MAG Poetry Competition 2010 – Winning Poem

Honey Traps

by Francesca McMahon

Then our mother found herself
abandoned in the fallow years
of schools, church halls, playgrounds,
swimming pools. Her sons chased
other sons, endlessly, like mice
on a wheel. Us girls caught her heels,
bound her ankles with name tape,
hair ribbon, skipping rope. At dusk,
hands doused in dishwater, discordant
noise from miniature instruments
tortured her ears; under her breath
she counted days - years and years
of them - stolen from her own life.
More and more she saw the answer
in the future, when we would all leave
home, or run away. She planned
to celebrate: set light to the oven,
solder the iron, smash up the plates.
Saw herself swimming through a tide
of spilt milk, towards freedom.
Now the future has arrived she sits alone
in a room full of people; suffers
the steady chiming of a granddaughter
clock. At four, like a cuckoo, she opens
the door, calls our names - plain ones,
long out of fashion - into the street.
The girls whisper, afraid she is a witch;
the boys point, sometimes throw sticks.
No matter. She would call those same
names over the whole world
if she thought it would bring us back.
We hold out our hands, but she sees
through us, knowing we are not the children
she is looking for, knowing we are lost to her.

Added: 01.04.2010

Judges' comments on this poem


I thought that this poem was so true. There must be hundreds of mothers somehow regretting their children. Crying over the spilt milk.


Good tone, pace, but the poem might be leaner and more effective with a regular metre.


Very moving and painful. Great lines, 'girls caught her heels..hope' & 'she planned to celebrate.plates'.Shocking / understated last 3 lines


Liked the "then" start. Suggests part of longer story/life. We're immediately engaged as readers. Liked cuckoo image very much.


so sad.


I really liked the contrast between the young mother's expectations for the future and the depressing reality.


Brilliant and heart-breaking. Almost too close to the knuckle but so accurate and with so many wonderful metaphors of motherhood.


Almost there, but it is not how I view motherhood


This poem really transmits a sense of abandonment. I like the way the rythym mirrors the years rushing by.


A very desolate poem. Provoked an interesting conversation on gender with my teenage daughter.


I love this poem. Tells a simple real life story in a creative way.


A poem to arouse both thought and feeling in the reader


Very moving. Dense images, 'bound her ankles...rope' & 'set light....plates' Powerful, sad, unsentimental final six lines.


Still love this after many readings. So much in it and wonderful narrative flow. Powerful image of girls binding her with name tape etc


Made me cry.


Poignant subject, handled well. Cleverly written too. Loved this poem.