New Island Books - 25 Years a-Growing

Poetry Daily Features ‘Barter’ by Peggy O’Brien

Poetry Daily is a popular, international, website of contemporary poetry, which brings readers a new poem each day from new poetry collections, magazines, and journals, to carry with them and share with others . Poems are chosen for their literary quality from the work of a wide variety of both eminent and less well-known poets, published or translated in the English language.

The featured poem on Saturday, July 14th, was the striking ‘Barter’ by poet Peggy O’Brien which is loosely based on the letters of the fabled medieval lovers, Abelard and Heloise, and explores in turn issues of abuse, both clerical and domestic, together with their infernal intertwining.


The shortcut proved the long way round. Mid-summer,
Insomniac sun. She ambled through the market.
Throngs pressed the flesh. Is this salmon firm and fresh?
These strawberries plump and sweet, as ripe as June?
Crubeens and chickens, carrageen moss and peas.
The price went up according to the depth
Of hunger in a voice. “Cheap flowers,” “cheap flowers,”
Hypnosis, the sellers’ siren sing-song roses.

He undressed her with a glance, the burly butcher,
And, as he dressed a rabbit, they danced a minuet.
One hand grabbed the neck, the other the hindquarter,
Then wrung it like a wet, gutted rag. A snap,
Two knuckle cracks, a quick slit in each hock,
And like a gentleman removing a fine leather glove
In one clean stroke all that soft, protective fur
Slipped off the long, lean, torso, a kit on a hook

Drying off from a swim. She reached her destination
Around midnight, watery light, cobblestone cloud.
Threshold and lintel the jaws of a skull, and inside
Those rooms, the catacombs in winter, a one-bar
Electric fire. Hot whiskey. Narcolepsy.
She woke all alone on an autopsy table, the sheet
A slab of marble, a wild animal in her pelt.
AM. Ice cut through ill-fitting shutters. Morning.

– Peggy O’Brien


Peggy O'Brien

New Island is thrilled to be publishing her collection Tongues in Spring 2019!


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