnate in a million different forms. I tell her stories
of my teacher’s compassion, how he’d encourage us to save a life,
go to the fish farm, haul barrels of trout back on trailers,
release them down stream in the river Esk. He’d pack again for Tibet:
clothes for the elderly he’d rescue, wool for women to weave, books
for children he’d save. How small we felt
as this resolute man took flight through dangerous terrain.
I could not zip him into my coat nor cover him with my hood.
Enemies killed him, leaving a hole in the earth, wider than a crater
and deeper, bereft now of mountains, fluff ball clouds, mists and spider webs.

Ragdoll cat climbs up my parka into the hood, hums of fledglings and fingerlings.


If Anywhere Needed Punk, it was Belfast.

First time at dinner he sat on the floor
slugging cider from a bottle, while we sipped Bordeaux,
talked of Jung and Carl Rogers.
Now and again banged his Doc Martins on the wall and sang:
God save the queen the fascist regime.
They made you a moron, a potential H. bomb.
When my guests left I sat beside him:
Yer brains are locked away.
But I love your company,
marched up and down, arm salutes:
Never mind the bollocks, here’s the Sex Pistols.
Passed out, I dragged him to the settee,
tucked a blanket over his combat suit.
He gazed at me. I fell into his deep eyes and drowned.
A mumble ‘Thanks wee girl.’
We met again and again.
Treaded dimly lit narrow cobblestone streets
to the dilapidated barbed wired Harp Bar in the city centre.
Pogoed to ‘Stiff Little Fingers’, ‘The Undertones’, ‘The Outcasts‘
and ‘The Moondogs’.
My hair white and spiked,
his, red as flames, purple as the sky above Vesuvius
and Aero blue as a rain shower.
Me in red baggy pants and a Vivienne Westwood straps jacket.
He wore leather and studs.
All heroes, all famous jumped on each other’s backs,
squirted bottles of lager in the air,.
rolled on the floor in a flood of alcohol.
He was the ultimate anarchist, a DIY artist.
We’d piggy back home, army and police looking for snipers.
Too stoned to know I was mad about him, yet our intimacies

had the passion of a boy in love.

Hanging

Audio recording of a poem celebrating the work of performance artist Alastair MacLennan.

Belfast and Agent Provocateur

I've illustrated two poems here with mixed media artwork and photos of my performance at Belfast's Crescent Arts Centre in 1982. 

Belfast

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
From The Second Coming. WB Yeats.

We welcome the first quiet
after our frenzied exhibitions.
Statements on walls to make sense
of what we are going through.
My boyfriend dozes
into a second sleep.
Bang of Lambeg drums
and whistle of whistles wake him.
Sun shines through a skylight.
He curses the Twelfth of July,
and how God looks down
on Orangemen.
I hush him,
bid him sleep some more,
for sleep comes hard in this city
of broken dreams.
We live over a Post Office
on the Ormeau road
often lit by
hovering helicopters.
Saracens park against our front door,
set up a check point,
block our coming and going.
Bullets rat-tat in crossfire,
a surety every week-end
Before all this we sauntered
through city shops.
Bought fabric in the Spinning Mills.
Lunched in a Chinese restaurant
near the Black Man.
Now, gates and body searches
by uniformed women with grumpy faces
reeking of smoke and hate.
Today we’re away from this,
in our attic room watching
sunlight and shadows,
as the bands play on.
He pulls the eiderdown over us.
After the drums cascade,
incendiaries explode, snipers shoot,
we shut out the last star
and sleep for all of Belfast.


Agent Provocateur

Night is dark with danger.
The coleus dies in the window,
cats slink under cars for shelter,
sinister stars shine on the leafy avenue.

Daylight brings the bitter bomb.

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