Ciarán O’Rourke – Book of Salt

Ciarán O’Rourke lives in Galway. He has won the Lena Maguire/Cúirt New Irish Writing Award, the Westport Poetry Prize, and the Fish Poetry Prize. His first collection, The Buried Breath, was published by The Irish Pages Press in 2018. His second collection, Phantom Gang, is due for publication in 2022.

Book of Salt

After Catullus

Where do they go,
the storm in the sun,
the bitten skin,
the long dark
we lived within
by day, by night,
a twilit time,
the crazy moon
our witness – kissed
through risen
rooms again, again,
and again the endless
dram, replenishing….
Oh, before our
numbered bones
burn out, bring
me your cup
of clearest water,
let me drink
from the poem
of your lips.


abundantly aggrieved,
let the gods of love
stream down
in murmurations –
to fix the honeyed
hour, to mend
the scattered breaths!
Her feathered pet,
her gripped,
melodic joy-
machine, is
ripped of air:
a swirling dirt
reclaims the road.
Ah, bird of death,
fill up the ashen
daylight, as I
murmur you
a song.


Me again, come back
to sing of tenderness
and hate. I still exist,
the callow architect,
the tough-eyed,
weeping wound,
of all this amorous
distress. You’re
gone (I made
you go), so here
we are, we two,
in banishment, awash
in the bright, free-
wheeling wish
of love-for-sale
once more – unending
streams of men
like me… granted!
Alone for now,
as if forever, how
can I endure your
absence – this
broken cup
that fills my every
(with sunken light),
this hungry fig
now shrunk, in the
seething winter sun?


I feel for
the ox-eyed daisy,
cleanly cut – or
did it wither, hurt
to death, in purest,
putrid bitterness?
The drench of love,
its wild
and supple churning,
that brought me
to the brim, my
heart, was
cut to ground
by you – disdaining
distance, muse
of all the world!
Oh let the silken roads
flow on, the sun-
deep mines
reverberate, a hail
of earthly commerce
thunder at my gate…
I’ll not be there,
the quivering voyeur,
but far away,
a spectral breeze
invisibly at work,
the emissary
of meadow-flowers,
weeping after dark.


The warring ships, the roar
of poisoned seas, the grim,
metallic winds go in,
with mud, with grain,
the frozen sun, the gravid,
groaning hills, and gathered
ivory of light, the brim,
the break, the flow of night,
the compacted heat
of the moon go in, with
sparrows’ wings, the spew
of dying whales, the dream,
the dew, the fog of final
breaths go in, and grief
that sings in the heart,
the tears, the fallen years,
a gone-forever time,
the spite, the weight,
the touch of hands, my rain
of endless need go in,
a quiet mingling of ashes –
this urn of words
your grave.


All that passion,
all that hate,
kept you alive, and me –
the wounded epithet
preserved, our huge,
unending journey done,
the sky
torn up by whispers,
our skin
a midnight blue, your
steaming breath,
your gleam, your glare,
the raging heart of day
burned on
a little longer, here:
a book of salt
to kindle
the incandescent sun.

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