A reading from the Book of Exile

chapter one

there are no chapters


chapter two

he has been moved beyond belief


chapter three

and he is inching toward glory
with only his own story on his back
he has patched up holes that opened
where his coverings have cracked
and some shoes were never meant for hiking so
he left them far behind
there are simple things he needs
on journeys such as these
and a bag that’s small enough
to carry all the failures and the idols
that he’s picked up on the way

there are some days
he only moves
an inch or two

this is the pace of glory here in exile


chapter four

there are some things too meaningful for talking
and even feeling leaves us full of grief
at all we touch and need and
can never speak of

we are living lives that we can‘t state the name of
we are loving things that
we can never bear
we attempt belief in things that we can not explain
and we rest uneasy in this

and we rest with tension so
its heartaching


chapter five

he has grown older here.

the body speaks its own
he has started listening


the unwritable chapter

and the place of
is the place of
(and sometimes barely that)


chapter six

there is no ending.
everything is here.
            (so pitch a tent that you can live in
            and find a friend to whom you’ll give
            times of telling
            times of testing
            times of listening
            times of resting)
there is no ending.
everything is here.

More by Pádraig Ó Tuama

The Pedagogy of Conflict


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

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.

it’s the only way of living.



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

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.



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

[ 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

perceiving politics
in the syntax of
the state.

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

these questions will

Who are we
to be
with one


How are we
to be
with one


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


What about those present
whose past was blasted
far beyond their

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