‘…the brain stores memories like glass shards in a palm,’ so says the speaker in ‘The First Forgetting’ from Liz Quirke’s stunning and poignant, How We Arrive In Winter. Quirke’s second collection is as sharp, intense and piercing as these slivers of glass, as well as being as true, clear and translucent—letting all the light pass through. It is an unflinching exploration and excavation of love, loss, parenthood and survival that I couldn’t put down. A profound, mature and moving collection from a poet of great integrity and power, How We Arrive In Winter is a career-defining achievement.

Victoria Kennefick
author of Eat or We Both Starve

Form ruptures. Mirroring the self in this volume, the poems are made and unmade; a seam of kintzugi gleams, then unravels, speaking to the detritus of love through grief. The collection slip-slides from time-shifting paeons to absence, to shocks of pain, of beauty.
From loss into love, into loss again, the poems are in communion with each other. Circular, concentric, they expand and contract, not towards resolution—but, like with all great poetry, to a deeper questioning. Here is the self, gutted like a fish, but with always something oblique, hidden, so that alongside unflinching truth lies mystery too. Breath-taking.
Ruth McKee
editor of Books Ireland

'At the heart of this collection is a beautiful, attentive monument to a beloved father, tradesman and teacher, an ambitious and patient song of remembrance.’

Mike McCormack
author of Solar Bones


‘A beautiful meditation on love and loss, the overwhelming brutality of grief and the mystery in the everyday-ordinary. Quirke demonstrates great control against raw emotion, and sharp attention to time at an alternate pace. How We Arrive In Winter is filled with beautiful and heartbreaking poems on the human condition, fragility and resilience.’

Elaine Feeney
author of Rise and As You Were

Author Biography
Liz Quirke is a writer and scholar from Co. Kerry. Salmon Poetry published her debut collection The Road, Slowly in 2018. She teaches on the MA in Writing at NUI Galway and is completing a practise-based PhD on Queer Kinship in Contemporary Poetry.


Sample Poems from this collection:

How We Arrive In Winter

We luxuriate beneath the jacaranda while it rains.
You discard all your coverings, utter a challenge
as we inhabit this, our first deluge. I keep myself
together, understand you’re here with me only
because you can’t be there. The water pushes
into your pores, threatens to flood you with reminders
of how confining our small courtyard
all the way across the world really is.

It rains. You scratch furrows into your skin, endure
this Sydney summer rainstorm like I’ve handed you
an unwelcome gift. She has been dead a month.
You mind the roadside graveyard where you left her,
all its lonely territories, so any time life blooms in unexpected
ways, you clutch it till your body racks and heaves.
We’re too young in our love to have the words for this.
No one can tell me when the right thing to say will come.

In this grief memory we are making, for you I can be brave.
I drop my shorts and shirt to meet yours, experience
the way the confines of this continent shatter you.
I meet you where you hold yourself aching,
settle in your wake until I am not 23 and awkward.
Eventually the rainfall slows, clothes migrate
to the open-top washer, and we endure season
after season until ten whole years pass by.

It rains on ash boughs now instead of fragrant frangipani.
We root ourselves in dark brown soil, where once
our earth loomed red. At night we see our breath,
and cold to your bones, you say, can you believe she’s dead
so long. I say I dreamed him the other night but he couldn’t speak.
I’ve forgotten his voice outside of how he said my name.
This is how we arrive in winter, how we can stand to stay
outside, breathing as all we love turns to mulch.

Sometimes I wish we suspended time in that shotgun
house on Camden Street; that we had the safety
of the middle room, where we nested into each other like fledglings.
When it’s bad, I ask you could we ever go back,
could we try unanswer the phonecalls that carried us home.
I see myself back at my desk, the hard yards between Newtown
and Rhodes soften — worksleepworksleepworksleepwork
weekday beers with Rich and Sam in the Courty.

It’s then I remember times when my phone would blare and it’s him,
always him calling and I describe the platforms I wait on,
how the air feels acrid and too warm in my mouth
and we talk out all news and non-news through Strathfield,
Stanmore, lose him under the bridge to Newtown, tell him
I’ll call him again when I’m up on King Street, and when I do
the conversation turns to this and that, I promise him
I’m safe, I’m nearly home, I’m nearly home, I’m nearly home.

The First Forgetting

In the hours of the first forgetting, the brain
stores memories like glass shards in a palm.
I’m combing beaches kept in old photographs,
relying on muscle memory to shape my mouth
around riddles my father kept on the tip of his tongue.

Today, helicopters circle and eleven days from Christmas
I tell the children it’s Santa checking
for lights, letters, to see if they have behaved ̶
they’re too young to equate the rotor’s cut
with suicide by drowning, the gloom of Galway Bay

the morning after, too new to predict a crew circling back
in pattern, how high-vis seekers line where water meets sand,
eyes skirting from rock pool to horizon and back.
Our eldest saw someone jump from the weir, we lied
in the same instant, told her the person was merely swimming,

she found it silly he had his clothes on and
he didn’t have any goggles either. This forgetting is not
what I expected. Scenes from mornings when I crept from
the foot of the bed and everything was warm and safe and my parents
in their dawn-lit room were familiar to my senses as breathing.

Words For After

When asked how he died, this is all I’ll say,
it was on the day before the travels, after all their bags were packed.
A sudden death, fifteenth of June, lunchtime on a Thursday.

I’ll tell them all how quick it was, one sharp pain and that’s the way,
(We heard the phone ringing, but he never called the office back)
When asked how he died, this is all I’ll say,

I’m writing out the ambulances, how we thundered night to day,
chasing blue lights over county lines, I’ll clear this from the facts,
leave him a sudden passing, fifteenth of June, lunchtime on a Thursday.

I’m cutting out the rushed goodbyes, whispers to stoop and pray,
I’ll split the scene and never spill the parts that I can’t hack.
When asked how he died, this is all I’ll say,

some days (when I can) I’ll simply nod and walk away,
I won’t relive the ending in retellings back to back,
his sudden death, fifteenth of June, at lunchtime on a Thursday.

I’m giving him an out more kind than the actual run of play,
no Lee view room, no God is Good, no terminal decay.
When asked when he died, this is what I’ll say, it was:
an easy death, fifteenth of June, at lunchtime on a Thursday.

Poems Copyright © Liz Quirke 2021


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