Barter

Peggy O’Brien

The shortcut proved the long way round. Mid-summer,
Insomniac sun. She ambled through the market.
Throngs pressed the flesh. Is this salmon firm and fresh?
These strawberries plump and sweet, as ripe as June?
Crubeens and chickens, carrageen moss and peas.
The price went up according to the depth
Of hunger in a voice. “Cheap flowers,” “cheap flowers,”
Hypnosis, the sellers’ siren sing-song roses.He undressed her with a glance, the burly butcher,
And, as he dressed a rabbit, they danced a minuet.
One hand grabbed the neck, the other the hindquarter,
Then wrung it like a wet, gutted rag. A snap,
Two knuckle cracks, a quick slit in each hock,
And like a gentleman removing a fine leather glove
In one clean stroke all that soft, protective fur
Slipped off the long, lean, torso, a kit on a hookDrying off from a swim. She reached her destination
Around midnight, watery light, cobblestone cloud.
Threshold and lintel the jaws of a skull, and inside
Those rooms, the catacombs in winter, a one-bar
Electric fire. Hot whiskey. Narcolepsy.
She woke all alone on an autopsy table, the sheet
A slab of marble, a wild animal in her pelt.
3 AM. Ice cut through ill-fitting shutters. Morning.

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Peggy O’Brien is the author of four collections of poems: Sudden Thaw, Frog Spotting, Trusting Ice, and Tongues (forthcoming in 2019 from New Island Books in Ireland, and in the U.S. from Orchises Press). She is also the editor of the Wake Forest Book of Irish Women’s Poetry and the author of Writing Lough Derg: From William Carleton to Seamus Heaney. She spent half her teaching career at Trinity College, Dublin, and the other half at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The Massachusetts Review

Summer 2018

Amherst, Massachusetts

University of Massachusetts

Executive Editor: Jim Hicks
Poetry Editor: Ellen Doré Watson

Founded in 1959 by a group of professors from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst College, Mount Holyoke, and Smith, The Massachusetts Review is one of the nation’s leading literary magazines, distinctive in joining the highest level of artistic concern with pressing public issues. As The New York Times observed, “It is amazing that so much significant writing on race and culture appears in one magazine.” MR was named one of the top ten literary journals in 2008 by the Boston Globe.

A 200-page quarterly of fiction, poetry, essays, and the visual arts by both emerging talents and established authors, including Pulitzer and Nobel prizewinners, special issues have covered women’s rights, civil rights, and Caribbean, Canadian, and Latin American literatures.

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