Denise O’Hagan was born in Rome and lives in Sydney. She has a background in commercial book publishing, works as an editor through her own imprint Black Quill Press, and is Poetry Editor for Australia/New Zealand for Irish literary journal The Blue Nib. Her poetry is published widely and has received numerous awards. Her debut poetry collection The Beating Heart is published by Ginninderra Press (2020).
The Beating Heart
Paperback: 92 pages
Publisher: Ginninderra Press (17 Aug. 2020)
We twisted and dipped and dipped again
The road cast over the land like a ribbon
By turns slack over flats and taut over hills
Stretching and curving, rising and falling.
We chased it as children might a rainbow
In thrall to a never-ending journey
Our destination nowhere.
Squinting in the high sun of siesta hour
Against the dull hum of the engine
Lulling our thoughts, blunting our senses
But for a passing pity for the tiny bodies of insects
Smeared across the window screen, then blown off
By pure speed.
A village shrank in our rear-vision mirror
And its outlying shacks, abandoned long ago,
Lay scattered like crumbs on the hillside.
High above us, a monastery ate into sheer rockface,
Granite testimony to faith and structural engineering,
Stalling time and raising the big unanswerables,
Then falling away into the past as the fields filled in again
And swathes of dark-tipped wheat on slender stems
Spread in a single silken undulating carpet.
We didn’t talk; we didn’t need to.
Poppies cut a line of ketchup red
Across a field; olive trees curled into view
Squat, grey and hunched in on themselves
Gnarled forms of warning and reproof.
We chose to look away
Eschew the music, adjourn the aftermath
And cup the moment in our hands
For a brief eternity.
I hold it still.
Denise O’Hagan, 2019
Published in Scarlet Leaf Review, 16 January 2020
For my cousin in Faenza
The hollow of time
That hangs between Christmas and New Year
Found the four of us
Bound (was it really on a whim?)
That city of arches, mist and gloom
And, of course, ceramics,
So startlingly and exquisitely colourful
They hardly seemed to fit in at all.
Indistinct, hazy, blurring at the edges
Form part of the landscape of my mind
Its contours indistinguishable
From my remembered version of it:
The muted beauty
Of roads dotted by the tips of cypresses
Walks through Renaissance colonnades
And furtive late-night liquors
Sipped while the city slumbered
And we fed on laughter and conversation.
How to understand
What we felt then?
(surely the city merits its own line)
Or Faventia, as the ancient Romans knew it
With its Etruscan, even Celtic origins,
Was elegant, contained and onomatopoeic.
You could not hurry in winter in Faenza
Time was slowed to a point of utter stillness
And transposed to this foggy alternative reality
We could, at last, breathe free.
I realise now, though I didn’t then,
That we were all escaping something
If only a certain disjointedness in our normalcy
A lack of pieces fitting snugly together
Even me, sensing as only the young can do
That primitive, universal lunge towards
We were always going to return,
Our journey by train as nebulous as the fog itself,
Yet we were fortified, buttressed against what lay ahead
And something had, to a degree,
Denise O’Hagan, 2018
First published in The Blue Nib (Issue 37), 15 March 2019
Republished in Scarlet Leaf Review, 16 January 2020
Poetry in this post: © Denise O’Hagan
Published with the permission of Denise O’Hagan