Catherine Ann Cullen’s interests in folklore, myth and popular song are everywhere evident in the poems she has published over the past decade. Collected as A Bone in My Throat (2007) and Strange Familiar (2013), her poems are drawn to the narrative turns and dramatic twists of stories that tell us much about ourselves – and on which our first efforts at making sense of the world are often based.
The best of those earlier books is regathered here, together with a generous selection of new poems. These include timely celebrations of the life of Rosie Hackett and of the women of 1916, poems that make an imaginative connection with contemporary victims of political injustice and discrimination, and a sequence of poems that, through the haunting images left to us by the painter Caravaggio, seeks to eavesdrop on the voices hovering just this side of darkness as they contemplate the seven works of mercy.
The Other Now
As the guests dispersed
the stairs folded you in their zigzag hold
and your fairy godmother placed two sweets
in your upturned palms.
You pondered their wrappers,
slipped one lozenge into the kangaroo pouch of your dress,
and unwound the other from its foil.
‘I’ll eat this now,’ you said.
‘And what will you do with the other?’
Bending your white head to check it, you smiled,
‘I’ll keep that for the other now.’
Time and again I have flung
a net of words over that moment,
but it is always another now I capture,
never quite catching
the perfect size of you:
small for two, articulate,
hair gleaming like a dawn beach,
eyes combing the world.
And while I collect moments
in paper pockets,
how many have you piled up
like your darkening hair?
Is there one we share
or do I stand apart
sucking your phrases down
to a stain on my tongue
while you sit white on the stair
glossing the future?
“Cullen’s poems can be blatantly sensual, always sensitive, shadowed by ancient allusions, and sometimes defiant …. [Strange Familiar] leaves the reader perfectly sated, as after a feast of good words and fine company.”
— Australasian Journal of Irish Studies