A poem about Chris Cornell by Hilary Otto : “Totem”


for Chris Cornell

Pulsing through the rough metal of a coil
the rasp of a voice that also knew tenderness
a guttural tincture suspended in air.

Such certainty in a carnival of selves:
how many facets you dazzle
as you reflect your despair in melody.

A sound made for the masses
the depth of your howl
the soul of a planet crying out –

tell us now, how is the sun?
That magnetic field you created
lines us up, pulls us in to hear you.

Hidden deep, a kernel of light,
but that star flung far from us
was exposed to a gravity it could not defy.

We lost you, and yet
here you are still: a totem,
voice scaling the octaves like a wall

sometimes rising beyond our reach,
beyond our comprehension.
Sometimes, falling.

Bio: Hilary Otto is an English poet based in Barcelona, where she is part of the poetry collective Las Di-Versas. Her work has featured in Ink, Sweat and Tears, Black Bough, The Alchemy Spoon and The Blue Nib, among other publications. She was longlisted for the Live Canon 2021 International Poetry Prize, and her first pamphlet Zoetrope is forthcoming from Hedgehog Press. She tweets at @hilaryotto

A Poetry Showcase for Clare O’Brien

Line Break
first published in UK Print Magazine 'Mslexia' in March 2019. An elegy for her late friend musician/songwriter Chris Cornell

In Memory of Chris Cornell

At the start, it was the careful rope, unfurled 
so you, a god three inches tall, could abseil 
down my wooden stairs.  From my sleep 
I watched as you made your slow way down 
into my world, your tiny ice axe in your hand. 
When I dreamed, you were my life support.

And then you were my text. I translated you 
into a thousand languages.  I worked within 
a Babel-tower, your face at every window. 
Outside, your songs were shepherds.  Your voice 
drove the winds, made the seasons turn. 
When you sang, the words cracked like a whip.

When you made me your friend, the tower 
filled up with rattling shadows. Outside in the sun
we talked and touched like humans; you aged, 
like the mortal you had become. You climbed, 
higher, towards the stars, into the thinning air. 
The line was still between us. I held on tight.

When the rope went slack, I thought 
you’d only stopped to catch your breath. 
I did not call for help. I waited on the ledge. 
When your voice crackled and grew faint
I blamed the static in the atmosphere. 
Midway through Spring, the line went dead.

Now all is still. While you were hanging broken
in your bathroom, I was sorting haunted pixels 
from the show, constructing a reliquary 
to post back down the wire. Your dead of night 
bled into my new dawn. Our line is broken.  
I never saw that you would be the one to fall.  

Lost in Translation
first published in Scottish litmag 'Northwords' in April 2020. About a huge barrel jellyfish washed up on local beach in North-West Scotland

Barrel rolling through currents and tides, you ventured
too close to the edge of the world. The ocean swell
delivered you, a parcel spilling helpless mystery. 
Out of your element, you toiled in our alien gravity,
Your lustre drying in the sun.  I came upon you
in the evening. You were quite dead by then, your
stilled frilled limbs like soft blown glass. Your bell,
with its grey fishmonger slab sheen, had settled 
like a parachute in the sand. Beneath your skirts
you were the ancient oyster pink of corsetry.

If I wade into the shallows, let the water lap
around my soft white legs, will I make sense?
Will the world you came from be my life support
if I lie down and let my body float out to sea?
Or will my muscles slacken, robbed of resistance,
my bones slowly softening in the salt?  Your sea 
would dissolve me like a slug.  I’d drift, defenceless,
silent, stingless, until all that was left was a shadow 
and a sigh, my voice whispered in a wave’s breadth.
Fading like these jellyfish, whose dehydrated
pink rosettes are shadow printed on the sand.

Blind Minotaur
first published in POETICA Review, December 2020, An ekphrastic poem inspired by a work by Picasso. Included is a link to the copyright image. 

after Blind Minotaur Led By A Girl Through The Night by Pablo Picasso, 1934

bruised as a crippled tree he walks,
rolling like an apple on the turn. He lurches forward,
groping with a broken branch. The sailors watch
him, unconcerned. He is no threat to them. He lifts
his muzzle to the sky and howls.

			and once upon a time,
he ruled the maze of earth and fire, the place
where songs would sing themselves. He was an idol then,
golden-horned and galloping, his black eyes full of stars.
This waterline was his.  

She cares for all that he has lost,
safe inside the bosom of her bird.  Her feet move forward
but her head looks back, down the road that they have walked.
She knows they will not go that way again. She stays because
besides her dove, he has so little left.

			Tonight they’ll rest, in whatever place
will take exhausted myths. She’ll cover him with straw and listen
while he croaks his songs of sacrifice and loss. Sometimes he
calls his mother’s name, or sadly counts the lives he missed, 
the ones that made it out.

That world has gone: his horns and hooves 
have nothing left to kill. She leads him past the watching eyes, 
the silent scorn of those who never heard him roar.  His memories 
are ravenous, hollowing his bones.  His hide sets hard.  His muscles
cramp.  It will not be long now.		

Tourist Trap	
about a famous garden in Scotland where Clare worked over a Summer.

Inverewe Garden, Wester Ross

This garden is not safe. Not a refuge for worn-out minds
or feet.  We tell you there are acres to explore.  We lie.
We say nothing of the depth.  Years have soaked into its soil
with the rain. Look deeper and there is more than on the map.
The paths are nothing. Here history moves with predatory stealth.

The monstrous flowers you admire have eaten people's eyes
who looked on them too long. They are nourished on your gaze.
Tall trees have slaughtered thirty at a time. Severed arms 
grope blindly at the air, their dry bark flaking. In the autumn, 
when the fruiting starts, you can gather up their nuts.

There are goddesses here. Gods too, stalking upside down, 
their glassy feet mirroring your soles. Their bodies stretch
beneath you like a shadow.  Under their massive gravity
your legs will sink, your hollow mouth will fill with soil.
You will forget your name to feed their rooted memory.

Gale Force
a poem about a night of wild weather.

The air’s in uproar. Roof tiles lift and snap,
while windows chatter. The sky rages
and the ground is sodden. I do not dare 
go out my door. My birds are silent.

This wind would tear us flesh from bone,
scatter skin in tatters through the trees,
bewildered branches catching scraps
of shredded meat upon a fence.

Huddled by my fire, I work to keep
my thoughts alight.  They burn to dust
too fast.  The ashes smudge the sky,
black and blue with bruised ideas.

If water can bend light, then why not
wind? These sunbeams shine aslant,
remodelled by insistence of the air.
The heavy land is hunkered down.

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Clare O’Brien


From Clare's website: 

Originally a Londoner, I've worked as a schoolteacher, an arts journalist, PA to a professor, press officer to a politician and social media manager to a rock star.   I'm now concentrating on my first novel, working title Light Switch, while helping to run our family's tourism business on Scotland's north-west coast. I frequently interrupt myself with new poems, flash fictions and short stories, and my work has most often been described as speculative, neo-noir or modern gothic.