Doireann Ní Ghríofa – Three poems

33321Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s poems have appeared in literary journals in Ireland and internationally. Her Irish language collections Résheoid and Dúlasair are both published by Coiscéim. The Arts Council of Ireland has twice awarded her literature bursaries (2011 and 2013).  In 2012, she was a winner of Wigtown Gaelic poetry contest, Scotland. Her short collection of poems in English Ouroboros was recently longlisted for The Venture Award (UK).

Hag House

Back home in the east, I was a witch, I was feared.
Here, I am a hag. They laugh at my name, Baba Yaga.
In the post office queue, I hear them jeer and sneer.
It has been ten years since I left our land and followed
my people here. I came for the same reason they did.
So many had left home that there were no children
left there to scare. I wanted work, but things are so different here.

Here, people know the names of places but not what they mean.
They no longer tell stories. Instead, their eyes eat images.
They don’t even remember the names of their own witches.
Sometimes, I hear an ancient weeping from within
beached boulders, but what can I do? The people ignore
them. They care only for screens, phones, TVs.
They’ve forgotten all the old ways, the old stories, the old fears.

I found a forest and built my house again, its chicken legs
like blackthorn branches, its knees as gnarled and nobbled
as my own. I make it hobble through the trees and turn
its windowless face counter-clockwise away from strangers.
I am inside, stretched over my stove, dreaming of the burning
feathers of the firebird. I have seen constellations quiver
before my power. Time has made me redundant.

No snow licks the land here, but rain rolls from my roof
every day. I hear it dribble down the chicken legs and fall
soft onto forest floor. Every day, I weep when I wake.
I still rise through night skies, riding my mortar and pestle.
I still weave intestines of the dead on my spinning wheel.
My spindle is still blood red. Only now, no-one sees.
No-one tells my tales. No-one hears. No-one fears me.
Still, I straddle the gap between life and death; I still hold
the secret spells. But what does it matter if no-one cares?


To Won’s Father, a Villanelle

June 1, 1586

Beloved, I cannot live without you.
You said you’d always be here, that you’d always stay.
I want to go to you. Please take me too.

Our son knows my grief. I feel him weep in the womb.
How could you leave us? How could you go away?
Beloved, I cannot live without you.

You have flown free like a speckled curlew.
Without you, our nest turns to grey clay.
I want to go to you. Please take me. Too

long, I have waited for you to come to our rescue.
From my head, I have ripped locks away.
Beloved, I cannot live without you.

With torn hair and hemp I weave shoes for you.
I will place them by your body today.
I want to go to you. Please take me too.

I suffer grief like you never knew.
You always said we would die on the same day.
Beloved, I cannot live without you.
I want to go to you. Please take me too.


Note: In 1998, archaeologists excavating a tomb in South Korea, found the remains of Eung-Tae Lee — a 16th-century man of the Goseong Yi clan. On his chest they found a letter from his pregnant widow. Also found in the tomb, placed beside his head, were sandals woven from hemp bark and his distraught wife’s own hair. Source: Archaeological Institute of America.


I was ten when you moved in.
The dining table was displaced, replaced
by your wild moods, your wheeled sickbed of steel.
That first morning, searching for my homework,
I found you alone in the breakfast room —
wizened wizard, muttering magic into your eggcup,
your spoon a silver wand.
Sunlight cracked the shell of your skull
and painted your yolk eyes yellow.
You winked and smiled your gummy grin.
Each day I returned from school to find
rooms filled with the aftermath of your alchemy:
spilled pills dotting duvets,
broken biscuits on the floor, furniture bound
by the coiled cable of the telephone.
The bird of your newspaper
shed its plumage wing by crumpled wing,
feathering your tattered nest.
How you squawked and squealed
when it was tidied,
a fractured birdsong shaking your jowls.
In the bathroom, you unrolled and threw
streaming lengths of toilet roll out the window,
a distress signal in your decrepit dialect.
Your spells transformed not only rooms.
You turned your daughter into your mother:
clucking, scolding, plumping pillows.
And me into your brother— an ally, stealing
sweets for you, sneaking whiskey into your tea.
All day, you stood at our front door, spitting spells
that reddened neighbours cheeks, gluing each gaze
to the ground. You filled our house with an invisible
electricity, a secret static that stung adults’ eyes
that brought streams down uncles’ noses.
You filled the teapot with hot teardrops
then stood on a chair holding it aloft,
your beady birdeyes begging your audience
for understanding. Each night you conjured
howling wolves, shattering the night with sudden vowels.
Frail bird bones began to strain below your skin;
soon, your skull seemed to stare from behind your face.
Month by slow month your magic melted,
until your last spell turned your eyes into tired birds.
They flickered away, leaving behind the shell of a stranger
— an old man. Thin. Grey.

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