Catherine Ann Cullen – The Measure of My Song

Catherine Ann Cullen LE P&W April 2019

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The Measure of My Song, poems by Catherine Ann Cullen

Catherine Ann Cullen is an award-winning poet, songwriter and children’s author, and a recipient of the Kavanagh Fellowship 2018/19. She has published three collections, The Other Now: New and Selected Poems, (Dedalus 2016). Strange Familiar (Doghouse 2013) and A Bone in My Throat. (Doghouse 2007). Her reimagining into English of a Latvian collection of poetry for children, “All Better!” was published by Little Island in February 2019. She has published two other children’s books, Thirsty Baby (2003) and The Magical, Mystical, Marvellous Coat (2001). (85 words).

The Measure of My Song

In Oxfam, an asylum seeker
with a stack of albums
and a gnarl of embroidery thread
told the cashier, my name is Ovid.

When I thread my pen
a ribbon of song flows out
stitching all the stories together
from creation to Caesar rocking YouTube.

I’m managing Apollo in the finals of the X Factor;
remixing Virgil on a makeshift desk;
bringing out a box-set called Shapeshifters;
writing a book in Irish.

The way the wind
mouths the reeds on the canal into music
reminds me of home.

My friends here tell me
I loved that place so much
I should never have been exiled.

If I went back they’d have my head.
It would float down the river singing.

Even then I’d moan
around my enemy’s house
until he died and the earth spat up his body.

Even then you won’t have heard
the measure of my song.


for Wendy Doherty, found wandering after the bomb blast in Talbot Street, Dublin, that killed her mother Colette and unborn sibling on May 17th 1974

A toddler strays
into the grey evening,
confident that the familiar hand
will float up again
to anchor her fingers.

Those she passes
shake off their own daze
to retrieve her
from the edge of vision
lest she too vanish in the sudden night.

The stars explode in a new pattern.
They map a pilgrimage
where we trace and retrace
the steps of the lost,
feel for uncertain markers.

Where did their hands last touch?
Maybe here, where Mammy stood­
admiring a pastel swathe of baby clothes
in Guiney’s window,
nine months gone
but not buying yet, for luck.

We walk unsteadily,
picking our way past a twisted bike.
a skeleton car,
staring through blown-out windows.

Paper Boats

I fold my poems into boats
to hazard your shore,
an origami flotilla
bobbing towards the occupation.

Between the creases
some words are legible:
‘resistance’ on the sail,
‘defiance’ on the flag.

And when the gunships
spot the word ‘freedom’
rushing the coast,
their shells will rupture my fleet.

The boats will sink and then rise,
or erupt skywards and then fall,
scattering rags of verse
across the water.

But I’ve folded some so artfully
that their blind sides
might float
past security.

Perhaps one will beach
where children have played
and you will spread it
like a map in your hands

and know that someone
whose rage is not brave
will fold poems into boats
to open on your sands

till on every shore
are hands folding boats
and your waters are white
with fleets of our hopes.


“And the serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood. But the earth helped the woman, the earth opened its mouth and drank up the river which the dragon poured out of his mouth.”  Revelation 12:15-17

While the barman joked, have you no homes to go to?
she went down to the Royal Canal
and swaddled herself in a damp blanket
under Binn’s Bridge.

Through the fabric
she felt the prick of the staple,
found the pinned note,
mouthed the words in the fractured light:

“You unlawfully entered onto these lands and set up an encampment.
You are trespassing on the banks of the Canal which is a public amenity.
We call on you to vacate with your tents and belongings.
Unless you comply, we will ask the Gardai to take action.”

By the Royal Canal
without sovereignty
she sank down and wept
where she had pitched her tents and made her songs
for she had no home to go to.

And they flooded the walkway under Binn’s Bridge
so she might float out of sight
on the holed boat of her dreams.

Earth, are you there
to open your mouth
and drink the flood?

© Catherine Ann Cullen