Poetry by Oisín Breen

Oisín Breen is a 34 year-old poet, part time academic in narratological complexity, and a financial journalist. Dublin born and bred, Breen spent the last decade living in Edinburgh, after a rip-roaring period that took in, amongst other things, the Middle East; a stint in a bizarre one donkey town with excellent wine; and a total inability to properly fit a door onto a mountain. His debut collection, ‘Flowers, all sorts in blossom, figs, berries, and fruits, forgotten’ is released Mar. 29 by Hybrid press in Edinburgh ( Breen had a number of poems published in his early twenties mostly in online magazines, before taking time out to hone his craft. His book launches in the Leith Depot in Edinburgh, on Mar. 29 at 7.30.


Isn’t the act 
of placing flowers on a tomb 
a gesture of bringing 
a little life 
back to the dead?


Memories, stilled and muted harmonia,
 silk-heavy in the russet wind,
 like sinuous leaves with ice-cracked spines,
 and a timbre of slowness,
In a schema of licentiousness, 
Prompt, more so than age, 
 these liver spots on my translucent skin.

But the act itself,
its flash powder of yellow-tan dust,
engorges the hour-hand at its brightest,
in a languor reconstituted: all just variations of dusk —

And the end is composed of orchids, 
 and the lopped heads of milkweed,
  sundered by centrifugal force:
  an effulgence of shadows, 
  shimmering on sun-whetted stone.

And I place flowers on my father’s grave,
 a gesture, like any other,
 to bring life to the dead.
And beside me two junkies eat a watermelon from a plastic bag,
And a black and white tit hops beneath their feet.

Now my palms are blanched in a pattern of earthveined rust,
 and as pebbles, indicative of meaning, litter the sky of sand, 
 its absence is a comfort.


Accession here means there is nothing left but the one,
Rejection that not even the one remains.

Whist, I say. 
Whist, I know. 
Whist, I know and love you.


This is a quilt-work composed of acts of forgetting,
 and each instance of kenning is a quickened sapling.

The variable alone brooks difference,
   as memories harden in the dermal layer. 

This is what it means to be bereft,
  and with no ready mercy.
This is an altar for Harry Wasylyk,
  the patron saint of archways,
 whose polyethylene skin eschews grace for ennui,
  as he watches us slouch-hang our mouths into victuals of lilting  
  lines of brutal song.

In 1925, the world changed.
A ritual, which became a practice, turned convenience,
And obscene, obtuse cylinders of black tar aped king rats,
Stook like monoliths where the mills rust.

Yet I placate my father’s grave with calcite flowers,
Yet my grief is insufficient for I see it dissipate.
I am but missteps and false starts,
 a captured stillness that records my ill intent.

Yet I lack the wherewithal to fail to yield to the palpable thrum.   
 It is extrinsic,
 and dressed in surges of undifferentiated starlight,
 I am asymptotic, and bifurcated in mnemonic flight,
 and each point is plotted in baroque notation,
 as plush woven sounds wash in the rippling coarse-grain of 
 transition —

Where phased space enacts a hallowing,
in between the lines
of porous stalks and motion begetting blooms.

Where slips in time–
Bring about only the hoary apocrypha of the Liffey Run,
Or the morning spent sleeping in Howth hedgerows, 
comforted by another man’s shoes as our pillow.

My clothes hang heavy with the flavour of wet fire,
 and my limbs are contortions of intent as we stagger to the DART,
 and as the doors drearily clatter, rust-heavy in peeling greens,
 the pallor of wilful abuse, and intent, sputters to life, 
 but we wrap them archly in a sun-starved grin.

And the muck, it spirals out of us in duodecimal digits,
And I can thread you a death-mask in sea-spittle,
And your life is written in sea-spray on the hard lines of your 


And in turn each approximation, 
Becomes the outline of the boundaries of the next,
And our plump history is sketched in non-linear distance,
 between the staple and the snare.

So our reveries prove little more than a drunkard’s crutch,
 a balalaika melody for a bleached autumnal prayer, 
 the fat-bellied surety of knowing
 the origin is preceded by the end.


It is only in death that the final form of those we loved emerges.
Though as we ourselves approach death, their shape intermingles with our own changing.

