Two Poems by Sean O’Brien

June 24, 2013

Cousin Coat
You are my secret coat. You’re never dry.
You wear the weight and stink of black canals.
Malodorous companion, we know why
It’s taken me so long to see we’re pals,
To learn why my acquaintance never sniff
Or send me notes to say I stink of stiff.

But you don’t talk, historical bespoke.
You must be worn, be intimate as skin,
And though I never lived what you invoke,
At birth I was already buttoned in.
Your clammy itch became my atmosphere,
An air made half of anger, half of fear.

And what you are is what I tried to shed
In libraries with Donne and Henry James.
You’re here to bear a message from the dead
Whose history’s dishonoured with their names.
You mean the North, the poor, and troopers sent
To shoot down those who showed their discontent.

No comfort there for comfy meliorists
Grown weepy over Jarrow photographs.
No comfort when the poor the state enlists
Parade before their fathers cenotaphs.
No comfort when the strikers all go back
To see the twenty thousand get the sack.

Be with me when they cauterise the facts.
Be with me to the bottom of the page,
Insisting on what history exacts.
Be memory, be conscience, will and rage,
And keep me cold and honest, cousin coat,
So if I lie, I’ll know you’re at my throat.

A new poem by Sean O’Brien, written in response to the latest phase of conflict between Israel and Hamas

Katyushka was the name of the missile used to do the damage rather in the same way as Enola Gay.

Katyusha, Katyusha,
Arrow of fire:
Kingdom Come, is it
Below or above?
Choked in a tunnel
With morphine and bread,
Or charred in the wreck
Of an olive grove?
Katyusha, Katyusha,
Spear of desire,
Are there green pastures,
A brave desert rose,
Or must it be prison
With pillars of flame?
Katyusha, Katyusha,
A grave, or a rose?
Katyusha, Katyusha,
God only knows.