Monday, May 19, 2008

Maureen Gallagher - Poetry Winner and 2nd Place Short Story Winner


Maureen Gallagher lives and works in Galway. She’s had poetry and prose published in literary magazines worldwide and broadcast on RTE. Her work has also been included in anthologies such as Van Gogh’s Ear (2007), Divas (Arlen House 2005), Anthology 1 (Ainnir 2004) and others. She’s been shortlisted for awards many times, including the Tigh Neactain Sonnet Award 2008, The Flat Lake Poetry Award 2007 and the Poetry Now 2006 Award. Maureen’s website can be viewed at

December Rain

December rain breaks the cold snap. Outside a black-
backed gull screeches out its useless warning. Father
moves from chair to chair, waiting for his visitor, a child
who earlier has been given the nod, the familiar sign.
The sound of tapping on an outhouse roof’s flashing;
the rain trickling down the windowpane like tears.

The boy enters the room, fighting back tears.
He fears the onslaught of the billowing black
storm-clouds gathering, knows the flashing
light will take no hostages. The reverend Father
gestures for him to kneel, to first make the sign
of the cross. The day drags its heels as the child

blocks everything out. In year one a child
of God was born, brought into this vale of tears,
his mother a virgin, his father a dove, a sign
of peace on earth; of love. But still, black
thoughts of murder intrude, hatred for the Father
who stands naked before Jesus, flashing.

After the word, the deed. A thousand needles; flashing
pain. Resistance is of no avail, a fragile child
no match for a man built like a tank: a reverend Father,
smelling of chips, face oozing oil, sweating tears
of ecstacy that flow like a river into a yawning black
well. A howling wail like the howling wind: a sign

of the times - they can do as they like, or a sign
of malaise. The river becomes a flood, flashing.
And the boy discovers black. Everything black.
Walls. Ceiling. A thunderclap. He paints a child
nailed to the cross, body black with blood like tears,
that drip onto a shield, in the name of the Father,

destined to bring the sins back to the Father.
For when the time comes the boy will sign,
point the finger; there will be an end to tears;
he will hear the chimes of freedom flashing.
And the collar will re-appear, stripped as the child
was, covering tracks, whitewashing black.

In the black December of the soul, the child
makes a sign that becomes a beacon flashing,
drawing tears that hereafter flow from the Father.

Troubles Come

*****There was a time when you could park free in this city. The experts keep saying inflation is low, but fuck that, everything is getting dearer all the time. People making fortunes, wardens all over the place like a rash. She got clamped three times in as many months recently, paid over money she couldn’t afford, so no thank you very much she’s learnt her lesson.
*****Frankie parks at the cathedral. You can always be sure of getting a parking space at the cathedral. Expensive, if you stayed all day, but okay for an hour or two. Well, not okay.

*****Over the bridge. The river high these days, a full moon probably, or is it the other way around? Traffic bumper to bumper. Hummers, Hummers. Jesus! The land of the rich and richer. She’s one of the poor. If you don’t have money in this country you don’t count, you’re invisible. She makes the effort. Got that fountain put in recently and those gates. And she doesn’t really have anything against big cars, very proud of her own BWMer. Ok, admittedly a second hander, a big guzzler. But it smells of money! Not that she has any, but she won’t have anyone looking down on her. No one looks down on Frances Delahunty. Especially not family. But debt is a damned coyote forever snapping at her heels. Which is why she’s on her way to the local housing now to try and wangle rent allowance out of them. She could be forced to sell the house yet. The story of her life. Debt was the reason she sold the last house, just before the eviction. Thank the lord for the Bank of Scotland with its hundred and twenty percent loans. In her daughter Ally’s name this time, they wouldn’t give it to her. But before you can say credit the debts start to creep up again. They could lose the house yet. And Ally is not well pleased.

*****The community welfare office; housing department. Jesus, the grilling. The questions, fuck. Where she’s living, where she lived before, who owned the previous house, how come her daughter owns this house, why doesn’t her daughter let her live in the house, she is the mother after all? Proof that her daughter owns the house. She feels battered.
*****“I’m sorry to have to go through all this, but it’s necessary, I’m afraid, we must ask these questions.” The welfare officer’s voice is smooth, manner slippery as yesterday’s hake. Frankie knows what she’s thinking: she’s just another of these spongers trying to do the state out of money; you’d think it was her fucking money!
*****“If you owned the house in Renmore, surely you have some interest in this one? I’m just trying to clarify things here.”
*****“No, it was Ally’s Portuguese father who put up the money for the previous house, for his daughter.” He put up a pittance, the miser, but Frankie keeps that quiet. Lousy cheater!
*****“So why exactly did you leave the house in Renmore?” Jesus, the prying. No way is she going to mention the debt. What business is it of theirs anyway? Only tell on a need to know basis.
*****“We’d like to visit your current home, your daughter’s house, if that’s okay?” Oh, God, they’ll find the tenants! But wait a minute, why do they want to visit the house? Jesus Christ almighty, why? It’s her daughter’s house.
*****“Actually I did call last week,” Ms official crossallthe t’s and dotallthe i’s discloses, “but there was no one there.” They were snooping around her house! No doubt taking into account the fountain in the back, the wrought iron gates. They’ll never give her the allowance!
*****“Can you ring first, before the next visit?”
*****“Why? Won’t you be there?” They want to winkle out of her that she’s got a job but Frankie’s up to their weasel ways.
*****“Well actually I’m often not there.”
*****“Why not?”
*****“I spend quite a lot of time in the library.”
*****“In the library?”
*****“Yes. For research purposes.”
*****“I’m compiling material for a book.”
Silence. The official lets it pass and the interview draws to a close. Frankie hurries out past the queueing Lithuanians and Nigerians into the black November afternoon.