I have a grá for you,
And a deep thirst, 
And eyelids heavy with hunger.

And we see them again, the dead,
 reinvented, despite an elegy of presence, 
And I wonder will I see myself the same way when I go?

Once, aged 17, I drank from a bladder-pelt of cider, while turning in circles with my friend’s mother, and she was lovestruck with the sickly sweetness of her son’s menagerie, though she, and fitfully all of us, knew that we’d more likely have the gutterslung luck of the dead in us than for this to be more than just a procession of moments in a broken nest of long lives of airbrushed memories, even if rare bonds there continued to coalesce.

Whist, I say. Whist, I know. Whist, I know and love you.
But what if I forget myself? or spend the days — in truth — with the mouth full of ash, observing a vertical/horizontal lattice of incremental anamorphoses between what might have been, to what was?

What if in transition I can but stoop through an archival perspective where the focal eye had but the rush of blood of common prey and the fortune-hungry haruspex prove not all-seeing, but all fearing, as the hareish thing then stamped her feet to warn us of the danger in the orchard as she a culling spun?

Perhaps then it is only possible to commit the cathecism in generations, when there is little left to say but that it was:

that ferment,
an embodiment.

But the act itself
its flash powder of yellow-tan dust,
engorges the hour-hand at its brightest,
in a languor reconstituted: all just variations of dusk-

This is but a history of contempt.


I ask then of you these questions:

What maker stretched out melancholy,
  like a fattened pig’s skin,
  into a parchment of minor regrets?

What constellation blasted drear light,
  a nova of turned down gas dials,
  into a litany of hot wind and frozen pipes?

What songbird hovered flightlessly,
  its wings silent, and its mouth open,
  precocious in a rendition of the vacuum?

What night, illuminated by the mossy green of old lamplight,
  its possibilities fragmenting like forming ice,
  sheds skin in recompense for a fallow wantonness on the lips?

What measure is this that strips us of compassion,
  but leaves us thrilling at the raspy fulsome pleasure of it all,
  a hot wet fungus in a crystalline dew?

I tell you, this is the glorifying numbness.

And, if I say that once, in the name of the Buckskin Doe,
 I sundered my free will,
What will you make of me?
I ask you, what day, lit by the heavy shadows of young starlight,
  its possibilities bonding like erupting earth,
  fuses atoms in lieu of the fertile chastity of silent tongues?

I ask you-
What do you make of me?

A golem,

A capitulation that spans and separates memory; a continuum of dry  leaves and dead air; piano notes –
Just silence in the rapture of the mulch.


It was three-times it happened, and on the third day, I slew a cockerel just to smooth its dried ochre in a paste over my thought-split eyes, to stem the euphoric aurorae cleaving my perception of time, as I had a vision of the potentate of the death of heat whose crystalline halitosis pushed a hot slag through my star-burst skull and left me reeling-

Oh barû!

I can not ascertain your memories, nor your devotion, in the flight of your birds. 

It was three-times it happened, and on the third day, I tenderly caressed the whorls that trapped flakes of your skin, and the rough wood was a splendour for its history, a litany to passion, and a flood of colour left behind, but it was the better part of fear that led me to the boneyard where I revel in kisses shadow-caught. 

I am the last living thing that remembers you.

Oh barû,

I can not know if you straddle moments, or if snake-like you strangle me in echoes of anamnesis. Nor do I trust you to forget, or to pigment the images you see, as I do, with figments of rent seas, even now, as you plunge your teeth into the entrails of your kin.

Oh barû,

I asked you for memory of my father’s death, but you chose to lavish your bann, and I do not atone.

But Asipû,

In vigil, I ask you to forgive me — you said it once to Sennacherib —
and so I too atone.

He that stilleth all to rest, that pacifieth all, by whose incantations everything is at peace, the gods are upon his right hand and his left, they are behind him and before.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me.


We were barefoot because we had been in the sea,
and the nearby road was made of gravel,
and it hurt to walk on,
and the sorrows of the sea-cliffs punctured the dead air.

The roadside grass was taller than I was, 
and I knew what I was doing was wrong,
but I was frozen in a giddy kind of fear,
willing myself on.

I hid because there was a kid nearby I knew.
We all called him retarded.
I was bullied too, but hating him was a guilty treat.
I was happy to feel like everyone else.

