Jean O’Brien – Firing Line

P Jean O Brien LE P&W Vol 2 2019

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Poems by Jean O’Brien

Jean O’Brien has five collections to her name, her latest her New & Selected Fish on a Bicycle, was published by Salmon. She is an award winning poet having won the prestigious Arvon  International (UK), The Fish International and been placed or Highly Commended in many others, including the Forward Prize, she was awarded a Patrick & Catherine Kavanagh  Fellowship in 2017, and holds an M. Phil from Trinity College, Dublin and tutors in Creative Writing.

Firing Line

O have you ever looked down the barrel of a gun,
saw the possibility of a bullet tunnel its bore and blast
from the blank O?

O I remember in the 1970s being told the story
of a gaggle of girls linked arm-in-arm on Belfast’s Falls Road
and how laughing and jeering at the untried squaddies

they marched past, one girl more shy, chin tucked down
to hide her grin, when a soldier walking backwards
turned suddenly and his self loading rifle tangled in the strap
of her bag. O she screamed and tried to run,

both of them panicked, they slugged it out
until he cocked his weapon, took aim,
she ducked, his mates set him straight.
an uneasy peace was restored. O the fright.

O how once as I posted a letter, a balaclava wearing
young buck burst in, jived up, nervously wielding a gun,
aiming every which way ’till we dived and hit the dust.

O and sometimes the fact that you don’t bite a bullet
or lick the lead is flim-flam and down to sheer luck.


The crop is gathered in next door’s
garden, oversized green and blue
plastic tubs brim -filled
with the flesh and blood of tomatoes .

For days they are left cut and slashed
fermenting under a fine muslin net.
I with my holiday makers eye, but
a gardener nonetheless, wonder

what they are at. Another September day
of endless sun and something has changed,
between my morning ablutions and
the charged cup of coffee.

The child bright tubs are upended
and on the trestle table large tin trays
are spread thin with the tomatoes,
the aluminium edges shine as they catch light

and slowly the bruised lush fruits
start to shrink and dry. These will brighten
the coming cooler days, stored red suns
in glass jars bursting like rays when the lids

are lifted, the scent of summer flagrant
in a n Irish winter kitchen.

Cloud Bursts

The air above our heads is bloody,
salmon streaks strafe the sky, yellow mackerel
whisp and God light radiates.

Our minds are clouded like whiskey in cut glass
or a tumbler of ouzo with water added.
We are grappling with foggy thinking, our words

are forming storm clouds and lightning streaks
unchecked through our teeth, precipitations
are on their way, we carp at the atmosphere.

Above bereft of light the colours darken,
red becomes ashy rose, yellow mustards out
and a faint blue divides earth and sky. Contrails

of destruction dissolve as snow and you and I divide
ourselves with cloud bursts of invective, tears are
our rain as we make bad weather.

© Jean O’Brien