Literary Yard

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‘Pine nuts at lunchtime’ and other poems by Denise O’Hagan

By: Denise O’Hagan


Pine nuts at lunchtime

It was in the way of things
That a casual sighting in a supermarket trolley
In front of me of a packet of nuts
And I was a girl again
Delighting in that lunch-hour of freedom
From sitting straight-backed, blank-eyed
At conjugations, calculations or grammatical explanations
Watching our teacher’s hand slowly scrape
That white stub of chalk across the blackboard
And wincing as it chanced to squeak.

But when the bell sounded our release, we hurried
Out under the wobbling shade of the umbrella pines
And ran and dodged and hid and found until
Flushed and gasping, we came to rest.
We knew how to spot them then
Those slight charcoal-coloured oblongs
Of pine nuts nestled in the grooves of crazy paving
Like they had been dipped in ash.

Slipping off a shoe, heel in hand we’d kneel
And with the deft turn of a schoolgirl’s wrist
We would smash them open, but gently
So as not to injure the pale, delicate-tasting flesh inside
Fresh to the world, and sweeter
Than any pricey, packaged import.


What was

In the kitchen I stand
Tracksuit-clad and blinking
As the click of the front door shuts
The sounds of the day away.

I snuff the gas
And the subterranean gurgling fades to naught
As, like a latter-day suburban witch
Leaning over her latter-day potion
I raise the lid of my coffee pot
Damp my fingers in the steam
And enact the tri-part ritual:
Close, lift, and ever so gently pour
A rich and gleaming rope
Of boiling black memoried liquid
Bearing the imprint of half a century of pourings
Into my cup.

Reverently I raise it to my lips
And drink of another old high-ceilinged kitchen
Zig-zagged by light cutting in through the shutters
Half-closed against the sun from the run-around balcony
With its fluttering of uneven ghosts on the line
Which spoke of countless bendings and stretchings
As our mothers down the generations casually
Pegged our lives out there on the washing line:
All this inherent in that single sip.

I dip my toast in coffee, smile
And, fortified, swallow away nostalgia
and am, for now, grateful for what was.


Before the party

It must have just stopped raining
When we arrived. The road, licked for hours
By the quiet slap of countless passing tyres,
Gleamed blackly under the streetlamps
Like wet liquorice. We sat for a moment
Watching the mist descend
Cobwebbing the edges of trees and hedges,
The silver turning of a leaf in the damp air,
And the tenting of the telegraph wires
Carrying beads of water like fairy lights
Backlit by the moon.

Feeling privileged to witness
This heady scene, we realised
(as car doors slammed and gravel crunched)
That our reason for having driven here
Was, for a moment, quite forgotten.


Boston uncommon

Over the grills in Boston Common
As the evening turns to night
Dark figures drift into view
Warming themselves in belches of steam
That arise, as groggy and insubstantial
As vapours from Hell.

Hoarse cries, red-rimmed eyes
Gloves clutching at brown paper bags
Like holy relics.
Ignoring the averted eyes
And the judicious stepping aside
Of the lacquered mainstream
These misfits of society, these malcontents
Blot out their demons and
Soak away their lives
In alcohol.

The last commuter has long since gone
When these lumped, slumped figures
Alternative versions of our darker selves
Subdued at last, lie down
Blanketed, beanied and scarved
Arms crossed over, heads bowed
Wrapped in plastic like giant plasters
Suturing the city’s most intimate wounds.

A trolley-ride away
In the salubrious salons of the well-to-do
Where money and class work hand-in-glove
The high-court judge, the stockbroker and the policy-maker
Uncoil themselves from their cases, spreadsheets and drafts
And tend, at last, to their own needs.
Drunk on pride and vintage sherry
They lick their lips, lock their doors
Flick off their chandeliers
Pad across mahogany floors
to retire at last to bed
and (with the help of a pill, perhaps)
with the help of a pill, perhaps.


Denise is an editor by trade. Born in Italy, she has lived in the UK and Australia. She holds an MA in Bibliography and Textual Criticism and works in publishing. Her published poems include ‘And the Nuns Wore Lipstick’, ‘Honolulu breakfasts’, ‘I am lucky’ (New Reader Magazine, 2018) and ‘Now he is here’ (Other Terrain Journal, 2018).



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