Assembly Instructions, Katie Hale
Southword Editions, 2019 €6.00 (€8.00 shipped outside Ireland)
Katie Hale’s delicious pamphlet draws on a colourful past, from a difficult birth (‘I Was Born in the Morning’) to catching fish as a child (‘Fish’). I particularly liked the early encounter with a boy in ‘Free Period Behind the Bowling Hut’:
His mouth encloses hers like a bell jar.
His probing tongue renders
the taste of salt and vinegar crisps
and cold metal.
He pushes into her bra, slides
his cold hand slack as river mud
around her nipple. In the polyester
rub of his blazer, she wonders
whether she wants this.
In the aftermath, a fortnight later, the bowling hut burns down.
‘Peggy Wood’ tells us about the invisible sister of the dedication — ‘for the sister I never had’ — who keeps the narrator company with an unwelcome grip. We are taken into Peggy Wood where Peggy is alleged, by the big boys, to have ‘hooked herself / to a high branch’. The narrator has gone to the wood
because it is the only place to come for miles
where I can let my words
sound out like a crunched leaf,
because my sister is a tight band
around my chest
The sister ‘settles’ in the narrator’s head ‘like fermenting leaves’, warning it is ‘dangerous to be a girl alone at night’. This prompts the plaintive response:
[…] I am not
alone, I am
never alone, why won’t
you leave me
Other poems deal with later memories. The delightful sonnet ‘Thaw’ takes us through the inevitability of the ending of a relationship:
All through the winter she lay beside me,
cool hands mapping my body, her breath
an owl’s wing
But as the snow starts to melt:
[…] Through the dark, I could see
the cold mirror of the morning, when I would wake
to emptiness, a crumple of sheets, the snow
sinking back into the mountainside as water.
There is so much more to this hugely enjoyable pamphlet, with its varied and often poignant memories.