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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

The Canfea Stone Circle Complains

By: John Francis Istel

The Canfea circle consists of 11 stones, 9 of which are still upright, just outside the village of Ardgroom, on the Beara Peninsula in the west of Ireland.

Stele 1 Your palm is not your palm but many palms I’ve felt so many hands I feel like the prince of the family

Stele 2 Stand on one leg you try so long why dontcha, love? Know just I’ve seen some number of kings go and comets so I crave the guts to spit teeth and lay down tender

Stele 3 Not from these parts I’m not buried me self bottom of a well dark with ocean salting me, salting and slapping

Stele 4 Sarcastic you say? maybe you shouldn’t mind yards of Jesuits pissing on you

Stele 5 My mother hill moans calls and quakes and calls there’s not but a soul, not a thief minding on who’ll fetch me

Stele 6 I once leapt over icy glacier fields through a land glad made by somersaulting half moons racing to the sea ready to splash in the temperature of the times

Stele 7 Drop me lay me down let me for heaven’s sakes lie by my two brothers’ bones

Stele 8 Why don’t you notice my arms wide yea outstretched, yes you, yes why not bend to give me a wiggle up or a little heave to me uproot? Don’t go. Stand with me into the dark

Stele 9 Sure I can await a wee longer my ears open to the burps of the earth the thunder which as I recall will surely shake me loose to tip softly away from this hill of my dead brothers. See it see it? Look closer. Closer there past the point past the edge in the sea there past the edge before what comes next before there–my place of final rest.


John Francis Istel's poetry has appeared in New Letters, Off the Coast, Up the Staircase (Pushcart Prize nominee, 2015), Claudius Speaks, Peacock Journal, and many others. He has published stories in such publications as Weave, WordRiot, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Brooklyn Free Press, Rappahannock Review, Helen: A Literary Magazine, and Belmont Story Review. For many years, he worked as an arts editor and has written about the arts for The Atlantic, Elle, The Village Voice, Mother Jones, and elsewhere. He earned an MFA from New York University, where he also taught; lives in Brooklyn, where he curates The Word Cabaret, a reading series in Red Hook; and teaches on Manhattan's Lower East Side at New Design High School. "This poem began three years ago at a writing retreat and workshop with the inspiring Irish poet Leanne O’Sullivan at Anam Cara on the Beara Peninsula in the west of Ireland. One afternoon, we visited the Canfea Stone Circle in Ardgroom, among other ancient Celtic sites. Imagine a mini-Stonehenge on a high windswept hill overlooking the Atlantic. The steles that make up the circle seemed so forlorn, stuck in this spot for millenia. A lot of writers may begin with a visual image, but most of my poetry and many of my short stories grow from snatches of dialogue, voices that start speaking to me. Often I just channel or dictate what I hear. So on my visit to the stone circle, I wandered around, bent my head and put an ear against each stele, and listened to hear what they had to say."


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