*****Back at the cathedral she has to wait in a queue at the ticket machine. Her useless umbrella has lost the battle against the torrential rain. The queue is stationary, the machine caput. Wouldn’t you know! Oh bloody hell! Everyone’s getting saturated. She’ll have to go into the loo after she drives to the shopping centre and dry the ends of her new cream trousers at the hand dryer before she meets Dette at Hughes and Hughes. Where’s the bloody attendant? How can they leave people standing like that with no shelter? This is more of it. This fucking Celtic Tiger! They rake in the lolly, but its all greed, all profit. No thought for people standing in the rain. Would they ever think of building a shelter? Oh no, that would eat into the profits! She’s a socialist, she knows how the system works. Was a socialist, at least, in her twenties – what is she now? Who knows? Too busy trying to keep afloat, she hasn’t time to think of saving the world, or fighting for the rights of the oppressed. Godammit, she is the oppressed. And the more she thinks about it the more she thinks it’s the poor in Ireland, the native Irish poor, who get the raw deal. You have to be a foreigner to get anything in this country!
*****She storms to the office. There’s something about church doors, the wealth of ancient Irish oak. Hand in glove with commerce now, sadly. She waits. Opens the door tentatively. No one. Nada! She’ll surely get a cold out of this. At the very least a sinus attack. Then the migraine.
*****Suddenly the attendant. Walking briskly over to the machine, very business-like, opening the dispenser, re-inserting coins, manually handing out tickets.
*****“How come we’re left waiting in the rain for fifteen minutes? What kind of a service is that?”
*****“I went to the toilet. Five minutes. Max.” East European. German, most likely.
*****“Well, I’m sorry to disagree, but there are all these people waiting. It was fifteen minutes at least.” The customer is always right!
*****“I went to the toilet, five minutes, no more,” snaps the attendant.
Frankie tries reason.
*****“Well I know it’s not your fault, they should have more attendants.”
But no way was this one for giving in.
*****“There are enough. Are you saying I shouldn’t go to the toilet?” Jesus, a cog in the machine. She’s defending the damn system. (And probably earning buttons for her trouble.) Frankie swallows her anger and resentment at this self-righteous outsider who insists on having the last word.

*****Hughes & Hughes, in the coffee shop and Dette on her soapbox.
*****“But don’t you understand, this woman probably has a family at home dependent on what she sends – children, mother, father, maybe even grandparents.”
She skims the froth on her cappuccino and sucks in the sweet cinnamon. Closes her eyes. Think positive. Think positive. Dette is a dear friend but she gets on her nerves sometimes.
*****“She cannot lose her job. If she does where is she? You shouldn’t take it out on her.”
*****“I know all that, but did she have to be so damned aggressive. Like a rottweiler, she was. Why can’t you see it from my point of view!” Why does Dette always have to be so damned politically correct.
*****“Oh I do understand the frustration, I do. Only yesterday I had an experience myself. I was in Joyce’s and… “ Dette launches into of her yarn and Frankie finds herself back at the interview. The humiliation! What if they start nosing into her daughter’s affairs? Would it affect Ally’s student grant? Jesus! She could lose her grant! Fuck! What business is it of theirs anyway what the house is like? She is renting off her daughter, end of story. She scoops up the last of the foam from the well. Licks the spoon deliberately. You have to be a foreigner to get anything in this country.
*****“Y’know, they throw these people - Poles, or Latvians or Lithuanians - in at the coalface with no training whatever. It really isn’t fair.” Dette’s growing a ‘tache!

*****Later that evening, in the Roisin Dubh. Frankie hadn’t told Dette she’s going. She needed to let the hair down, forget about everything. Plus tonight Pete’s playing. In fact Pete’s the reason. Frankie settles into a corner seat, with a Hennessy. Her poison.
*****Several brandies later and the band are in their stride, coming up to closing. Pete’s singing one of her favourites:
*****At the age of thirty-seven she realized she’d never
*****Ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair…
Frankie gets up to join a few people out on the dance floor. She floats around, semi-conscious of eyes on her, how good she looks in her cropped jacket and cream pants. A drunk comes up and dances drunkenly beside her. She’s not bothered, she’s going with the flow. Shimmies her way up near the music and Pete. A very decent bloke is Pete.
*****“You’re a decent bloke, Pete,” she calls out before tripping, losing her step. A pint of Guinness topples to the ground, splattering the black stuff all over her new cream pants. Those same pants she went to so much trouble to dry off at the shopping centre earlier. Frankie starts dabbing the wet stain with a tissue. Some big guy is giving out. She’s giving as good as she gets. Out of nowhere swoops security, circling the situation, shooting orders like darts. Frankie’s in a shouting match now over her ruined new expensive pants - that’ll have to be dry-cleaned - and the spilt Guinness. The music has stopped, people are rising, pulling on coats, the central lights suddenly on. The bouncer is towering over Frankie telling her,
*****“Please leave. Now!” Polish accent! Wouldn’t you know!
*****“Why don’t you all just fuck off back to where you came from,” Frankie is saying, unsteady on her feet. She stumbles against the bouncer, who pushes her back, then she slips and lands plop! in the Guinness swill on the floor. For moments she lies there stunned, overwhelmed by the stench of stale beer and mortification. She sees red; smells blood. Broken glass all over the floor. Everything is spinning, the room, her life, everything. As she rises to her feet, arm raised, she hears herself yelling,
*****“See what you’ve done, you fuckin’ foreigner!”
But the security man is talking into his mobile. She becomes aware of Pete reaching out to her. It’s then Frankie notices she’s got broken glass in her hand, piercing the palm, drawing blood.

1 comment :

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