Poetry by Ciarán O’Rourke


Through solid weeks
of plague and rage, the earth

a drowning weather-dome,
my private liberty, at home,

has been to rest, mid-
morning, squinting,

as the swallows dance
above me, and beyond –

their shadow-play made whispery
by the bog-reflecting gelatine

of Shannon-water waves,
pushing, slow, and placid

as a dream. Far
from here, the fires scream

inside the mind of redwood trees,
an ashen sigh of sound.

I scan the skyline peaceably,
a grey-

winged, rainy-eyed
dishevelment of cloud,

and count the beeches jutting out
to snare the floating sun.

Stare too long, the colours run.
I lose the plot, and wallow

as loneliness begins –
my sin an outer circumstance

festering within.
O distant reader, skeptic,

take me intimately in:
my meagre, waiting wonder,

my belly-
aching thunder,

as if distilled
(and un-?)poetic anger

were another shade of hunger,
or remorse.

The voice I speak
was built on force.

But ghosting memories

with buried gentleness.
Before the nurses

flurried round, her fingers
fretted softly under sheets:

she fluttered on
in quietness and chitter-talk

to stem all worrying,
then slipped below

to sleep, and final things.
The stone of hers I keep

is lavender, and fleet,
the falling weight

(I adumbrate)
of a wren’s heartbeat

or breathing seed:
a whisper that takes flower

wherever there’s a need,
like the spring-

returning showers
as I stooped to kiss her cheek.






In hidden Leitrim, where I graze
on simple joy and daily dread,
I pen unlikely letters
to the still returning, deadened ground
that follows me around my new homeplace – my home,

where moving rivers hold the sky in view
(a bowl of dashing weather blues,
awash with feathered stalks of light)
through every furling season of the noon,
or hurly-burly, inky-black, by night. A regular

at self-articulating chat, a mumble-corner
alley-scat, I might in passing
arch my boyish elbows on the rail
and preen my ears as water creaks, the rushes flurry
with a whisper at my back. I lack no pleasure then,

can love as mine the rich un-stillness passing by:
this lonely leisure-life, inland, in reach
of risen breezes, green and free, will carry me!
One smoulder-day, I fled the groaning music
in my brain, to roam instead

the sloping hillock lanes,
long tunnels whistle-lit by wrens,
past alder-shadowed meadows tossing
up before me as I came
two dozen swallows, like a singing seed.

What stopped me, though, (and why I write)
grew thick and shiningly
beside the stream,
a ball of loosened, dropping string:
a badger, disemboweled.

The mouth hung open,
an emptied out, disfigured grin,
neither animal
nor entirely inhuman: mere
and matted matter, growing thin.

I felt a seasoned brightness closing in
across the sedge. The light
of day had edges to it – the same
as when, in sudden sun,
your daughter, shook and grey

as a drowning sailboat’s sail at sea,
broke branching cherry blossom sprays
above your blank, dug-gravel grave,
the air a lowered moaning
~as she drifted down the the sprig.





They’re singing Irish rebel songs
in Rojava today –

the sky reclaimed, a risen flame,
a world to make afresh –

a day of dust and disarray,
when David Graeber died

(a love-dishevelled comrade,
enamoring the fray).

The legionnaires of hate they hear,
the murder-music coming clear,

the slow devourings of war
seem even near

to idle me, enormously
in love with trees

as earth
begins to disappear.

I tremble at atrocity
and tramp across the town.

Within the hour,
a downward, blear, rampaging rain

alive and green outside his door,
the Kurdish barber holds my head

and shears me with a smile.
His hands are wired, lithe and lean;

we talk (he talks) of summer fishing.
By noon, I step
like sunlight into open air,
and he forgets that I was there.

The starlings sight my vanished hair
above and blur, murmuring

from me like a river. Their many-
weathered hum withdraws

as I unlock my scholar’s cell,
where peace re-settles

and I breathe the view:
a moss-resplendent ridge of roofs.

Nothing new. I sit like stone,
heron-thin, clean-cut, alone, 

and listen as the echo grows
of all I miss the most in you.

One night, I felt our
fingers interlace across

a sea-rock, glowing
warm and blue

between us
on the shore, furling

into one another
like a flower. I knew

you then (my
every hour

glistened in the wave).
A strange distress

sustains me
as the iron seasons glower.

My rhythm-
fixed, in-rhyming mind

a time-eluding cure:

erotic wonder, membering,
a tenderness that sings.

My godless gut
will dream tonight

of this and other things –
as ribboned light goes flickering

in smoke against the sky.

About the contributor

Ciarán O'Rourke
Ciarán O'Rourke lives in Leitrim, Ireland. He has won the Lena Maguire/Cúirt New Irish Writing Award, the Westport Poetry Prize, and the Fish Poetry Prize. His first collection, The Buried Breath, was published by Irish Pages Press in 2018 and highly commended by the Forward Poetry Foundation the following year.

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