Maria McManus

Faolán. Lupo. Wolf.

Maria McManus

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Have the sea as your wilderness if you must.

I’ll take the mountains. I’ll take the forest.

I’ll take the dark. Give me winter.

The coast can wear a scattering of streetlights

for a necklace in the night

across her black and sensuous skin,

her face hidden from sight.

Bring on the moon –

we will call long into the darkness,

to gather, raise alarm, find one another.


I faced death first. Remember that.

If you want the gospel truth, look no further.

Mere marginalia: a hyphen, pointillism, iron gall,

lapis lazuli, holly. It’s all there, lit up

in gorse, wode, ultramarine, orpiment.

Ask the scribes if you really want to know.

They’ll tell you everything –

That book is lavish and extravagant.

It wasn’t plundered, taking refuge in the library,

lush among the vellum quires of Kells;

In precipio erat verbum.

See here, the story of how Ishtar took the hump,

and she sent me among the sheep

as punishment, (a woman scorned) –

you know the story.


Listen up. There are no false prophets.

There is no crying.

We were warned off and away from the doors;

if you must know, the turf

was marked in scat alright, but the borders

of ourselves were huge, rangey, far-flung.

Here’s the truth.

We only took what was necessary – nothing more.

We made good our share of spoil.

Ask the raven, the crow,

the wily magpie, those rare

so-sacred eagles.

They all took our message

to the god of the sky, to the sun,

but what of it? Who among the salmon

took our chronicles to sea?

There’s nothing to show for it now.

We are of the earth;

make no mistake of that.

We were left to it. So be it.

After Cromwell

wheedled open the miserable

teeming throat of his purse,

head for head

we were just raw bounty.

Six quid the She in whelp. A fiver each, per Duke;

Three pounds a Juvenile.

The hungry, the poor, the biddable-desperate,

left pelt on pelt, hollow, skull-less,

at the docks and slung them on ships

bound for Bristol.


The starving make Omérta; we know that.

I could say, we understand, that we know

the way of it. Who could blame them?

Take this scenario;

Your own child is raising hell,

So you hunker, latching its screaming maw

from one mean and scrawny breast to the other,

suckling, but nothing sates the excoriating hunger in it.

Nothing cuts to your own marrow quicker –

it sticks in your craw,

raising your hackles in the pinch,

routing every feral sinew, nerve,

raw instinct.

The sight of your own infant

Changed to near-carrion

before your very eyes is enough……

Let me ask you, what would you do?

Anything becomes fair game then.

Besides, I have it on good authority,


                       once the hunt commences

                       something will be found.


The same old spiel, repeats itself.

Don’t blame me for skulking

round your door in the night.

These are hungry times.

The stakes are at their highest.

Those that have – let them be the ones

to beg for the viaticum; let’s see if that miserly

morsel is enough sustenance then.

As we cross the river I say,

put your red coat on;

drive their cattle to a stampede –

trample them if necessary,

offer wine to all their wives,

have them broach the meniscus

of an everlasting cup – that

will make them docile. Just ask Bacchus

if you don’t believe me.


How might I speak with you then?

Will you listen out for me?

Try this: call to mind Anemones,

or the Lupins that grow wild in Koldemo.

Don’t mistake my invisibility for absence,

nor my silence either.

I am with you when you are grieving,

when the pounding of your own heart

batters the cavity behind your ribs

and lords it over your lungs,

forcing the sea though your hearing.

You will remember me

as I pass by. I do not weep

walking the ploughshare.

I am with you when you are grieving,

                            I beat the path.

                            I cleared the way.


                            I faced death first.

Maria McManus

Maria McManus is a poet and playwright. She based in Belfast.  Publications include Reading the Dog, The Cello Suites and We Are Bone, all published by Lagan Press. She is currently in receipt of an ACES Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

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