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What Remains the Same

In Alvy Carragher’s compelling new collection, What Remains the Same,  journeys are strivings to escape. Rooms hold ‘the shadow / of an old home, another country’ while, in the book’s title poem, a young woman ‘must swallow pain, remain silent. / This is the shape of her life.’ History hounds the writer’s heels and ancient hurts return as she searches for a voice and for forgiveness.

These poems contain a gamut of emotions — from the kindness of a stranger on an aeroplane to ‘Aftermath’ in which a character ‘wanted to hurt him’. In work that tells ‘the whole house deaf / to what it was that went on / in the rooms of its daughters’ What Remains the Same is a distressing book. But through the illumination of dark passages in her own and in our country’s woes Alvy Carragher, in poems touched by something like love, presents a tale of survival and a guiding light.

Cover image:  ‘Orange Blossom’ (2019)
by Michael Kane
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Read an extract from the book

Some days my mother was so weak

I wanted to leave her. Imagined walking out

the door, across the fields, as far as I could get.


I started running just to be alone in the world,

away from our house with its twisted spine

and the dog with his hurt eyes.


I ran the brutal miles, up the Silvermines,

through farmers’ fields, the grass and mud.

Built to move across the earth, I was a land animal.


My mother was not. Rooms were a shape she struggled

to fill, required a rigidness that did not come naturally.

She was part water, part fish. Seaweed parted for her.


Jellyfish made way. She swaggered through water,

cut strokes sharp and clean. In the shallows,

I was embarrassed by my weak limbs, rarely brave

enough to lift my feet clean off the land.


My mother was suddenly weightless,

nothing mattered, only the breath, the rhythm,

her tiny trapped head in the vastness.

Originally published in the Antigonish Review


You’re basking outside in the sunshine—
a cup of tea, books, and a tatty pillow.
It’s nice to see some things stay the same,
though you wear your hair differently now,
and your freckles are more apparent.

A tub of peanut butter sits absently to one side.
Last year, I watched you eat it from a spoon
on a video chat, and was reminded of us
sneaking peanut butter from the kitchen
and spooning it straight from the jar.

When you were born, I remember the thrill
of skidding down hospital halls, pushing
through big double doors to get to you.
We threw ourselves across our mother’s stomach,
rupturing something. She stayed calm and pale
as she let us cradle you, taught us how to be gentle.
Sister, I slip your name into conversations,
though I have not told you anything in so long,
you, who once knew everything.
There seems to be no way for us to speak
without all the old hurt showing up,
making us both sound backward and ugly.

I cannot tell you what it means to be gentle,
back then, it was easy, keep still, support the head,
there’s just so much more to it now.

Originally published in "I Traveled West" an anthology by the Contemporary Irish Arts Center, Los Angeles

The Snow Spirit

I’ve only seen snow like this
in films, falling in sheets
over all the greys, browns,
pavements hidden
beneath its forceful quiet.

A Yorkshire Terrier
turns her face upwards,
her yellow raincoat,
a dash of vibrant colour,
hind legs lost in the drift,
paws in red booties.   

Something so irresistible
about those booties,
red dots punctuating
the quiet.  

A woman tugs her lead,
maybe work, maybe emails.

But this creature is resolute,
she will have—
snow going kiss, kiss,
wind going wahoosh, wahoosh,
footsteps going munch, munch.

It’s delicious.

She eats it up
in big white mouthfuls,
body shivering
as snow melts in her throat,
becoming one
with her tiny dog cells.

Her spirit takes up
the whole street.

Originally released in video format

for the Irish Poetry Archive

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