Ciarán O'Rourke's poetry collections, The Buried Breath (2018) and Phantom Gang (2022), are published by The Irish Pages Press.


Previously published poems (extracted from his books and pamphlets) are included below.

from 'Phantom Gang' (The Irish Pages Press, 2022).
from 'Phantom Gang' (The Irish Pages Press, 2022).

Ros Inbhir


Let the sky-thin seasons stake their claim 


in the ditch of my eyes, 

in the flood of my bones, 

in the torn out root of my mouth –


I'll move 

like light in the dirt, or a lifting lark, 

like rain at the edge of your meadowed mind. 





The sean-nós songman

hooks a thumb 


in each belt-strap, and leans 

his hip to the wall


to wait, like a ship

in shallow sands, 


so whatever waver, 

tilt, or rooting down 


the brick-lined room



is his, or comes to rest 

with him 


as the crowded air 

rebuilds to hush, 


and soon the song 

descends, oh, 


with a voice as dark 

as the river mouth, 


as supple 

as winds are deep, 


as bitter as hale 

on a bed of stones, 


as fogged and low 

with grief,


like the girl 

who buried her shadow, 


or the woman who flew 

in her sleep,


or the man who's less 

than a whisper now, 


who once regaled 

the seas, 


whose lover 

was sent to another 


for the price of 

a penful of sheep. 





Our one sick world spins on – 

returningly, and slow –


easing gathered greenness 

into leaf. Tonight


through tangled heat the swallows weave,

high up and fast, and out of sight. 


My undistracted finger strokes 

a desk-lit, wooden globe


and hears the running axis 

hum beneath.


This dream-beginning 

dark is all I know. 


Its hand shuts round my heart, 

like ice begun to thaw and flow.


Soon the only room's 

a river, in which 


my swilling mind 



resists re-writing you 

an apoplectic postcard from the past, 


packed in to burst 

with half-accusing calotypes


of how and when I loved you most. 

Young ghost


at sea, adrift, a human 

spangle webbed by wind, 


eyes ahead, my blue breath 

climbed the swelling tide to find you:



by a daylight-furling, 


freak first wave, 

its fist of salt, on the sand:


stunned by the sun 

in your swim-suit, laughing. 


Your quick, ungainly 

beauty stops me even still.


It goes like this, all reminiscence. 

Made lean, remiss and rancorous


by rage (that brutal, self-forgiving war), 

my every season somehow lifts  


to breathe, O love, our histories

from off the brimming air.



The Raid


Next to a clean, shopped shot 

of Jeff Bezos's grinning head – 


top, once more, of the earth's

so-called list 


of fish-faced, smiling rich – 

wedged below 


a line in bold, that 

beacons the long 


longed for arrival 

of this boy who dreamed 


of colonising space, 

news flaps in also


from dark-aged Sweden,

where fifteen 


hundred summers past

a nameless 


massacre occurred – 

was schemed, that is, 


and swung to gleeful, 

throbbing motion – 


in an island haven, walled 

houses looking out 


on the northern seas' 

easy crash of light, 


with, perhaps, the usual 

fart-filled bustle 


and settled ache of peace 

we take for 


ordinary living: 

here, I learn, 


some as yet unrealised 

phantom gang 


came slinking 

with the tide 


one day, and before 



the stock of bartered 

jewels and laces, Roman coins,


along with every 

shining thing, up-


turned their homely cup 

of havoc 


on the heads 

of the island-folk, 


whose now re-

surfaced bones 


show signs of blunt 

and subtle traumas, both:


the old man's axe-

opened skull, for instance, 


dumped and singed 

in the blazing hearth, 


or the gentle, goof-limbed 

body of a boy


who was stunned 

and gnawed by sharpened clubs, 


or a shapeless other, belted 

clear out of time


to a mud-shattering death, 

into whose 


stopped mouth, after, 

were shoved the teeth 


of a ravenous bull.



The Commons


Sean, our common earth’s in smoke, 

the shadow-rule 


of feasting, famine-fed conspirators 

(a sleek elite) extends 


to every nook

where gladness one-time grew.   


‘Tis like a sunbeam 

in the mist, said some other 


loss-eyed wilder-man 

of love, like you 


a grey-sky-sodden 



of dirt in bloom 

and revelry: John Clare, 


whose digger’s life

and empty-bellied sorrowing 


you praised as permanent 

and true – 


in this, our age 

of wilting seas 


and homesick, lock-out blues.

With quick largesse, 


your bursting blend 

of magnanimity and vim, 


in a liquor-flux of inspiration, 

you reeled his verse 


from memory, and pictured

peasant-crowds alit 


with world-transforming rage.

I trod home across 


the mossy, rain-

bewintered city’s wreck 


in quietness, alive 

and less alone. 


To feel at all: an act 

of intimate dissent, 


as gentle-hearted heretics 

have ever felt and known.


Is this, then, our one inheritance, 

the ache where voices grow?


