My three poems were published in the Review section of the Irish Independent yesterday and you can read them there. I’m also copying and pasting them here in case the Independent goes into receivership...
These poems are from a series based on a group of Jewish people who moved from Lithuania in the late 19th Century to Cork. They lived in an area that became known as Jewtown - by Simon Lewis
THE ZOO, CORK, 1881
At Mass, we heard of aliens
who travelled here by steamboat.
People said they all had beards,
darkened faces and black clothes;
some complained they didn’t pray to our Lady.
We were curious,
Took to Albert Road to see.
We joined the crowds
to get a glimpse, called out
when we saw one pass.
They looked up at us, nodded,
went on their way. A little one
stuck out his tongue
and all the crowd laughed
stuck their tongues out too
until his father pulled him back.
He smiled, apologetically,
but his eyes looked sorrier
than any beast I’d ever seen
and I knew these streets
by the railroad and markets
held people just like me
and when Father Kerr arrived
he shooed us off like animals.
On my knees, like Christians, I’m praying
I’ll get a break today. There’s no lack
of chairs, tables, cabinets in this factory, churned out
for me to stain in the colour Manning shouts at me.
Every bit of me, my hair, body, clothes,
shoes, pillows, bedsheets are coloured
mahogany, walnut, cherry. Rivkeh knows
if I’ve been painting with maple or ebony,
says they all smell different. It doesn’t matter
what she cooks for dinner, it all tastes
of turpentine and she no longer touches me
the way she did before, just jabs at the browns
asking where each one came from.
Tomorrow, I’ll sweat again until the finish.
Sarah sits behind the counter,
as usual, sold out of spuds;
knows if she sells them cheaper
they’ll also buy their bread, milk, butter
and she knows the men come in to stare
at her bare neck when she turns
to get their ale so, she’s learned to say
"a weight of tatties" in her Russian accent
and they laugh, flash a guilty glance,
and tell her to keep the change.
Her sister sits beside the fire,
stitching pieces of satin together
to make dresses for the wives
of men that Sarah sends to her.
Simon Lewis is from Dublin and has been living in Carlow for the last 10 years, where he works as a primary school principal.
He is a member of the Carlow Writers’ Cooperative, a local writing group, and has been published in a number of magazines, such as Boyne Berries, Silver Apples and the Irish Literary Review.
He was recently shortlisted for the Listowel Poetry Collection prize and is currently working on his first collection of poems, based on immigration and survival.