Kathleen McPhilemy

Coming or going

Three covered shapes on the hill or horizon
against a backdrop of black or orangey-red
one standing, one stooping, one on her knees;
– they seem to be women by the figures they cut
from the fabric of dawn or sunset or war.

It’s hard to tell if they’re coming or going
or static forever on that liminal line;
teenagers seeking hope in the desert
or refugees stumbling away from the fire:
whoever they are, they are not like us.

Girls together plotting in the playground
late at night in the light of their screens
caught on camera hauling their trolley bags
from airport to airport – why not heroic?–
helping each other from buses and trains.

Or widows, old women, exhausted mothers
stopping perhaps on their way towards us
to rest, to pray, to bury a child;
if they make it here over sand and sea
how can we think we will understand them?


Born and brought up in Belfast. Lived in
Edinburg, London and for past 30 years in
Oxford. Published 3 volumes of poetry,
including The Lion in the Forest, Katabasis, 2005.