My poem’s a lifted echoing,

as if they might continue.


from 'Glass Life' (Ragpicker Pamphlets, 2021).
from 'Glass Life' (Ragpicker Pamphlets, 2021).




A rising scent: a lush and nettled green.

A sheen of swallows soaring into view.


I give my time (my ticking life) 

to watching weather bleat and blow 


along the river-banks, or simmer 

like a mist of heat in every passing 


rushy patch, long, drifting links 

of meadowsweet a-whisper at the verge. 


The light is lilting now, laconically slow:

the sun beds down, a copper god, 


in meadow-marigold at dusk, the sky 

a burning blue. I breathe the ancient summer in 


before it dims. I died, you know, a beat or two, 

when I rowed my stony days and nights 


away from broken me-and-you, a burial at sea:

my sunken self-mythology, a memory 


that flows. The flailing creature I’ve become 

will curl into the sun-restoring dark, 


a nervy coil, and twitch in pummelled pulses 

to repeat, in dream, the falling-mountain-water blue 


I slipped into – to look you in the eyes. I’m everything 

I was when I reneged: weeping poetry, a brutal, 


brimming boy; an egomanic in love. I barely 

recognise you, you replied. And finally: goodbye.





It’s true: I’ve fled the pigeon-rich

and shining capital,

its undropped vulture heat, to pace


the green-encrusted lichen lanes

and talk to photographs of you. My view

is of a swallow-haunted swell of slates,


and risen peaks of autumn air,

through which an engined, asphalt-river sound

will drift, or now and then a heedless bell


to raise the starlings on their round.

In daily walkabout, I tend

to meet the morning like a neighbour –


more than once, or hardly ever –

(my every poem denotes the weather)

till sky steps out and shakes its sack


of coal-grey, clatter-fisting rain

like a bog-fed lake dispersed in flecks

across the fencing fields. I turn to art


for what the stillness yields.

Today, a never posted picture-card:

a fresco of some saint at sea,


his hands tossed up like flapping sheaves,

his stencil-keen, un-god-like face

imperilled and bemused


by what the still congealing, iron frost

of elemental turbulence

might make of this, his stooping boat’s


divine egress. His wooden fate

takes on a gleaming mystery, when

dabbed and scumble-dipped in clay.


I am no saint or weatherman, and lack

the brilliance of each vanished bell that sings.

But the days we share apart reach out


their misting miracle of light

like a cup my tangled heart must lift

and drain repeatedly – to breathe and live.


Some nights

I only live, and breathe,

a lumpen, murmurating thing, remembering.





Impossible, your death – a dream 

I only part-remember, and cannot comprehend.

You must be living somewhere still.


On your wedding day, you stunned the heart, 

as the integrally

invisible photographer can testify, 


whose art of day-time, joyous distillation

captured, too, your father, soon bereft, 

in smiling gentleness and pride,


as at his side you stand, brightening the light,

a screen-lit beauty

from a golden age, easily adored – 


holding shyly as the moment lifts 

(the camera catches breath)

and at your back, in white and black, 


the sun streams up the blazing street.

Years from now, your groom and lover

is lowering his head, a mountain 


bowing back to ground, your 

shining daughters tremble at the edge,

and the silent rhapsody of spring comes round.


In time, a man you don’t yet know, 

a boy re-born, will grieve in disbelief 

as the world-without-you flourishes its gifts


of snowdrop, speedwell, flowering blackthorn.

from 'The Buried Breath' (The Irish Pages Press, 2018).
from 'The Buried Breath' (The Irish Pages Press, 2018).

The Cure for Nettles


Near death, his arm would quiver 

down the sheets,


the blood trails tracing black 

along the vein, 


and when I touched I held 

a cooling heat


in both my hands, 

and almost choked on air


to lift his nothing-weight 

so easily, 


his body thin, a brittle stick 

that breathed, 


the transformation near-complete 

from when 


he stepped with dock leaves 

shooting from his grip, 


to hoist me from the nettle patch, 

and kneel,


and reconcile 

my stinging limbs with green: 


milk from the fist, a water-

coloured cure.


So here, I reach for him 

and flounder still, 


in loss that’s more an element 

than ill, 


his voice 

the silence that remains to say,


you felt the spirit blister 

through the bark


that stiffened round me 

as the minutes died,


but the final fever 

cleared my eyes like rain. 



The Killing March

In Memory of Miklós Radnóti, 1909-1944


Each day permits 

the old atrocities 

anew – 


the necessary deaths, 

the far-off scream

come near,


the itch of madness 


on the hands and hair.


History is one 

disaster, feeding 

off another, or:


what poems are made 

to witness 

and withstand. 


You taught us that –

or someone did,

whose teaching stemmed 


from what he saw, 

from the hunger hushing 

through him like a mist, 


his head adrift 

with grief, or sleep, 

but not dead yet 


on the killing march.

