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2 poems by John McKeown


Against the red background

Of the passport photo

The black blazon of your hair.

And within it, the spots

Of your blue eyes, in your white skin,

Like the wings of a butterfly,

Bore into me.

I cracked the old paperback,

And there you were, your youth,

Your beauty, your personality,

A pressed flower, flushed with colour,

Retaining its life on an uncut stem.

How could I not have loved you?

How could I not have done everything to keep you?

What has withered in the nest

Of all the reasons that made

Such painful sense, that were real - then?

Now, there’s just you, pert, erect,

Unfazed, undimmed, unanswerable;

Vivid, vital against the browned spine

Of a book I treasured more than you.


No longer living by the sea;

A whole horizon gone.

An eye, taken for granted,

Never opening again.

That illusory meeting of sea and sky, gone;

That meeting in infinite retreat.

Nowhere to post hurried notes now,

Among these tall, sealed buildings.

Things drop inside,

Pile up, unopened, leaf upon leaf,

Colourless as cloud; letters

Written on water.


John McKeown is a freelance arts journalist, a former theatre critic for the Irish Daily Mail and Irish Independent. As a poet he's the author of Night Walk (Salmon Press 2011), Sea of Leaves (Waterloo Press, 2009) and Looking Toward Inis Oirr (South Tipperary Arts 2003).


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