Matador Review

A Quarterly Missive of Alternative Concern

mary o'donnell

On Reading My Mother's Sorrow Diary


(The counsellor said "God wanted him",
    "I wanted him more"she replied and left).


The diary was the thing, labelled
'Sorrow, no laughter in these pages',
double underlined.

I expected smoking syntax, tirades
against her daughters. Instead, she wrote of loss,
the felling of trees; herself split in two

and feeling useless, but happy when we visited,
happier still if we were happy.
She despised the holiday with us, her idea;

'Never again' to a car journey from Málaga
to Jerez ('filthiest town I’ve ever seen'),
and she'd scream if my husband attempted

Spanish one more time, his Gracias Senõrs
alarm-bells of grating over-eagerness
within the fortress of her well-travelled

knowledge. Mostly, she wrote from day to day.
'A good day. Did some shopping'.
'God when will this end, when will we be together?'

She blessed us, her daughters;
her paper refused harsh words, what there was,
scrupulously overlaid with her code,

an apple, an apple, an apple,
the surefire way to make illegible.
We remained her lovely girls, no slight to us

while even in grief she edited herself.

Mary O’Donnell is a poet and novelist. Her seventh collection, Those April Fevers, was published in 2015 by Arc UK. Other collections include September Elegies, Unlegendary Heroes, and her selected poems, The Place of Miracles. Her most recent novel is Where They Lie (New Island Books). Other fiction includes the best-selling novel The Light-Makers, Virgin and the Boy, The Elysium Testament and Storm Over Belfast. She has won several prestigious awards, including the Fish International Short Story Award, and the Listowel Writers’ Week Short Fiction Award. Other awards include the James Joyce Ireland-Australia Award (2001), as well as a residency at the Irish College in Paris (2012). She was co-winner of the Irodalmi Jelen Award for Poetry in Translation (Hungary) in 2012. She currently teaches Poetry at Galway University’s John McGahern School of Creative Writing in Ireland. Member of the multi-disciplinary arts organisation Aosdana.