Lucy Sweeney Byrne: Kenosis

Lucy Sweeney Bryne
© Savo Photography

Lucy Sweeney Byrne is a writer of short stories, essays and poetry. Her work has appeared in Banshee, The Stinging Fly, The Dublin ReviewGrist, and the anthology Stinging Fly Stories (2018). From Greystones, Co. Wicklow, she currently lives in London. Paris Syndrome is her first book.


I’m in a café, losing interest in the essay form, in meaning. The coffee is good, but served in a glass. The waitress does not shave her legs. The walls are white, bricked. The paintings, abstract.

This loss leaves me shapeless. Perhaps my feeling will change. It probably will. It’ll probably have changed by the time I wake tomorrow. Like everything, I suspect that if I didn’t write this down right now, it would immediately fade to nothing. On to the next, no connection, all lost as I go. But then, that’s the whole idea; to just catch.

I’m listening to Rachel’s. A gust of wind sweeps into the café, knocking over a Bob Dylan record they leave propped up, for show. The potted plants, on sale, rustle.

All my stories are fabricated essays, not because this is a style I chose, but because my conception of events is loose, and easily warped with time, or with the decision to reduce pain, and because I’ve never been any good at make-believe. My only chance of relief is providing myself with a new, freeing form; one I’ll call ‘kenosis.’

Today I plucked hairs from my chin, leaning into the bathroom mirror. My tweezers are no good and the light is terrible, but if I improved either I would only do it more.

Kenosis is a self-emptying. I picture it as falling through images. Or vomiting, stylishly.

I keep thinking of writing something of my childhood, to make sense of the confusions there. Family, all that sticky mess, the breaks and rot, tight-gripping, the hands and chins, shaped the same, and the worst part; the love. There’s no narrative to any of this, no beginning middle end, there never is really, other than the construction of time, and death. But Christ, I for one don’t always always want to be writing myself to death.

Yesterday in Wanstead Flats with the dog, slopping black mud across my runners, I came into a copse of trees and suddenly became aware of the multitudinous bright green parakeets in the branches, all looking sideways at me through beady orange eyes. The one closest called a whistle, and I called back, the same notes, whistled, and the dog watched us, ears pricked, and the parakeet called another, and I kept replying, hoping and dreading it would fly down and land on my shoulder.

I keep beginning to write something about a lover I had, on and off for years, But no matter what I write in the forms available to me, I’m lying. And I’m so sick of lying.

The baby across from me, ginger and pink, gurgles, blinks, strains hard to touch items placed carefully out of reach.

Kenosis: formerly associated with Jesus H. Christ, my new means of self-sacrifice. Blood and guts. Utterly classless. Awash with feeling. Like everything I write. Not entirely without structure, but with the careful embracing of a certain, formless grace. A slow fall. Images. Whistle and reply. Vomiting, but stylishly.

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