I threw myself against the nearly white grass.
It was the strongest summer I had known.
I was in a Wexford caravan park.
I was hiding.

He was lost.
Not helping him meant peace.
The grass was hot; it pushed through my shirt, scratching my skin.
The sun had that technicolour quality, where it’s all horizontal lines:

A vision of etoliated whiteness.

We were barefoot because we had been in the sea,
and the nearby road was made of gravel,
and it hurt to walk on,
and the sorrows of the sea-cliffs punctured the stillness.

I hid because in the final analysis, I was young.
I had placed a last act of submission above one of love.
Now, in memory, each breath scorches those left-behind footprints into a sculpture of invigorating presence and an eerie allotment of dumb abstinence.

Now, it is breached only by the skulking din of chattering teeth; a charter of trapped flies; and a grey decaying weave.

Now reverie is spun inverse as the needle snaps,

and I traverse the space of its hands,
and this is what constitutes the giving of names.
And by Cnoc Uisnigh — her red hair for Conochobar of the reeds — when she is old enough we’ll — with raven’s colours — Naoise, Ardan and Ainnle pinioned by a spear, they live like flowering weeds in the memory of Deirde’s head, it bashed to pieces against the soft calumny of rock.

Oh barû!

The act itself,
its flash powder of yellow-tan dust,
it engorges the hour-hand at its brightest,
in a languor reconstituted: all just variations of dusk.

So I hid because I didn’t know what else I could do.
  to continue as it is means to be forever harried by the past.
But the willing youth of me just tore at the lattice by candlelight.

Now I remember all this as just a hulking portent of a future where I would have to act against myself just for the greater good, but full of a fearfulness that the acting might become me.

And in a way it did.

I hid because fate is a way out,
and salty epiphanies are beautiful, 
like rotten flowers in a fat glass, 
  and wet Edinburgh streets.

And yet, there exist brief moments of rest,
Even now. Parabola,
As we dangle our feet upwards,
Towards the windbeswept cliffs and rocky shores.

And yet, there is a trace of shape in these refracted signals,
where laceworks of my own selfhood are pulled taut.

This is the pursuit of tension and equilibrium,
 as life begets life as it always does.


They are shouting outside in the street,
 their brutal cries cleft,
 like hand-prints in wet paint, chronologically instantiate,
Their cause is put before the apple-cart.

But what would you have done?
Have you not yet had enough?

This is a muddy causal stew,
Of burnt fingers all pointing in the direction when,
 and like smudged figures on second-hand graph paper,
 each means as much as the message or the shapes it contains.

But what will you do?
And have you not yet had enough?
There is no such thing here as state-space,
Or a state of things that can be fixed.
We deviate as a rule.

Transitions bring about only the roaring beat.

A triad of heaven
Mnemosyne and her gay chorus of Edison bulbs
Who gives power unto speech:

And in nine nights
Had nine daughters
And the river flows freely

Where slips in line,
Bring about only the roaring beat:

And in nine nights
I had nine sons, all dead,
transfigurations of a twittering iterative
that I failed to incubate,
so in stalled incipience and poor rags
I barrelled the face of me on the wall
Poor Deirdre to fuck
For love, I cried-
But I was more false for the knowing of it.
Years later, all this, it was compounded when I was asked to forgive their laughing pains.

I cowed – Christ – for I was all too aware of you and your judgement.
Here the morning brings about only melody
Itic, etic,
A stretched heart, and the sour-face of being,
ruptures, and wholesomeness, cracked wood pining,
Drear- the light – the drear light-
How its chafes my skin.

Thus, in truth, each iteration of life produces frisson and wields it like a drunkards crutch, like half-a-weapon and a half-strung melody.

Thus truth is nothing but the crushed pleats of the stories we tell ourselves to state, with surety, that we are pregnant with a real salt of the earth kenning of ourselves. 

It is the lie
That being is in the becoming 
That the origin is antecedent to the end.

We are displaced from the beginning at the end of time.


I asked her if the muck-begetting brown felt good on her skin,
She told me to ask her if she felt the same-as-I.
For weeks now we’ve both been mute.
Not a murmur,
Mute. That awful consequence of our intemperance of speech.

