Ciarán O’Rourke was born in 1991 and is based in Dublin. Winner of the Lena Maguire/Cúirt New Irish Writing Award 2009, the Westport Poetry Prize 2015, and the Fish Poetry Prize 2016, Ciarán’s poetry has been widely published. His first collection, The Buried Breath, is available from Irish Pages Press.


The land here
dreams in silhouettes

our bodies
learn to read:

as when, in sleet-
grey summer once,

the whole half-hill’s
herd of tactful men

stood in
stiff formation,

scuffing the mud
in murmurs,

till the cart for Sligo
swung the gap

and rose to rest
on the sluiced yard-grass

in readiness –
a ticking signal

that set them turning, then,
to work, pinning down

the thin man’s
addled legs,

and tautening a disc
of unfrayed rope

to still the violent
fits and cries,

a clench of rip-cloth
passed along

to stem
the babbling mouth

of Michael Maguire,
packed up now

for the madhouse ward,
but long observed,

who for years before
had never heard

the storming alder grove
in spring

or the cuckoo’s weather-
piercing word

without a week
of shadow-pacing after,

and whose fingers
always tremored

(the watching boy
remembered later)

like worn metal
in a saucer,

or the wings of fleeting poplars,
broken by the rain.



Perhaps I’ll press
the whole, em-
bittered fruit of it

to Sappho’s perfect
mouth, who said
aloud one morning

as the sun lay down
in whispered mists,
something like

far wingbeats
brought you close,
my heart, delicate

though they were,
and dark the ground
beneath, as the levelled air

grew thin, and
sparrows hummed
in the blood even,

for you came
quick as
a sparrow for me.


Later, too, another havoc
harvesting the heart,
she spoke to ticking stillness
like a friend, and said:
stay standing here, my love,
          hold with me, as if forever,
or as if by standing breath
          to breath
we’d make each other one
          again, and unsubtract
the seething interval, which now
          we live within
like animals astray;
          face me like this,
before our corvid arc
         of moonlight vanishes,
rehearse your lover’s grace
            once more: forgive me
eye to eye.


Let them murder, scalp,
and sell for gain

until the buffalo are wiped
from sight, he quipped

of the rat-faced poachers
slinking West,

adding apothegm
to adage, that the only good

Indians I’ve ever seen
were dead –

the beloved, butch-eyed
Philip Sheridan,

whose father’s people
years before

had fled
the lake-thin light

and perished earth
of Cillín Chéir,

from which in-
fested parish air

his own turf-dull pallor
and quarried stare

no doubt derived –
the leaden prairie’s

first commander,
the rising General

known elsewhere
(in private chambers

out of shot) as
that brown, rock-

brutal “little chap”,
who had his uses –

whose slooping arms
could stretch

to itch his blunted shins
while standing,

so strange and stout
an ape-like man, the still

presiding president
confided, he had

not a neck enough
to hang him.