And on the first day
god made
something up.
Then everything came along:

seconds, sex and
beasts and breaths and rabies;
hunger, healing,
lust and lust’s rejections;
swarming things that swarm
inside the dirt;
girth and grind
and grit and shit and all shit’s functions;
rings inside the treetrunk
and branches broken by the snow;
pigs’ hearts and stars,
mystery, suspense and stingrays;
insects, blood
and interests and death;
eventually, us,
with all our viruses, laments and curiosities;
all our songs and made-up stories;
and our songs about the stories we’ve forgotten;
and all that we’ve forgotten we’ve forgotten;

and to hold it all together god made time
and those rhyming seasons
that display decay.

More by Pádraig Ó Tuama

The Pedagogy of Conflict

I

When I was a child,
I learnt to lie.

When I was a child
my parents said that sometimes,
lives are protected
by an undetected
light lie of
deception

When I was a child,
I learnt to lie.

Now, I am more than twenty five
and I’m alive
because I’ve lied
and I am lying still.

Sometimes,
it’s the only way of living.

 

II

When I was a child
I learnt that I could stay alive
by obeying certain
rules:

let your anger cool before you
blossom bruises on your brother’s shoulder;

always show your manners at the table;

always keep the rules and never question;

never mention certain things to certain people;

never doubt the reasons behind
legitimate aggression;

if you compromise or humanise
you must still even out the score;

and never open up the door.
Never open up the door.
Never, never, never open up the blasted door.

When I was a child,
I learnt that I could stay alive
by obeying certain rules.
Never open up the door.

 

III

When I was a child,
I learnt to count to five
one, two, three, four, five.
but these days, I’ve been counting lives, so I count

one life
one life
one life
one life
one life

because each time
is the first time
that that life
has been taken.

Legitimate Target
has sixteen letters
and one
long
abominable
space
between
two
dehumanising
words.

[ t h e ] n o r t h [ e r n ] [ o f ] i r e l a n d

It is both a dignity and                                                          
a difficulty
to live between these
names,

perceiving politics
in the syntax of
the state.

And at the end of the day,
the reality is
that whether we
change
or whether we stay
the same

these questions will
remain.

Who are we
to be
with one
another?

and

How are we
to be
with one
another?

and

What to do
with all those memories
of all those funerals?

and

What about those present
whose past was blasted
far beyond their
future?

I wake.
You wake.
She wakes.
He wakes.
They wake.

We Wake
and take
this troubled beauty forward.

Hunger Strikers

And there was banging on the bins that night
and many frightened people woke
and noted down the hour.
The clock of hunger-strikers dead is not ignored with ease
and ‘please, God, please keep loved ones safe’ was then
repeated round and round and round
like rosaries told upon a bead,
or shoes upon the ground of orange walking.

The five demands, the five-year plan
that saw a blanket round a man,
the dirty protest, Thatcher stance,
that gave a new and startling glance
at just how deep a people’s fury goes.
And God knows each single mother’s son
was sick of hunger,
all those younger faces became stripped and old
eyes shrunk back and foreheads cold & bold
with skin that’s limp and paper thin,
barely separating blood and bone from stone.

And some did say ‘enough is now enough’
and others said that ‘never, never, never will a martyr die,
he’ll smile upon us long from mural’s wall.’
And others said ‘what nation’s this?
we’re abandoned on our own—
all this for clothes to warm some dying bones.’
And some said ‘that’s a traitor’s talk’
and others bowed their heads and thought that they
would hate to go that way.

Then Bobby Sands was dead
and there was banging on the bin lids on the Falls
echoed through to Shankill gospel halls.
And there was trouble on the street that night
and black flags started hanging while
people started ganging up,
black flags marking out the borders of belonging
the thin black barricade
that’s been around for thirty years
and stayed a fragile point up till today and cries
of how ten mothers’ sons all starved and died
when all they ate was hope and pride

Related Poems

Creation Story

In one version a drunken angel shapes us from river mud.
In another the tou-tou bird sings daylight into being.
In another we fall backward from the sky into the earth’s net.
The other day goldenrod.
The other day red on the tests; her cancer like sumac, back
             again, inching down the ravine.
It’s October. A kind of paradise.
Gold hills, black walnuts, a flurry of gulls on open water.
Pasture thistle, evening primrose. Crows.
The other day at the sink a plate shattered in my hand.
Her husband has waited all these years for her to die
            so he could marry her sister.
In another version he marries her best friend.
In another she lives, knows everything, but says nothing.
The chaplain told her years ago, in her first fear,
             that death for a person of faith was just a beginning.
In one version the god of violence eats everything.
In another the life god sells us down the river.
The beginning of what?
The other day the ash tree lost its leaves in a single afternoon.
What's coming is January, the lake iced finally over.
What’s coming is this much light through a hole this small.
I gave my students this assignment: Tell your entire life—
             birth to death—in five lines, like that poem we read.
You can see where this is going.
From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State.
And she feels like a woman she saw one day, stooped and tying
             her shoes on an escalator.
Absorbed like that but on deadline.
In another version they talk everything over and agree—about
             the sister, about whether they have bodies in heaven.
The other day the sun in its box of sky, a going away gift.
In one version I told them to make the rhyme ABABA; in another
             ABCDB.
In Texas, an artist has cast every bone in the human body
             into chromium, and will bury one in every country
             until he runs out of countries.
Shiva destroys the world, then gives birth to it.
Lingam and Yoni, male and female.
“From my mother,” one student wrote, “I inherited an estate.”
“When I died,” wrote another, “I went somewhere. Who knows?”
At the lake’s edge the sumac god descends the hill, disappears
             into water, then climbs out the other side.
In one version, saw-toothed sunflower, closed gentian, asters—
             autumn flowers that must have been there when God
             raised his voice.
In one version a Japanese girl falls through the ice and is resurrected
             as an island.
Everything must have been there: the plate, the cancer, the little
             scimitar scar I’m working on, my student’s dead mother,
             black flak, the speck, the mass, the caul, crows in the ash.
In one version nobody dies.
In another, everyone.