Maureen Gallagher’s first collection of poetry, Calling the Tune, was published by Wordsonthestreet Press in December 2008. She has won or been shortlisted for many awards, including the Goldsmith Poetry Award, the Swift Satire Award. the Blackstaff Blog award, the HISSAC Short Story Award, the Writers’ Village Short Story Award and most recently the Cúirt International Award. Her website: maureen-gallagher.com
December rain breaks the cold snap. Outside a black-
backed gull screeches out its useless warning. Father
moves from chair to chair, waiting for his visitor, a child
who earlier has been given the nod, the familiar sign.
The sound of tapping on an outhouse roof’s flashing;
the rain trickling down the windowpane like tears.
The boy enters the room, fighting back tears.
He fears the onslaught of the billowing black
storm-clouds gathering, knows the flashing
light will take no hostages. The reverend Father
gestures for him to kneel, to first make the sign
of the cross. The day drags its heels as the child
blocks everything out. In year one a child
of God was born, brought into this vale of tears,
his mother a virgin, his father a dove, a sign
of peace on earth; of love. But still, black
thoughts of murder intrude, hatred for the Father
who stands naked before Jesus, flashing.
After the word, the deed. A thousand needles; flashing
pain. Resistance is of no avail, a fragile child
no match for a man built like a tank: a reverend Father,
smelling of chips, face oozing oil, sweating tears
of ecstacy that flow like a river into a yawning black
well. A howling wail like the howling wind: a sign
of the times – they can do as they like, or a sign
of malaise. The river becomes a flood, flashing.
And the boy discovers black. Everything black.
Walls. Ceiling. A thunderclap. He paints a child
nailed to the cross, body black with blood like tears,
that drip onto a shield, in the name of the Father,
destined to bring the sins back to the Father.
For when the time comes the boy will sign,
point the finger; there will be an end to tears;
he will hear the chimes of freedom flashing.
And the collar will re-appear, stripped as the child
was, covering tracks, whitewashing black.
In the black December of the soul, the child
makes a sign that becomes a beacon flashing,
drawing tears that hereafter flow from the Father.
She looks right out at you.
Full page in the local rag.
Evening wear (pinched at the waist),
the colour of blood.
Bridal wear, white as linen
when ovulation stops.
They gather to gape
at the young woman in her prime,
shoulder blades sawing the air.
Mother blinded with pride.
Thirty-six twenty-two thirty-six
becomes her ticket to free lunches,
rides in blacked-out limos,
drinks paid. Fifteen minutes
on the Late Late. A craving
for fame eating her bones.
Ireland, you slut, you’re for sale,
up for offer to the highest bidder.
Going! Gone! To a footloose dollar.
A subordinate, you crawl,
at your master’s beck and call
and he strips you, uses you,
has his way with you
but when someone cheaper shows
he is suddenly indisposed.
Chained for centuries
to Madame Brittania,
the clients all split
when you were released,
never to enter
the executive suite.
you will remain forever
a slut on flea street.
Little Skellig comes into view:
a jagged tiara, studded
with gannets. The boat tilts. The
umbrella at my feet stays put –
a relief, each of us fear-
fully aware of the ocean’s
On Skellig Mhichil, a steep climb
presses wavering joints into
service. Eight beehive huts on top
leave us breathless, relics of
ascetics once subservient
to the will of an avenging God.
We capture each other in noughts
and ones, a millennium and more
between us and them.
But still the same questions: Why
are we here? Where are we going?
What’s it all about? Kitiwakes
rant from an altar of campion.