Medbh McGuckian


La Rosa De Santa Rosa 
‘The sibling is the beginning of the stranger’

Cleansing month-sun and moon appearing
The same size, but the moon is swelling,
Trying to step over the world. She is anything 
But over him.

Since she has no more reason or brain
Than a child of thirteen, she neglects her dress, 
Her permed eyelashes teased on one side only, 
She laughs Sunday.

Despite a milkiness to her corporal and interior 
Eyes, she is very alert to the colours in which 
She was born. She saw her body alone
And without a soul

And felt as if one in five birds had flown out 
From behind her, the garden of her spine. 
Through the closed doors and missing walls 
Of the unswept room

The light of day could even be seen
Through his chest, writing directly on her heart.
It seemed to her that he left a sword there
For moments

And touched her with both sanctified
And ordinary water, his face lit up
Immoderately, as if he were one of the highest 
Angels who are all fire.

The Dependent Nature Of Linen

In a zip of polarized road and sky,
Veils of colour hang around like languid
Angels. The tinted housing piles up
On the horizon, on the stairway to the river, 
Aigami blue, from the dayflower,
Ukon yellow, from the vegetable root,
Beni, a rose pink from the safflower.

Brown halos form around each line,
A sap green raincoat flapping on a fence. 
Acid travels from the bevel
Of the freshly boarded window, 
Magenta-coloured mould growth
From the charred door. The street-lamp 
Droops as if it seeks a word,
In its hardwired, flexed manner.
If I leaned my body just the right way, 
Searching through my windshield
For a new picture, the view from behind 
My eyelid, from my lizard brain, my
Dog brain, with its long stare,
Might be less than benign. Such
Precise positioning of one house 
Within the other.

A square-mouthed vessel in a female grave, 
A seated burial, covered with blown earth, 
And the body of a three-month old roe deer, 
Deep stabs from antlers under the shoulders 
And hips: her last fetter
Cut off, as whole letters
Like feather-barbs can sometimes fall away…

These are very old chemicals,
Their carbon is not locked into place
As it is in a diamond,
The water does not remain in a bead, 
But malted and distilled, stagnates
As brown linen circuits in an idle loom.

While language comes in, on duty
And on time, shredding newspapers, 
With its killing bite, its quiet bite,
Its starling style.

Emily Noether’s Theorem

Poets are divided according to the rivers
That are closest to their home. He glances
At the lance in the lance-rack,
At his ago, the site of a single-hearth house, 
Which must come down in the bloomed fields,
Thorns, earth, broom and overgrown grass.

Then pursues a heavy-heeled diagonal
Towards Urania, robber of the verbal well,
With her purple riding scarf, saddle cloth
And cushion, seated next to Apollo,
Who raises a lustrous quill..
Conversing with that laureate whose signet finger 
Carved his own name in large letters
Over the very breast of the mother of God,
On the black sash of his Pieta’ s Madonna.

The flutist poses in stocks with a clock,
Holding the brass flower which Dante wore,
Dressed in darkest pink, late as the mulberry, 
While Petrarch masked in a sad green,
As leaves should shelter fruit,
Accompanies Sappho’s stockings of straw, 
Garters of felt, amazing sky-blue gloves,
His bare-breasted muse of choice,
Brave in the next-to-nothing of a line.



Medbh McGuckian: Born 1950 Belfast. Teaches Creative Writing at Seamus Heaney Poetry Centre Queen’s University. Winner of British National Poetry Competition 1979. Published first three collections with Oxford and remaining with Gallery press County Meath. Her latest The Book Of The Angel was inspired by the late Gregory Peck.