A Different Kind of Prison & Philomel by Patricia McCarthy


    A Different Kind of Prison

    They were always there at the window
    when I awoke, nostrils squashed

    against the pane, gnarled fingers
    tap-tap-tapping: macaques, threatening
    entry. As if they were the gaolers,

    myself in the cage of a foreign zoo.
    ‘Never look a rhesus monkey in the eye’,

    it was said. But I caught a stare
    that the Brahmin priests and sadhus
    warned was a dervish’s glare.

    Though a mosquito net hung over me
    like an outworn bridal veil, holed

    by paddies, threats, rages, it offered
    no protection from the wizened faces
    of these temple primates that overheard

    my thoughts and climbed my nightmares.
    Swinging from my fears, they fisted

    the only nuggets of light I managed to save
    in solitary confinement even by
    my husband’s side. From some cave

    in Pashupatinath I presumed they had come..
    There, on stone linga, they masturbated

    at teenage girls gliding by, wrapped
    in smoke from burning pyres on ghats –
    while the Bagmati’s brown waters lapped

    against worn feet of washer-women
    wringing out kurtas and saris, bodies curved

    towards the Ganges for a new incarnation.
    They were always there at the window,
    older than time, as if I was their creation..


    Philomel –

    was it so terrible what you underwent
    that you were unable to recover your song
    stolen by the male that did you wrong?

    No sharp, flat or natural, no decibel
    to borrow from the winds in the woods
    of your perches, no note to swell –


    Hushed forever, how can you bear
    to listen to arias from the virtuosos
    of your kind, piercing, pure, and know –

    from the thicket where your shyness hides –
    your talent far surpasses what you hear,
    yet stays day and night unannounced inside?

    Philomel –

    forget how you were raped and torn
    in yellowed deserts, spiked downland dells;
    how, never out of tune, you were accused

    of croaking in a choir, the conductor’s baton
    against your throat as blackcaps and warblers
    whistled your name. Even when gone –

    Philomel –

    in your plain brown body, a laide-belle,
    may you find cellos, tongues, feathered flutes
    for the undertones winged on your spell.

    Patricia McCarthy is half Irish and half English. Her collection, Rodin’s Shadow, was published in 2012 by Clutag Press/Agenda Editions. Horses Between Our Legs, headed by her poem which won the National Poetry Competition, 2013, was published in 2014; Letters to Akhmatova came out last year. Rockabye, a new collection will be published by Worple Press this year (2017) and Shot Silks by Waterloo Press. She is the editor of Agenda poetry journal www.agendapoetry.co.uk