Wednesday, February 1, 2017




The ticker was skipping beats
when the vanwoman called,
swept past me with her blue toolbox,
a grunt of greeting as she headed straight
for the jugular of the mantelpiece clock;
unscrewing its face, she tore off
the diseased scions, paused at the numbers
(translating from the Roman?)
− impotent now with their indicators gone.

An alarm clock sounded in a neighbour’s house.
The vanwoman sighed. Is the day ever done?
She snapped shut the face of the clock
and packed her tools into her blue toolbox,
a token smile going out the door.
You should be all right now.


Slate-grey steps with white ribbed bone to steady the foot with the marks of the washerwoman’s knees
and a black iron snake to hold on to
as it coiled its way upwards,
polished smooth from the caress of hands;
and the concrete landing where we stopped to catch our breath and a glimpse of the stars
through a rectangular opening in an ashen-grey wall
which to its side housed a handled steel door
a chute to the Great Bin at the bottom of the stairs,
locked in a room of its very own
where it could overflow to its heart’s content
and still take more,
the extractor of all the Liberties’ ills;
and the automatic light
suddenly quenched itself on the landing
–  we were overstaying our time
watching the stars twinkle  –
and my baby sister cried from the darkness
as we continued our ascent.
I helped my mother tilt and lift;
I could hear her heavy breathing,
each slow tortuous step its own individual,
our very own little Calvary.
The baby cried again:
Hush now, we’re nearly there alanna*, said Mam
but we were only halfway up with the pram.

*alanna: vocative of Irish leanbh (child)


Ivy dying on a pier,
stone crumbling;

the skeleton of a boat
sinking into sand;

I carry the sum
all through the years:

subtracting from sunlit walls,

a child digging a hole,
taking away something
deeper than himself.

JAMES LAWLESS’ poetry and prose have won many awards, including the Scintilla Welsh Open Poetry Competition, the WOW award, a Biscuit International Prize for short stories, the Cecil Day Lewis Award and a Hennessey award nomination for emerging fiction. Two of his stories were also shortlisted for the Willesden (2007) and Bridport prizes (2014). He is the author of six well-received novels, a book of children’s stories, a poetry collection Rus in Urbe, and a study of modern poetry Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World for which he received an arts bursary. He has broadcast his work on radio, reads at festivals and writes book reviews for journals and national newspaper.  Born in Dublin, Ireland, he divides his time between County Kildare and West Cork. You can read more about the author at

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