“Lessons in Survival” by Neil McCarthy

Neil McCarthy


I’ve all but given up on ever speaking Irish again, 
on playing the cousin to tones of a country once removed, 
plucking on phrases I learned phonetically under 
the nettled glare of a Christian Brother.
Instead, I’m teaching my daughter German, watching her 
devour umlauts, count to ten, translate colors, animals, parts 
of the body, the food on her plate. No Graiméar na Gaeilge
No wall-papered hand-me-down angst-inducers. 
Their names are lost on me now, the Brothers—the celibate 
signs of shaving foam behind the ears, the dusty smell of chalk 
from the clout of their hands; the Sisters of Mercy are long gone 
too, as is the sound of the beads in the halls they warded. 
I see the empty classrooms in my head, paint audibly peeling, 
a fanfare of damp spreading; lopsided Jesuses ready to fall; 
one-piece wooden desks with a hundred names carved with 
a compass into the grains like chalk strokes on a prison wall.
I hear a phonebook of nicknames bellowed down corridors, 
reeled off like an angelus of Sé do bheatha, a Mhuires
wisecracks in which we garrisoned ourselves over the years; 
skins growing thicker by the bruises. 

from Rattle #79, Spring 2023
Tribute to Irish Poets


Neil McCarthy: “Like many Irish, I’m riddled with nostalgia. I’ve learned to live with it, love it, and lyricize it. Like many Irish, I live abroad now, and having resided in LA and now Vienna, poetry helps me recreate snapshots and reels of an absolutely beautiful upbringing in West Cork.”

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