Issue No. 6, Autumn 2013

Sestina at the Maldron Hotel, Ireland
Judith Barrington

After that happened, I’d a vision of my mother,
A revenant on the bench where I would meet her

—Seamus Heaney “Two Lorries”

Once the North Infirmary Charitable Hospital,
still with a partial cemetery out the back:
in room 3-1-8 we can see it from our window.
3-18 and 19 are the two most haunted
except perhaps for the room between them—
unnumbered door that opens onto a wall.

“Those rooms are deadly,” someone writes on the wall
of a paranormal website, “the fever hospital
took in cholera patients and buried most of them,
but some refuse to leave—keep wandering back.”
The hotel staff swears the place will stay haunted
until some priestly “cleanser” closes the window

between this world and theirs. What does that window
need for the catch to hold and the wall
between to keep us well apart? Aren’t we all haunted,
whether or not we visit that one-time hospital?
My own dear dead ones try so hard to talk back
it seems right cruel to pretend I cannot hear them—

their voices muffled but still reminiscent of them
before they sank through the waves and the window
behind them blew shut. They never came back
but my revenant mother passes through every wall
seeking my room whether hotel or erstwhile hospital
scoffing at fevers and tales of rooms that are haunted.

I know she wouldn’t have wanted me to stay haunted
by memories of fire and of water consuming them.
Sometimes I wonder if they’d ended up in hospital
I would have remembered the view from the window,
the place where I listened to her breath as I leaned on the wall
and silently told her she simply had to come back.

My revenant father just recently made it back
and started to speak after years of silence that haunted
me clearly as words. He blunders through the wall
behind which he lives with the dead although he hates them
and doesn’t believe he belongs. He jumps from the window
of room 3-1-8—our room at the hotel-hospital—

and flies back to dwell with the shades. From the hospital
window I watch him go. Refusing to be haunted
I punch the wall and swear I will never forget them.


Judith Barrington recently won the Gregory O’Donoghue Poetry Prize and gave a reading in Cork (Ireland). She has published three poetry collections, most recently Horses and the Human Soul and two chapbooks: Postcard from the Bottom of the Sea and Lost Lands (winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Award). Her memoir, Lifesaving, won the Lambda Book Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award. She has taught for the University of Alaska’s MFA Program and at workshops across the USA, Britain and Spain.