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Where Sadness Begins

John MacKenna

ISBN: 978-1-908836-11-3

Page Count: 74

Publication Date: Monday, September 17, 2012

Cover Artwork: Diane Williams

About this Book

In its four sections John MacKenna’s collection explores the general and the personal.  The opening section ranges geographically and emotionally from the boglands of his native Kildare to Northamptonshire – home of one of his poetic heroes, John Clare. The landscape varies but the poems are peopled with those who live on the periphery, the characters who inhabit his short stories and novels.

The second section begins with the deeply personal sequence Brother, a response to the death of his only brother Jarlath in 2005. From this starting point the poems explore loss, failure and doubt in a strikingly honest exploration of his relationships with his parents and his children.

The third section is composed entirely of haiku.

Finally, the closing section returns to the personal – to the uncertainty and, often, inadequacy of love. 

Mostly, we muddle through,
putting the whole thing down to tiredness,
overwork, a lack of sleep.
Until someone else’s sadness overcomes them
and we have a momentary recognition 
of the empty place inside each heart.

Author Biography

John MacKenna is the author of seventeen books – short-stories, novels, memoir, history and biography. He is a winner of the Irish Times Fiction Award; the C Day Lewis Award; the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and his most recent novel, The Space Between Us, was short-listed for the Kerry Book of the Year Award. His books have been translated into several languages. He is also a winner of a Jacob’s Radio Award for his documentary work with the poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen. He teaches in NUI Maynooth.

Read a sample from this book


(an excerpt)


Something about her harks back to the bog
and a moonlit, summer night
with the sky opening itself
to whatever the darkness offers.

Something in the sad, momentary drift
of her eyes to the window,
hints at a day in February,
perhaps the last day of that month,

when the weather was wild as nakedness, 
the wind tossing madly,
and no one could even guess
at the pain inside her heart.

She goes on searching for the laughter,
the promise of this long summer night.

A Ghost in the Car

You need some respite, the doctor said.
It’s not just advisable, it’s imperative
and, I promise, you’ll be home in weeks.
The clock ticked, the fire sang.

I found my father waiting -
Available but not enthusiastic. 
A February afternoon,
not quite ripe with spring.
Familiar roads,
the ones he’d driven (twenty thousand times,
I reckoned) to work and home;
the ones I’d shared in schooldays,
allowed to steer the Morris Minor on the straight.
A great silence remained unbroken 
even as we edged through the afternoon traffic.
Over the Barrow bridge and right, onto the Stradbally Road –  
finally, turning through the hospital gates, 
 grey famine roof against the blue. 
Only then did he speak:
I never thought you’d put me in the County Home.
To my father, this was still the workhouse –
dumping ground for the unwanted, unrecognised, unkempt and undesired.

He did come home that spring 
But, in the berried autumn,
he was back again.
This time I didn’t have the heart or soul – 
what am I saying – I didn’t have the courage 
to drive him there. 

I’d visit daily. 
The Railway Ward, the nurses joked – 
three old men,  one hundred and thirty seven years of trains between them,
three rusting engines in a final siding. 
And this time there was no going home. 

Some days my father’s ghost travels with me in my car,
some days we laugh,
but some days he reminds me 
and I shiver at the thought.  

Copyright © John MacKenna 2012

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