Against all murderous 

decrees, and against


the unreturning cities

razed, the angel

drowning in the bricks,  


the roads 

where beggars roam 

and drop, it’s true:


the oak trees

still are breathing, 

and the fist, 


which ice and metal 

hammered once,

can furl


to feel the winter 


in a luff of rain.


So it is, poet, 

in this barbaric language,

built from pain, 


I imagine echoings

to be enough 

to raise 


your sightless eyes 

and famine face, 

and faith 


in breath, a force

to conjure

youth again –


that place 

of which, you say,

the music speaks


in mutter-tongues 

and morse. Love poet, 

eternal pastoralist,  


in the din of one more 

ending world, 

I commemorate your corpse.



Love Song


The sun of sleep is rising in your head, 

the colour of plum love, and spoon-bright, 

as the two moons that held me 

close to crescents with a sigh, and sink.


The whisper softens to a breath.

In the pane above you, veils of web 

window in mid-hum 

the pendulum of a robin's hovering. 


And if you were to waken now

under the far skies of this thought,

then you would know I made it for you,


that in the plum-dark wings of a robin 

I heard a summer singing

and dreamed again of your limbs.



(from) The Revolutionist

Variations on poems by Roque Dalton, 1935-75


And so I say the earth 

is beautiful,


and belongs

like poetry or bread


to all of us, 

who despite love's 


poisoned battleground

are believers still 


in the pungent roots

that smell like tears,


in the streaming grain

of tomorrow's skies, 


in the billowing verb 

of the blood we share –


we who have faced 

the hungry future singing,


the earth belongs to all of us, 

like poetry, like bread



To the Last Old Poet on Earth


When you cannot sing at midnight

as the moon-deep window 

darkens, and the trees blow

on the far avenues 

of San Francisco, speak your words

instead, as slowly as you can, 

growing beautifully older

with each low syllable, 

until the air is a page 

as ancient as you are, 

quivering and bare 

with the need you filled tonight 

for a voice with breath in it, 

and this way, the dead light 

of galaxies still will fall 

on the alleyways 

where our listening bodies 

hold back gently

to wonder at that firm frailty 

in the wind they felt, and much

later, as we wake by dawn 

to see the pale flame 

flicker on the world

and the sun-soft window 

glow with air more nearly 

than we knew, but not 

unknown, we might 

say gladly to ourselves 

that we dreamt this once, 

and think of you, old poet,

on your last earth, 

speaking to the stars. 

from 'Some Poems' (Moth Editions, 2011).
from 'Some Poems' (Moth Editions, 2011).

Building the Book of Hours

In Memory of Elizabeth Jennings (1926-2001)


In every note the shadows are at work.

The hours crowd like moonlight at the door. 

I seek to make a music of the dark. 


Deep as ships, this solitude by which I mark 

the days. The poems begin to rise, like water. 

In every note the shadows are at work.


Something in me foresees the stark 

contours of my own portrait, the hunger and the fear.

I seek to make a music of the dark.


For art, I turn to the blackbird and the lark,

singing at dusk, voices lifted by desire.

In every note their shadows are at work.


I must forget familiar spaces, this arc 

of starlight I call to, the echo I wait for. 

I must make a music of the dark.


I long for kinds of quiet that lurk 

beyond the page. Words can bring the silence near.

In every note the shadows are at work.

I seek to make a music of the dark.



Black Swans

In Memory of Michael Hartnett (1941-1999)


To plant in the bitter wind 

a pure note, to make of the gravel-stone 

an oat-seed, golden in the loam.


In dim meadows you clicked 

your tongue, and the black swans 

of dialect came with their webbed feet 

and ancient wings, dappling 

the waters. 


You tapered too, thirsting, 

between river-bank and the deep, 

terrible currents, and the birch tree 

murmured from the sap against 

your steadied palm. 


Now we also strain to walk 

the old ways, among the reeds 

and rugged pools 

where once your shadow 

wavered; to find 


in the hardened earth

a dark space, from which 

a white flower 

may grow.




In Memory of Edith Sodergrän (1892-1923)


My heart’s a wave, blue and breaking on the shore. 

I go from the woods to hear the water’s song;

I will bake cathedrals from the sullen air.


The clear, rain-rippled music of the river 

runs like blood or breath, keeping me strong. 

My heart’s a small wave, breaking on the shore.


Sometimes trees on the dark banks murmur, 

footsteps in the long grasses begin to sing:

I will bake cathedrals from the sullen air. 


A flood of moonlight across the page; what more 

is there in this shadow-world, than longing?

My heart’s a wave, blue and breaking on the shore.


Still as stone, I cast my hand into the water. 

The alder watches there, as I stray among 

Cathedrals, willed and baked from the sullen air. 


The poems are waiting always in that place, where 

the old yearning lives, to love and to belong. 

My heart’s a wave, blue and breaking on the shore. 

I will bake cathedrals from the sullen air.

©Ciarán O'Rourke