Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Paula Meehan


Paula Meehan with Katerina Anghelaki Rooke in Milia 1995


Three paintings of York Street

For Ita Kelly

Before the Pubs Close

Quick. Before the moon is eaten

By that cloud, rescue its dust,

Sift it over the shopping center,

The student hostel, that couple

Hand in hand walking to the Green.

And quick. Before last orders and drunken cries

Steal the breath the street is holding,

Exhale it lovingly below each window

To reclaim from night the shadowy areas.


Salt your canvas with a woman

Quietly weeping in a tenement room

Until her tears become a blessing

Sprinkled from your fingers,

Those spatters of intense blue

Beside the three black cats

Who wait with…patience, is it?

On a granite step for you to find

The exact amber of their eyes

As they gaze at the moon.



Woman found Dead behind Salvation Army Hostel


You will have to go outside for this one.

The night is bitter cold

But you must go out,

You could not invent this.


You can make a quick sketch

And later, in your studio, mix the colors,

The purple the eerie green of her bruises

The garnish crimson of her….mouth.


For consolation there’s the line

Her spine makes as it remembers

Its beginnings, as if at the very end

She turned fetal and knew again

The roar of her mother’s blood in her

The drum of her mother’s heart

Before she drowned in the seventh wave

Beyond pain, or your pity.


Your hand will steady as you…

They impose a discipline, the comfort of him

As does the symmetry of brick walls

Which define the alley and whose very height

Cut off the light and hid

The beast who maimed her.



No Go Area


In the first zone

You will be stripped and searched

For hidden weapons


In the second zone

You must know their language

Or they’ll finger you as other.


In the third zone

Bribe the guard – it’s quicker.

The beast is quite tame by day.


In the fourth zone

An oxygen mask is mandatory.

That’s where they stack the bodies.


In the fifth zone

It’s all sex and experiments.

Few ever go this far.


In the sixth zone

You will have trouble in the dark

Knowing if you’re beast or offering.


In the seventh zone

Stands the gate to the no go area.

Go, God help you, there you’re on your own.




The Dark Twin


You believe

They contact when you turn to the widow –

There’s a girl in pink passing

You might or might not know

Down a street you say history will be made on

As the woman you hold turns to your eyes

Anemones, she tells you, make the same sound as pupils,

Pishew, pishwe, were you close enough

In rockpool silence, is what you’d hear.


And you believe

She’ll turn again and again to your eyes

As you hold her. Show your stored wisdom

In a ritual of healing. Your hands move

Over her dark form. She can’t refuse you.

Gulls cross the sky, bells sound or first Mass.

You know she’ll seek you for she is

Your dark twin. Her eyes don’t reflect you

Her pupils are still as the dark pool

She grew from. She names you Diablo.

If you enter her now you can teach her.

She’ll name a price later and say you’ve had

Her cheaply. She’ll be just. You won’t haggle

But find the exact change and count it into her palm.


And you believe

She’ll return and desire you once more –

More than her own life, more than her darkness.


This you know surely as you glance over

Her eyes to the girl in pink passing.

You move above her: by your ritual rocking

You’ll move her to tears.

She’ll learn to accept love though still

You must pay her the exact amount due.


And you believe

You can quieten her sobs in the morning

When she tells you again

How the world will succumb to men in dark uniforms.

You believe she has stood, her face to a stone wall,

While the men cock their rifles and wait for the order.

You know she’s been there. You know you must heal her.

The burns from the bombings will ease as you rock her.

The legs that are mangled made whole for fast dancing.

Her sobs will be songs for the rearing of children.

Still you must pay her the exact amount due.


And you believe all this

As you turn from the window,

The girl in pink passing at the moment

You enter your dark twin. Your pupils

Dilate, your breath as it leaves you

Makes the one word you can never repay her.






The Pattern


Life has come down to me of hers,

A sewing machine, a wedding ban,

A clutch of photos, the sting of her hand

Across my face in one of our wars.


When we had grown bitter and apart.

Some say that’s the fate of the eldest daughter

I wish now she’d lasted till after

I’d grown up. We might have made a new start


As women without tags like mother, wife

Sister, daughter taken our chances from there.

At forty-two she headed for god knows where.

I’ve never gone back to visit her grave.


First she’d scrub the floor with Sunlight soap,

An armreach at a time. When her knees grew sore

She’d break for a cup of tea, then start again

At the door with lavender polish. The smell

Would percolate back through the flat to us,

Her brood banished to the bedroom.


And she buffed the wax to a high shine

Did she catch her own face coming clear?

Did she net a glimmer of her true self?

Did her mirror tell what mine tells me?


I have her shrug and go on

Knowing history has brought her to her knees.


She’d call us in and let us skate around

In our socks, We’d grow solemn as planets

In an intricate orbit about her.




She’s bending over crimson cloth,

The younger kids are long in bed.

Late summer, cold enough for a fire,

She works by fading light

To remake an old dress for me.

It’s first day back at school tomorrow.




“Pure lambswool. Plenty of wear in it yet.

You know I wore this when I went out with your Da.

I was supposed to be down in a friend’s house,

Your Grandda caught us at the corner.

He dragged me by the hair – it was long as yours then –

In front of the whole street.

He called your Da every name under the sun,

Cornerboy, out; I needn’t tell you

What he called me. He shoved my whole head

Under the kitchen tap, took the scrubbing brush

And carbolic soap and in ice-cold water he scrubbed

Every spick of lipstick and mascara off my face.

Christ but he was a right tyrant, your Granda.

It’ll be over my dead body anyone harms a hair of your head.”




She must have stayed up half the night

To finish the dress. I found it airing at the fire,

Three new copybooks on the table and a bright

Bronze nib, St. Christopher strung on a silver ware,


As if I were embarking on a perilous journey

To uncharted realms. I wore that dress

With little grace. Tome it spelt poverty,

The stigma of the second hand. I grew enough to pass


It on by Christmas to the next in line, I was sizing

Up the world beyond our flat patch by patch

Daily after school, and fitting each surprising

City street to city square to diamond. I’d watch


The Liffey for hours pulsing to the sea

And the coming and going of ships,

Certain that one day it would carry me

To Zanzibar, Bombay, the Land of the Ethiops.




There’s a photo of her taken in the Phoenix Park

Alone on a bench surrounded by roses

As if she had been born to formal gardens.

She stares out as if unaware

That any human hand held the camera, warpped

Entirely in her own shadow, the world beyond her

Already a dream, already lost. She’s

Eight months pregnant. Her last child.





Her stele needles sparked and clacked,

The only other sound a settling coal

On her sporadic mutter

At a hard part in the pattern.

She favored sensible shades:

Moss Green, Mustard, Beige.


I dreamt a robe of a color

So pure it became a word.


Sometimes I’d have to kneel

An hour before her by the fire,

A skein around my outstretched hands,

While she rolled wool into balls.

If I swam like a kite too high

Amongst the shadows on the ceiling

Or flew like a fish in the pools

Of pulsing light, she’d reel me firmly

Home, she’d land me at her knees.


Tongues of flame in her dark eyes

She’d say, “One of these days I must

Teach you to follow a pattern.”




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