POETRY


Ciarán O'Rourke is an Irish poet. His first collection, The Buried Breath (The Irish Pages Press), was published in 2018. His second collection, Phantom Gang, is forthcoming, also from The Irish Pages Press.

 

Previously published poems (extracted from his books and pamphlets) are included below. For any readers who wish/are in a position to support Ciarán's poetry financially, The Buried Breath can be purchased here or in the BOOKS section of this website; Glass Life is available under the PAMPHLETS tab.


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. 

 

 

Béaloideas

 

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

allows 

 

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. 

 

 

History

 

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 

reluctantly 

 

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:

 

dropped 

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 

pickpocketing 

 

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 

hierophant 

 

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).

 

Samhradh 

 

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.

 

 

Summerhill

 

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.

 

 

Blackthorn

 

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 

spreading 

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 

easing

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.

 

 

Cathedrals 

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