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John W Sexton – Tales from Aether Earth

Sexton LEP&W Oct 2020

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John W. Sexton’s sixth poetry collection, Futures Pass, was published by Salmon Poetry in 2018 and a chapbook of surrealist poetry, Inverted Night, came out from SurVision in April 2019. His seventh full collection of poetry, Visions at Templeglantine, is now available from Revival Press. His poem The Green Owl was awarded the Listowel Poetry Prize 2007 for best single poem. His poem In and Out of Their Heads, from The Offspring of the Moon, was selected for The Forward Book of Poetry 2014. His poem The Snails was shortlisted for the 2018 An Post / Listowel Writers’ Week Poem of the Year Award. In 2007 he was awarded a Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry.


A House for Mother

For our mother we wove an osier house;
before its wheezing hearth she napped all day.
She ate a beetle and a roasted mouse;
the windows sprouted leaf, shut the night away.

But starlight fell till stars were all undone,
which nurtured in her throat a hacking cough.
She woke with feathers drifting from her tongue,
some were downy fine and some were rough.

Soon dark starlings gathered on the earthen floor.
Come morning, we opened wide the willow door.
Birds, birds, birds aflutter; our mother no more.

The Princess and the Moth

Once upon a time, upon a time, there was a princess,
and one evening a moth came through her window.
The moth had wonderful blue eyes,
one on each wing.

The princess said to the moth:
“I’ll let you look through my eyes
if you let me look through yours”.
And the moth said: “Yes, but let me go first”.

So the princess closed her eyes
and the moth fluttered up to her forehead;
then the moth closed its wings and the princess opened her eyes.

And now the moth could see a lamp burning on the table;
the moth could see what it really was,
a smoky ribbon of flame in a glass bowl.

Then the moth looked further,
through the open window.
Outside in the sky was a light,
a beautiful light with a face;
and in its face were dark, sad eyes.

The moth opened its wings and now the princess closed her eyes.
Then the moth flew out through the window,
out over the meadow,
over the swaying ragwort not yellow in the night,
up past the trees not green in the night,
and the princess could see the vivid yellow face of the moon
floating free beyond the sky.

Up, up went the moth;
up, up went the princess.
And up there looking down from its sad grey eyes was the moon,
its grey mouth open in surprise.


The Seaweed Lawns

The bird flew out of the music box
The bird flew round the room
The bird sang songs of falling rice
The bird sang songs of doom

You’ll marry a girl from the deep grey sea
In the deep grey see you’ll wed
The salty dark will be your light
The seaweed lawns your bed

So I left my house in the city
With its curtains weeping roses
Went down to the ships in waiting
And watched as they loaded horses

The horses were gold like goldfish
Their manes were golden scales
Their nostrils flared in the foggy morn
Their eyes were slick as snails

Their neighing rose as a chorus
It filled the iron ships
And in echo after echo
A song came from their lips

You’ll marry a girl from the deep grey sea
In the deep grey see you’ll wed
The salty dark will be your light
The seaweed lawns your bed

I crossed the bridge aboard the ship
Where we sailed the roiling waters
The horses pulled us down with them
And we entered the depths of daughters

Daughters of seals with fatty heads
And whiskers sharp as pins
A thickset tail instead of legs
And hands as thin as fins

They came to me and kissed my face
They kissed me in great numbers
My skin turned green, my mind fell dim
I entered wanton slumbers

You’ll marry a girl from the deep grey sea
In the deep grey see you’ll wed
The salty dark will be your light
The seaweed lawns your bed

The Enigmatic Departure
of Miss Martha Sway and Neighbour

Miss Martha Sway
Stepped out one day
When daffodils were weeping
Their heads all rot
And brown begot
And none of them worth keeping

The sky was torn
The sun was worn
The stars were surely falling
Their silver black
Their shine all tack
Their names not worth the calling

An owl all noise
A dove all lies
The songbirds now were screeching
No linnet trilled
No blackbird thrilled
But End of Days beseeching

Miss Martha Sway
Went by the way
Of Mr Dumpling’s dwelling
His lawn was brown
His gate was down
His wooden house was swelling

His dog was thin
His hens done in
And there he stood all trembling
Behind his back
Its dense coat black
A palug cat was grumbling

Miss Martha Sway
Leapt straight away
Without a hesitation
And landed hale
Upon its tail
And demanded transportation

Behind her sat
His courage flat
Her neighbour holding tightly
And off they flew
To no one knew
But some might whisper quietly


© John W Sexton