P is for …

P for phrenologist


after Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

When all this is over, said the phrenologist,
I shall spend my days at Walden Pond
where white rocks line the far shore
like so many discarded skulls.

I will hoe the yellow loam and plant rows of beans,
walk to Concord in my own company
to buy a bag of rye or Indian meal, forget
the rag-stoppered bottle of yeast
spilling in my pocket.

I intend to live on pine nuts huckleberries,
test my constitution
in the daily chopping of firewood,
wield my borrowed axe with tenderness,
free from the troubling cartographies
of other people’s minds.

As for neighbours, I shall visit only the Irishman
in his turf hut, stand for want of a chair
listening to the fishhawk’s cry,
the distant laughter of the loon.

Come winter, I will lift the largest rock
and hurl it to break the lake’s glassy surface,
gather ice and retreat to my cabin,
wet my razor in thawed water,
find my face in the broken mirror.


Great to read my poem (above) on John Foggin’s blog today – thank you John for coming up with this brilliant idea for an anthology and for all the hard work you’ve put in.

Also, thank you Josephine Corcoran for sending me the link to Modern Poetry in Translation’s haiku workshop. With a very tight deadline I nearly gave up, but I’ve managed to put a haiku video poem together which I’ll share in the next post. For now, here’s a collage Josephine has produced, inspired by an original haiku by Enomoto Seifu (literal translation by Alan Cummings):

Falling blossoms
Beneath, lying happily
A skull

josephines pic

My lockdown ends in a week and a half, but I feel privileged to have had so many online activities to see me through. A thousand thanks to everyone.  X



2 thoughts on “P is for …

  1. Hi Julie,

    In the spirit of your most recent post I omitted my comment on your poem there, but I thought this would be the place for it. “Phrenologist” is a poem I will go back to.

    I find it such an open poem – ‘the rag-stoppered bottle of yeast/spilling in my pocket’ is surprising and powerful, hard to forget! There is the flow and rhythm, the roll and lulling of all those w, l and o sounds, and then I feel shocked out of this by images (discarded skulls; lift the largest rock/and hurl it; broken mirror). Then there are the phrases that catch almost as an aside (my borrowed axe; turf hut; stand for want of a chair). And I listen again – how every act, observation and word is so considered by the speaker. (I could go on – but this isn’t a Carol Rumens column!). Thank you.

    Regina x


    • Thanks so much for your generous comment, Regina. Apart from it being in the voice of a phrenologist (who is clearly tired of ‘reading’ people’s craniums) the poem is very much influenced by Henri Theroux’s ‘Walden: a life in the woods’ which is a detailed account of his time spent living in a cabin at Walden pond, close to nature and largely isolated. It seemed to tie in with the isolation we all experienced during lockdown. Thanks again for your appreciation and insight.
      Julie X


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s