Lorraine Carey, From Doll House Windows, Revival Press, 66 pages, €12.00
In his introduction to Lorraine Carey’s debut collection, Mike Gallagher warns that “you will not come away unscathed.” With “great boulders of verbs and craggy nouns” promising to stop the reader in their tracks, the weight of expectation might be just as heavily as one of Carey’s boulders. The opening poem deals with a material a bit more malleable that hard rock. The Glass Panel looks at the mechanics of making a stained glass window; the delicacy of shaping, filing and soldering, measured against the calm of cattle in a field and gathering butterflies. In the following poem, Collecting Eggs, Carey swaps delicacy for coarseness, “fluffy down” giving way to “plasticine worms” and “pulling salmons intestines out as if unravelling wool”.
While Carey delights in the delicacy of nature throughout, it is the debility of humanity that hits hardest here. The reader needs to search and connect themselves to find the themes: Dolls Parts on the Shore finds Carey contemplating a dismantled toy.
She was truly mangled,
her matted hair a wren’s nest
of baby blonde and dead arachnids.
I shook the gravel from her torso
her eyes rattled, then clicked shut
as I laid her down.
It’s a brutal image laid against the tone of 11 weeks, 5 days, detailing a miscarriage, the speaker’s despair made all the more heart-aching by “the brunette’s elation with her bump” on the ward bed opposite. The death imagery is echoed in Your Late Present, where the newborn child from a successful birth is described as having a “mottled face” and a “moulded little head, topped with | black ash”. It is testament to how powerful death affects our lives, see in other poems such as Funeral Rights, and perfectly phrased in the closing lines of At Your Wake: “Waited for the hearse’s slow humming, as the dimmer switch | of loss turned the world down, for me, forever.”
Elsewhere, dementia and ageing are addressed in Walking Nowhere. With about 44,000 people in Ireland currently living with some form of dementia – a number expected to reach nearly 104,000 by 2037 – it is encouraging to see poetry address this difficult and challenging subject. Carey’s skill is in being able to reduce these giant abstracts of death and illness into small, measurable steps, almost flippant in their acts of human folly, whether it is imagining her sister growing old like “folk that shuffle in Sainsbury’s queue (It Wasn’t To Be), to the unimaginable terrors of 9/11 (North Tower, World Trade Centre):
We stood above New York’s scuffle,
stared out and down.
I wondered who, at that second
a first puree for their daughter
sure their note was found
plans for their winnings dinner for one.
There is sweetness and light between these dark notes. Often, it is familial, but fleeting, the reader reminded that fond relatives are now departed. Home for Christmas sees Carey wrestle with a “distorted nostalgia”. The poem, coupled with the immediate proceeded of The Red Sleigh, suggests a tone of transience. The image of a once “perfect red”, “Disney apple” sleigh now faded to “anaemic pink” and abandoned in a shed, when compared to the supposed fixity of home, implies that perhaps it is only at Christmas that family is truly celebrated or recognised. Again, the reader need to tie the strings together here, but Carey has spread out enough clues.
The Interruptions from Brent Geese has the lovely idea of geese on blind dates, their “cackles and quacks” disturbing a seaside walk. Birds are dotted throughout, whether free and feeding in a back garden, or the childhood attraction of caged canaries. Strangers are not greeted with the same reverence: Mr Kane, the coalman, cast as a sinister “filthy Santa caked with dust”. These little snatches of childlike fascination and imagination are welcomed in a collection so heavy with adult reflection. We’re subdued slightly with poems like Licking the Spoon and Dog Days, both tender and measured, and then struck with a poem like Counting Backwards, again on the subject of miscarriage. The body tenses on reading lines like ” they got to work, || scraping your remains from me | as I slept.” However, the flippancy is on show even here, and all the more admirable: “I suddenly wished I’d waxed”.
Carey is obviously influenced by walks and exploration, Slea Head being a particular highlight in the collection. But it is in After the Thaw that Carey most successfully manages to weave all the strands together, where nature meets death, and can still remain tender. It is perhaps not the puissant boulder, and not every poem here is a home run, but it is certainly enduring, and endurance is a promising skill for a debut collection to display.
Finches finished by frost and hunger
spotted in ditches, laid bare.
Exposed to the expanse of sky, their tiny
clawed feet, curled up, grabbing air.