Lorna Shaughnessy – American Red

P Lorna Shaughnessy LE P&W Vol 1 2019

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Poems by Lorna Shaughnessy

Lorna Shaughnessy was born in Belfast and lives in Co. Galway. She has published three poetry collections, Torching the Brown River, Witness Trees and Anchored (Salmon Poetry), and a chapbook, Song of the Forgotten Shulamite (Lapwing). Her work was selected for the Forward Book of Poetry, 2009. Her poem, ‘The Dual Citizen’ was joint winner of the Poems for Patience Award (UHG/Cúirt) in 2017. Her theatre-piece, The Sacrificial Wind,  based on her ‘Aulis Monologues’ (Anchored), was staged in the Cúirt International Literature Festival in 2017 and the Heaney HomePlace in 2018. She was awarded an Artist’s Bursary by the Arts Council of Ireland in 2018. She lectures in Hispanic Studies in NUI Galway, and is also a translator of Spanish and South American Poetry. Her translation of Manuel Rivas’, The Mouth of the Earth (Shearsman Press) was launched in March 2019. Her fourth collection will be published in 2020.

American Red

For Anne Reilly

They hid dresses and dancing shoes in the byre,
slipped out the window to cycle to dances, cheeks rouged
with dye rubbed from The Catholic Messenger.
The boy who dated one paid her sister’s way too,
but when a local farmer called to the house
with his Sunday clothes and face, she hid in the parlour.

Instead, she followed her eldest sister to New York,
forsaking nettles, wild strawberries and high nellies
for a gloved life of polished mirrors and lacquered nails.
Companion to an heiress on Fifth Avenue, she saw to it
that drawers were filled with freshly scented linen,
stockings and silk slips.

The parlour clock that came with her mother’s dowry
kept time in her head. When Babs passed away
she came back alone, to buy her own house in the town
and fill its drawers with scented linen, stockings, silk slips.
She listened for familiar voices after morning Mass;
fewer now, perhaps, than she had imagined.

Her lipstick was an unmistakable American red
with a gloss that often matched her nails; cherry,
like the glamorous swing coat she wore in the fifties
when she stepped out, hatted, heeled and groomed,
and all the doormen on Fifth Avenue saluted.


For Kathleen Reilly

Some mornings she could not leave the larks
but lingered in the fields after the bell sounded
then walked to school past wild hyacinths, cowslips
and the neighbour’s gate where her sister left a stone
to tell her they had gone ahead.

It was only when the high school windows were in sight
that a dread of consequence crept into her bones.
Having no guile, she owned up right away –
she had stayed behind in the meadow to listen to the larks;
there was no other way to say it, nothing else to say.

The silence that followed her confession was long,
too long for her to read. The teacher removed her glasses,
glanced up through a window at the breathing sky
as though trying to remember what it was she had left there,
then barely audible, said ‘Go on now, go and sit down.’

© Lorna Shaughnessy