“Fykiaphobia” by Maeve McKenna

Maeve McKenna


I write dead eels, limb, salt, choke. I write the stairs are steep.
I write Retreat, with a capital R.
Dementia in nursing homes; a manual on the education and training of care staff.
Who tended my father’s itchy nose, his cold feet? I write care, not in capitals.
What should I do if every doctor refuses to treat my fear of seaweed?
I write Lexapro, Xanax, weed.
I had counselling with a woman who held scissors
between her thumb and index finger like a catapult.
It’s snowing. I grieve for black angels.
My mother drank vodka straight. In 1976, the corporation planted 
ash trees outside our front door.
In 1989, they shovelled lorries of tarmac onto the roots. 
My brother dragged my mother by the hair through the hall
one Sunday morning. 
She was fussing at our ringlets for mass just after.
I should revisit my poem about Medusa. I write this in red. 
I write central heating and something I can’t read.
Solicitors invest the souls of bereft clients. 
Frogs never make it across the road. I write imagine.
The spine of a kitten under the wheel of a car. I held that body 
over the toilet, squeezed the abdomen to empty its bladder.
I write silly kitten, motherhood, Google.
Writers’ retreats are overrated. Read on.
Esther, who works at the retreat, said I should take the estates High Nelly to Newbliss. 
I bought strange food; twelve bananas, one boil in the bag rice, a net of blood 
oranges, microwave popcorn. (I consider Garamond.)
The retreat has a lake but it has lakeweed. Residents swim at their own risk
Is it called lakeweed? I’ll ask someone in the Big House.
I write ask.
My father isn’t here to carry me in and out, but
I announce my new name—Fykiaphobia—
to his face on my keyring, keep saying it. I like it. I am sophisticatedly deranged.
My father had dementia. Bruises on his arms. My father’s radio went missing.
I went to counselling after the counsellor lady with the scissors.
My journal is so close to my elbows my armhair has papercuts.
I don’t write this.
My mother smoked Silk Cut Red. She beat us. My mother loved Liz Taylor.
Snow sounds like grief underfoot.
If I held a match to my hair, could I burn just my hair?
My father’s eyelids lost the blinking reflex three years before he died.
The village shop sells wine and cider.
My brother grew his red hair and beard for three years. Didn’t wash.
My brother died two months ago. When I send my sisters emails
Gmail gives me the option to “add” him.
If there’s a God, show me him blinking. I write—happy with that line.
Horses are huge. I write about huge horses.
The counsellor lady with the scissors told me to cut through the crap.
In 1999, council men cut down the trees, left the roots,
the tarmac bulging, shiny.
I write single-glazed windows. I write anthracite, condensation, lovehearts.
Why did my mother beat us? I write, occasionally. I write ventilation.
My mother is dead all over again. When the parish priest visited 
he wore a herring-bone overcoat, cravat, hand-made Italian shoes.
I draw her lips between the lines, pink as my highlighter.
My niece stole my mother’s sadness. I write sadness.
I miss my children. The shop sold out of wine.
At night I hear other writers talking.
I write ink is the ghost of the white comma. I write slap. I write wrist.
For breakfast I make banana pancakes then run 5k into the forest. 
A Vauxhall Corsa in a clearing near the woods 
beside Annaghmakerrig lake. I write handbrake. Scribble over it. See!
Does lakeweed make me lakeaphobic? I am a. I am the unnecessary ‘a.’
I think of tadpole in my ears. I write amazing(ly). 
Mouth ulcers are spitefully soothing. I write milk. I 
write blink. I write Xanthophobia, Otophobia, Ailurophobia
All those.

from Rattle #79, Spring 2023
Tribute to Irish Poets


Maeve McKenna: “I have been writing poetry since I was a child. In the Dublin suburb where I grew up, life was about surviving and the idea you could become anything other than a worker seemed fanciful, and so, I wrote poetry in secret for most of my life and dreamed of one day being ‘a poet.’ Many of my poems allude to my childhood years, a deeply traumatic time of revelations and change for the Irish nation. I now write without fear, old enough to be at peace where I find myself these days, living a quiet life in rural Ireland and allowing nature to be the new inspiration in telling the stories I still need to tell.” (web)

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