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Isolde ÓBrolcháin Carmody

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Isolde ÓBrolcháin Carmody is a writer and performer who moved to Co. Leitrim from Dublin in 1999. She has worked extensively around the North-West and beyond in community theatre and collaborative arts. Her practice is informed by Theatre of the Oppressed and aesthetic accessibility, drawing on the legacy of the Focus Theatre in Ireland.

She has a strong academic background in literature, philosophy and Early Irish language and literature, which are tangible in the form and content of her writing. This passion for education and research comes from being a fourth generation university graduate on both sides of her family. Theatre and writing are also in the blood, with her great-grand-uncle, Joseph Plunkett, co-founding the Irish Theatre with Tomás McDonagh and Edward Martin in 1915 as part of a European Modernist movement in theatre.

Writing sample


Number 1

On great hills overlooking towns
Infectious houses stand,
Heads held above miasma.
Tumorous growths accrue
Around poor-house cores;
Industrial ergonomics
Process births to deaths,
Utilising local geography
And gravity for convenient disposal;
The entire institution
Based on an increasing gradient.
Even sleeping people
Roll around on wheels
Through esoteric departments –
Named and arranged
To confuse and exclude.

My old house
Is a box to keep old people in;
With easy pedestrian access
To the nursing home next door.
The traffic is busiest
When residents finally leave
The old famine workhouse
Built on a pit of plague bones.

Number 2

‘Welcome to Sligo University Hospital.
Smoking is not permitted anywhere on the hospital grounds.
Persons wishing to smoke must exit the hospital grounds.
Visitors are required, in the interests of infection prevention, to strictly adhere to the visiting times displayed on notices, and to use skin cleansing rubs on entering and leaving the ward.
Thank you for your cooperation.’

Welcome to outside the hospital building.
Smoking happens whether it is permitted or not.
Persons driven to smoke must acknowledge their obvious weakness.
We share our chosen medication, in the interests of sanity,
as an antedote to doctors,
and nod to each other when entering and leaving the wards.
Thank you for your patients.

Number 3

We each must breathe our own pain.

For one, the breath comes out as a stream of invective,
Swearing, complaint and blame.
And breathing in is the same;
A continuous cycle of gripe
Whether whispered or shouted,
Awake or asleep.

For another, the breath sobs.
The tight knot at its centre
Emitting unconscious moans.
This breath refuels,
Accelerating into nothingness,
Strangling itself.

I know of one
That bursts in hilarity,
Wracking the frame in hysterics.
Where the weeping is from laughter,
And the core crumples up
Until it is spent.

My pain breathes nicotine
Toxins drawn in deep
Each out-breath a sigh of relief
Head thrown back to watch the sky
Making private clouds
Of internal weather.

If you listen long enough
My pain will speak
On the back of the breath

Number 4

Maybe this is the day I just melt,
Let my face dissolve
And pool in my lap.

I have known, for most of my life,
That this would happen someday –
The day I decide to stop being strong.

Strong women get no sympathy;
Only useless admiration.

Number 5

Landing out of doors
Depression lifts on birds’ wings
In love with the sky

Number 6

It could be a densely-planted row of trees
Or the brink of a thick wood;
It spits up black bullets,
A mouthful of watermelon seeds.
They “Jack! Jack!”
And “Caw! Caw!”
Across the dimming sky;
Against the flow of high white clouds
Sauntering, disorganised to dissipation.

Lower, a viscous bank
Of conglomerate greys
Punctured by fire from within
Disguising the shame-faced retreat
Of a timid sun, grown shy.

Starlings buffet on currents
Still straggling
After rooks and jackdaws
Have settled their disputes.

Number 7

This room can only be used patiently.

Patience is the only recourse
When the room is in use
By the elderly lady
Wrestling two crutches and a drip stand
Like an amputee crab
Drifting along ancient ocean floors
To recover her protective nook.

Patience is the only option
When waiting for
The Person With The Key
To appear and refill the toilet paper.

And when waiting
For the hot water to arrive
Down mysterious hidden channels
Originating god-knows-where
Destined for a wobbly shower-head.

I must be patient with myself
When it takes more time than I expect
To liberate myself from pyjama bottoms;
To find a way of balancing
Two recalcitrant crutches
By hooking one cuff onto a grab-rail
And balancing the second on the first –
They inevitably crash to the floor.

Sometimes the patience
Inhabits the gap
Between intention
And execution
Waiting for gravity
To sync with tiny muscles
Buried invisibly
Within my body.

When entering the room
You must acknowledge the sign on the door:
“Patient Use Only”

Number 8

How dull to walk
In split common time
Two beats to the bar
Four bars to a phrase

Missing the swish of the white cane sweeping
Like the whisper of a brush on the snare drum skin
Or the syncopated stumble of
The bad leg
Going where it’s
Not supposed to

Some move in
Four time
With rests
In the middle
Of ev-
Ery bar
Thump out the
Down-beat with
Walking stick,
Crutch, or um-

(The most advanced,
The be-boppers,
Eschew time signatures
Winding up their steps to a frenzy
Before releasing their esoteric rhythms
On an unsuspecting floor;
Festinating rhythm.)

Post-script – May 2019:

These corridors are conduits;
Ancient speaking tubes
Riddling the building,
Bringing sudden voices from afar.

The man with the epic respiratory ailment
Flowering at dusk
Into explosive sneezes
And earthquake coughs.

The constant cricket-chirrup
Of unanswered call-bells;
Pecking at the attention
Of the three all-night nurses.

Two contrasting trundles –
One ominous, one tantalising –
The low rumble of the drug-cart,
With its syncopated key-lock interludes;

And the sleigh-jingle of the tea-trolley
Bringing shufflers running
From bathrooms and scans
Eager to cross its transient path.

A mysterious nightly crooning,
(An impossible animal? An abandoned child?)
That resolved itself, this afternoon,
Into a screamer.

A mind misplaced
Mistrustful of the strange hands
Seeking to soothe the bodily pains
To which that mind finds itself bound

And the man, this morning,
Who needed my actual bed
To cradle his broken hip

I heard his moans
As he was handled
Into an insufficient bed.

The cries chase me, chastising me,
In my grandmother’s voice
When she no longer had full consciousness
But had a life-time’s debt of pain
To repay.

Those kindly nurses,
“We need to turn her now.”
A pause as I failed to understand.
“You might not want to be here for this.”
Still unknowing, I didn’t go far enough away.

I heard her scream in pain
As gentle hands gently moved her.

It was the last time
I heard her voice

Today’s screamers seem quieted now;
I dearly hope their pain is sleeping

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