She asks me for a root to gnaw on,
Sitting at the bus-stop if it rains,
And I say we should play kissing games,
But she’d like the real heaviness so much more.

Now the worms in our bellies are ripe for the hunger,
And I can hear all the heartbeats in the world,
And all I want is to rest in parabola.

So I stand,
Feeling just like that
Beside you
But what will become of the ashes I give you?

This is a history of contempt.

But it is in these steps,
 those that you take,
 after the door has closed,
 and my morning begins,
 having said goodbye to yours,
 that I recollect,
 each time,
 that I love you.
But, full of doubt, behind me I have left a litany of spoiled wishes. 
But, though I remember more than enough to sate my living on, I take myself to the riverside bridge, solely to weep at the bones.

Oh barû,

The act itself,
Its flash powder of yellow-tan dust,
Engorges the hour hand when it’s brightest.

Barû, pitifully, I speak, and I remember.


Now, if memory is the abnegation of time, a hunger for the dark.
I am racked with her gummy distemper, spooling adjuncts of discrete constancy, when difference broaches more infinities than mass.

But this is not a memory. It is the diffuse wish for surety, 
As twinnings of sand cohere in a matrix of split eggs and glass.

But it is memory alone that contravenes the river’s course,
It is the worm, weeping before Ea. 

What wilt thou give me for my food?
What wilt thou give me for my devouring?

So to exorcise this stillness, 
I list the long names of the prematurely dead. 

Heralds of the Pestilence,
 ceaselessly you devour our blood.



I did. I did. I do not regret it.
I am. I am.

My song is the cracking of ivory and the pitt-pat-pitt-patter of children’s feet.
I do. I do. 

Gutted, the only constancy I have is my fear.

It is my own. My own. My own.

And I leave sherds of nitrates on the rusting bark, 
like cherry stains on the dewlap; 
the silence of stacked chairs.

It is mine to take. Mine alone. 

Yet I know full well that your blooming thirst is a rhapsody of light, for but the likes of me to swallow, and the likes of you to loose.
But, long have I told you how this is a phantasm of stitched marionettes strung to a vinegar doused Adonai, sputtering, in perpetuity, as the liquid hits his throat.

I rejoice. I rejoice.

And it is in the unmaking of us that you get our real measure.

I answer.
Today the hourglass is wet with time.
Today the minute hand is the spoor of the ineffectual cause.
Today I bond parched qualia with the grinding of bone-cut wheels.

A Golem.

I am that foundling of the reeds. 
I drowned for want of peace.

But, that one act of kindness you shewed me, it spans and vivifies the present tense with the heavy auguring of your continuance; it is an ever imminent sorrow-slaked living wrap of flora; six degrees of perfect rainfall; and a tangle of singular heartbeats redolent of the genesis of the fine grain in the load-bearing timber: a constant of harrowing truth as you set me to burn in the white hot fire of a killing glee, all done so that your sleep might be blessed by a metronome of tick-tocking bone-snaps.

This then is like light drilled to a standstill,
 wet drops on a portcullis of downy feathers,
 the image and the savage eye,
 blind faith,
 the maw —
Yet hope, like a sun-ragged cloudburst, stays on in pig-iron and smelt cheeks, and, even now, broken wings flap to salve the floundering birthdeath of a god in a burlap sack — all to pluck out that roving eye.

I know well how the hawk harries its rain-bleached prey.


I start, not with a heavenly chorus, a wail, or a Guinness wet lip against my cheek as my da tells me he loves me — a moment he will always forget, yet one that defines me — but precedes and succeeds the seconds that counted for him when he said there he is, that’s my boy. 

Nor am i the heavy sweat dripping release of gushing coos: ahhh, that my ma’ belched out rapid when she said i have made you and she saw and knew that she was right, and knew when she said it and would be right forever that she did, and that she had made me. 
Nor am i that inkling that a part of her that she would hide and deny would always hate me for having stolen what was most precious from her: her reason for living, and made it my own.

I start, instead, with a rasping cough on the horizon if I don’t ultimately mend my ways, under the moody lights of a room empty save for myself and a jobbing brewer, looking backwards over what mattered and realising it was only the small things that ever will. 

