The enigmatic title accompanies a lovely cover entitled Whale by the poet, on this poetry collection by Monica Corish who talks of her previous life (community health worker in South Sudan, WHO worker, health adviser for Goal) and her life now, after a disc injury as she writes poetry and short stories. There are over forty poems under four headings; Learning to Swim, Facing in to the Fire, Drinking Tea With Angels and Earth in Our Palms.
This is such a good collection that it was hard to chose poems to highlight. the opening poem, 'Painting the Dreamtime' relates to someone's story of the sea and of the people in an artwork; "Cill Úira, Carrowmore, Knocknarea,/ the waves full in flint grey, swimming green,/ lilac sky. To catch the luminous from within,". The imagery is vivid and the reader can visualise the painting. 'The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter' is a poem that answers that oft asked question, "And where are you from, and who are your people' in a marvelous recitation of what made up lighthouse keepers in days gone by when they lived alone on a rock for long periods of time, and what made their wives, raising a family alone, "From men who came home/ to wives who were concubine./ From women whose husbands' first wife was the sea."
'Surrogate Granny' for Dympna and the bump is a poem that needs to be seen on the page, a 'concrete poem' with words shaped into a womb. A foetal assessment shows a heartbeat as seen in the final six lines;
In the section subtitled Facing in to the Fire a large number are set in Africa where Corish has worked. They portray the harshness of life, the violence and the death, but also, as in 'Mango', the kindness; "The warm blush of it,/ Given by a man in a market stall/ To welcome me,". This sits alongside 'Ntarama, Rwanda, 1999' where evidence of genocide is described, "All around lie skeletons,/ hair still clinging, black and brittle,/ to dismembered skulls." and 'Mwambi' where the speaker is shown around by a man who cheated death by lying beneath the bodies of dead neighbours, "The man with the bullet wound/ still visible in his forehead/ as neat as a shilling".
Drinking Tea With Angels gathers together poems dealing with religion and angel encounters, some very humorous in their everyday descriptions. 'Afterwards' addresses the immaculate conception, and asks whether for Mary 'Having known the angel/ was she restless/ with the man?".
In the final section, Earth in Our Palms, the poem 'The Years of Living Slowly', the speaker tells of dealing with an injury and subsequent medical attention with its effect on a planned life. The poem is a struggle with what life has sent but it is also an eventual philosophical acceptance, "I began to understand:/ this is no interruption to my life./ This is my life." The closing poem of the collection also draws on a lighthouse. 'Knucklebones' which is dedicated For Tim, who is weaving a story out of the sinking of the HMS Wasp in 1884. Searching the rock where the ship sank , the other story of the sinking is broached; "There is a rumour, always denied:/ on the night of the sinking/ the light was out."
As with all poetry, this is a very personal collection, even more so as Corish explores her experiences in Africa and her injuries that called a halt to this part of her life. It is a very rewarding collection with so much for the reader to take away with them to consider, not least the vividness of the descriptions of sights seen in Africa not seen by the normal reader except through the medium of television.
Slow Mysteries is published by Doghouse Books.