Violets by Nuala O’Connor


Nuala O’Connor

Look up,’ my self-help book urges/cajoles/commands. ‘Look up!’

                I try it and my feet feel unsure, sure only of trip hazards: fallen branches, jutting kerbstones, wrongly strewn rocks, discarded cans, broken bottles and rubbish bags.

                Besides, I want to look down. My Da always told me to scan the ground for lost money and I do; sometimes I find a damp note, often I find coins.

                Up there are branches, sky, leaves, sun, stars, daymoon and nightmoon, yes. But down there are blowsy feathers, dandelion puffs, leaf skeletons, lichen-splattered stones, dewy grass, buttercups, a blackbird gorging on a slug, daisies.



                When he ponders a possible afterlife, the nineteenth century English poet John Clare writes, in his poem ‘The Instinct of Hope’, ‘…why should instinct nourish hopes in vain?’

                 He writes:

                   E’en the small violet feels a future power

                     And waits each year renewing blooms to bring,

                     And surely man is no inferior flower

                     To die unworthy of a second spring?

                 Nature renews and renews. We look up, we look down. We ask nature to hold and refresh us, while all the time we destroy.

                  I buy a packet of violet seeds online – one of my pandemic purchases – hoping to harness their future power. Hoping that, spread at my feet, violets will renew the world.


Yesterday, on Church Hill, I found a fifty euro note. Look down. Today, on Dunlo Street, I find a penny. Look down. And at the ATM machine, a feather falls from the sky – teeny, floofy – and I catch it. Look up. On Society Street, face down, I spot a miniature Balthazar – myrrh in hand, a deep violet cloak about his shoulders – escaped from his crib. Look down. I lift him, admire him, take him home and put him on the shelf over the oven, beside the Virgin of Montserrat. Black lives matter, pops into my head. Then, a name: Ilhan Sami Çomak.

              Ilhan, Turkish poet, arrested at twenty-two years old, twenty six years ago, still in prison. Ilhan thinks of his readers as ladders into blind wells. In the absence of birds, he collects feathers.

              My eldest son is twenty-six years old. Twenty six years. A lifetime. We complain about three months of ‘lockdown’ in which we can go to the ATM, shop, work, walk in nature, talk and eat with those who live with us, make love to our spouses.

              Ilhan is twenty-six years in prison for being a poet. He was tortured, forced to sign a false confession that said he started forest fires. In his twenty six years, my son has lived at eleven addresses. Has travelled to America, Europe and Malaysia. Has been to college twice. Has fallen in love.

              Ilhan Sami Çomak collects feathers. He has hours to fill. He writes poetry.


The Pandemic Purchases – An Inventory:

A television                                      A red aran cardigan                                             A blue press

A Thousand Moons                          A sheet of perspex                                               A pink dress

A silver lucky 8 charm                    Three Welsh love spoons                                     A watch for my husband

A print of pirates                             Pink Converse                             The Actress                        Black A4 card

An Edwardian biscuit tin                 A white linen shirt                                               A Ghost in the Throat

A country music CD                        A violet-sprigged plate                                       A print of a woman in blue

                                                                                                                                                 Violet seeds.





Nuala O’Connor lives in Co. Galway, Ireland. Her forthcoming fifth novel, NORA,

is about Nora Barnacle, wife and muse to James Joyce. Nuala is editor at flash e-zine Splonk.

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