I am married, to be, and was.
I step into the hail and the rain on a cobblestone May and watch my beloved walk forwards in the diachronic time of stilled heartbeats.
I am in love, thank Christ I am in love.

I am facing down an inverted set of footsteps racing out of a bar, 
and I am taking back words that I said when glasses smashed and voices, briefly raised, shook heavy thoughts into lightness.

I am plucking flowers at a baobab tree and thinking, ‘what if you forget me?’

I am making toast covered in chilli flakes and cheese in the grill, laughing at the cusp of breaking through to myself, which later I did, and I am thankful. 
I am a stilled emptiness, traced and inflected into a pulse that swells and galls me in the spitting out of amphetamines before I fill casks with the undrank future and the winsome voice of a friend of a friend of a friend: will you be alright tonight?

I am the bare breasts of an old lover who I take home for her tearfulness and leave wrapped in rugs as I sit on the windowsill and contemplate the early morning of childhood.

I am a silky orgasm pressed against an antique trunk, and the man answering the bell in a kimono to a drunken father with spittle where there should be the careworn features of love. 

I am hot sweat on Maltese streets aware of the lies I am telling just for a kiss because I am so afraid I have forgotten how to feel.

And I watch with terrified eyes as mortar fire lays waste to Straight Street, and grin when I see Abu George is still selling beer, although there is a crater at his door. 

And I feel the heat in me and drunkenly harangue a jet-lagged poet slumped at my table, a mess of paper strewn at his feet. 

And I feel the fear in me as I shove myself into the dirt as gypsies with sad sad eyes grope in the mud looking for my hard breath. 

And I feel the hate in me as I create spent epiphanies to murder will in favour of my desire to have people do what they’re told. Sign here. 

I am catatonic in Stephen’s Green, and naked in the Iveagh Gardens, and thirsty when pushed against the door of the Rathmines church. 

Now, I press a childhood friend to the rock and threaten him until he relents — the future would not be damned, and I was right — and we drink vermouth on benches, waiting for our sorrow to mean something, as it surely must and did when we aged. 

I cry myself to sleep night after night, fighting for air, when the best thing that happens to me in months is working up the courage just to smile at an insult and then use my eyes to laugh at a girl that I like and touch her shoulder.

Now, I have my arms around my classmates and we sing songs as we kick-about a ball on the gravel full of the vituperative all-knowing love of adolescence. 

In Italy, I stand haranguing a burning pyre, and write, and write, and write, and write, and I collapse holding a rotten oar, my face buried in black seaweed, and I know that I am right and that I – ah that I love it all to the point of breaking. 

I am sitting beside Stephen and we’re laughing, because we love each other, and we’re drawing a map because there was a thunderstorm tomorrow and we’re planning how we can all go and live there under the light-cleft old tree, because even then we know that the kind of love we have is fitful and that when we embrace we are already embracing death. 

I am chasing Clara around the room, having heard the story of the billy-goats gruff and I decide she couldn’t make it, she with that daft towel on her head — it’s no eye patch like Laura K’s who I am convinced I love — they say it’s a bandanna but I’m sure she’s hiding something, and she can’t run fast so she’s a – SLOWCOACH – a sloth strung thing worth feeding to the trolls and having her eyes pecked out; and I do all this by leaping out from the corner where they’d put me for punishment, and now I sit down cross-legged and listen, for every story is at its root song, so the bleating of goats must be a sonata.

And, sure don’t I sit rocking my legs, all deaf like I will be, and throw beetroot across the table at that owl-thing there, my brother’s friend, and laugh as the purple stains his child-wet tearful face, heartless to the scolding I’d just received in recompense for what I am yet about to do. 

Here it is then, I’d been waiting for this: a tuning fork, a cataclysm of silence, and the tearful face of my mother. I have failed her. 
I can not hear. I do not understand. I can not hear. I’m sound-blind and bereft. I can not hear and it’s the horror she feels: she made me. 

Here it is then, an apocrypha of angels and monsters and barrel bombs and love and forgiveness and repentance and such relentlessness that leaves me so rent that I can only exhale.

I exhale like it is the first time I have ever done so and it is.
I am born and for the first time I remember. 

Whist, I say. 
Whist, I know. 
Whist, I know and love you.

Placing flowers on a tomb is a gesture of bringing life to the dead.

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