Anne McDonald – Letters by the gate

McDonald LE P&W 2 Nov-Dec 2023

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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Two Nov-Dec 2023.

Letters by the gate, poems by Anne McDonald.

These poems were written as part of a collection of response poems between Anne McDonald (Ireland)
and Barbara Bald (New Hampshire) during covid and are part of the pamphlet “Conversationally Yours”.

Letters by the gate

If we had met one hundred years ago,
I would have waited for your letters by the gate,
Wondering if you had forgotten or if wind and sea
Had held your message up,
And ran to somewhere in the woods
Or in the loft to read your words by candlelight
To hear your life played out in ink on paper thick
With scents of another world.

I would have watched the baby starlings hatch
And rush to note the time and hour
To let you know, and I would have told
You of the little one that didn’t live
And how it rotted in the nest and I was
Too afraid to lift it out in case the mother bird
Abandoned chicks to young to feed themselves.

I would have told you of the plough that trampled
Tadpoles I had watched for weeks, and how the
Meadow sweet blossomed by the ditched with the
Wild roses but I was sad because I hoped
The baby frogs would live.

I might have taken days to write a letter,
Counting up the special ways the world around
Me changed so I could pack it all
Into two thin pages. Waiting ages till I filled
It up enough to give you half my world,
As you would give me yours to see in my
Mind’s eye. I might cry at loss of pets you
Loved with all your heart for sadness that
There was little I could do to make less sore.

I would fold your letters neatly in a pile
And tie them with a ribbon to be read again
When nights are long and I would wonder
If the stars that I could see would be
The same as yours.

But now I fear that much of what we write
Is lost in cyber clouds if not made precious
By collating in a poem that we might read
Again and then again so I can see the deer and
Bears and plants you see, and you can see the
Fields of wheat and grey blue sky of water
Where I live.

We have both yet so much to give with words
And over time our worlds get closer
I can see your new pet grow into the house
You made a home for her, and mine becomes
A playful duchess, spreading love as if
She was always here.
I am grateful for this exchange
And hope these poems will always serve
to keep us near.

Three Thousand Miles

You track wild animals in the snow.
I plant primroses in the sun.
I struggle with the weight of being a mother.
You struggle with the choice to remain childless.

You craft words with care and practice.
I throw words together on a page, and yet between us,
we dig an age of ancient wisdom from wells
hidden far below where bog lands or mountains
hold them safe.

You find the perfect shaft of sunlight.
I take the tail end of a rainbow.
Together we burrow with words and rhyme,
moving back and forth in time
between walls of water.
Crafting poems out of love, about love,
made with love to celebrate all there is to love
between two women of a certain age.

In this world of magic we sit separated
by three thousand miles of water,
reducing it to nothing.


Today I opened my new front door of my mother’s old house
to my sister, to my brother, to their husbands and wives,
and for once in our lives we could talk about
patio heaters and plants and fairy lights in a hawthorn hedge,
and what we could do with the patch of meadow
beginning to sprout with cowslips.

No need to say I am sorry, no need to say I was suffering.
I didn’t need to hear anyone explaining why their hurting
split their tongues in two and who said what to who.
It’s all gone now. The worry and the stress,
the complicated mess of families trying to negotiate,
the irreversible long drawn-out death of parents.

Today I opened the door of what will now be
the new family core and hoped that cake and coffee
and rhubarb tart and cream will go some way
to soothe away the never-ending, long bad dream
of twenty plus years of grieving, waiting, watching
parents slowly cease to be.
I have no fears of how
we will now be gentle with each other.

Leaving space to heal, space to rest
but being there if needed, which after all,
is what this messy, complicated, boisterous,
opinionated family
does best.

© Anne McDonald

Anne McDonald is a spoken word poet, creative writing teacher and festival curator. Her work is centered on the challenges we face in a society that is changing rapidly and how we respond or react to those changes. Through her writing she explores themes of parenthood, aging, death, loss, inclusion and response to the human condition. She was awarded  The Irish Writers Residency in Cill Rialag, Kerry and The John Hewitt residency. She has had work published in Women’s News, Hot Press, Electric Acorn, Woman’s Work Anthologies 1 & 2, The Blue Nib, The Strokestown Anthology, The Waxed Lemon, The Storms Inaugural Issue, Fragments Of Time, Blue Mondays’ Anthology 2021, 192 Magazine, Crow Name and several issues of Live Encounters Poetry & Writing. Her work has also been featured on collaborations with musicians and animators and reviewed and broadcast on RTE Radio. Anne has an M.Phil in Creative Writing. Her first collection of poetry Crow’s Books was published in 2020 and her second collection, Clothespeg in my Pocket, will be published in 2024.

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