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Reviewed by:
  • One Crimson Thread by Micheal O’Siadhail
  • Joseph Heininger
One Crimson Thread, by Micheal O’Siadhail, pp. 158. Hexham, Northumberland: Bloodaxe Books, 2015. Distributed by Dufour Editions, Chester Springs, PA. $29.

Micheal O’Siadhail published his Collected Poems with Bloodaxe Books in 2013. Since that landmark, he has published a volume of sonnets describing the daily struggles he and his late wife, Brid, endured as she lived with Parkinson’s disease from 1995 until 2013. The stages of her illness, the significant events they faced together and apart, and the emotional repercussions of Brid’s death are given affecting treatment in One Crimson Thread.

O’Siadhail’s poetry portrays his intimate experiences as the husband and, later, as principal caregiver of Brid, his wife for forty-four years until her death in June 2013. This new volume features portraits of the currents of their marriage—described more fully in the earlier, celebratory poems of Love Life (2005)—and depicts the laments, the explorations of illness, and the efforts to maintain emotional equilibrium that mark this deeply personal sonnet sequence. In the course of developing connections between the happiness of their long marriage and the suffering at the end of her life, O’Siadhail celebrates small and large moments that still connect them. For example, his spirit of resilience and hopefulness, dread, and affection emerge in sonnet 41: “As I remain your lover come what may— / One crimson thread until the crimson end.” The image of the “crimson thread” derives from the Song of Songs, and the poet has woven it throughout the volume. Here, for example, is its prior appearance as the epigraph to Love Life: “Your lips are like a crimson thread / and your mouth is lovely….”

In One Crimson Thread, the poet portrays her states of mind and feeling, his adjustments to her changing personality, and his brokenness at her death. At the [End Page 156] heart of this sequence, the poems courageously show how the couple’s deep-rooted love searches to overcome her illness, their fear and dread, and their eventual loss. As in its incarnations in Love Life, the image of the sonnet sequence’s title demonstrates that love will connect these lovers by an unbreakable “crimson thread.” The poet writes: “I hush you in my arms to tell you how / This suffering still sounds our depths of love.”

Two sonnets in One Crimson Thread particularly portray these emotions and states of mind, sonnets 33 and 150. Sonnet 33 has just thirteen lines, which the poet has described as a formal effort to represent brokenness, not unlike the so-called “curtal sonnets” of Hopkins. The majority of the poems are written as Shakespearean or Spenserian sonnets in end-stopped lines using perfect rhyme and pentameter rhythms. Sonnet 33’s octave reads as follows:

All memories mix longing with relief—I’m grateful for those years that now have goneBut want that life to still go on and on.My eyes will waste away with tears of grief.

If I could live my life ten times again,I’d fall for you the way I fell before;Would you then choose me ten times moreAnd make this man the luckiest of men?

He expands the notion of their many years of life together in the second stanza, when he makes a promise and speaks a desperate hope. In the first stanza, he has amplified his grief at her dementia and other changes by echoing Psalm 31, verse 9: “My eyes will waste away with tears of grief.” To complete the picture of his longing for a healthy Brid, he offers a poignant image of her past sprightliness, as in these lines: “In lanterns of recall you still can lope / Across my mind so coiled with spring and hope; / I flood with you anew, my all in all.” The suggestion that this flooding is equivocal, involving both a fecund preparation for life and his tears at its ebb, is powerful.

There is room for lamentation and petition in these sonnets, and O’Siadhail makes use of that ancient impulse to implore the Creator for relief. He must tell the realities of her life...


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pp. 156-158
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