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Hennessy Literary Awards 2017 Emerging Poetry winner: Crouched Burial by Una Mannion

March’s Hennessy New Irish Writing winning poem

Una Mannion is a lecturer in Performing Arts at IT Sligo.

They move the earth with small trowels and brushes and
all week the seals sing a desolate chorus as if for you.
First a small child’s foot
slow sweeps of the brush across your small bones,
your shape in the ditch, taking definition, a slow birth
in the corner of the field by the water’s edge.

You are lying on your side
knees pulled into your chest
the thin bones of your arms
holding yourself without your hands
your heavy head bent low toward your small body,
a comma in the earth,
like an ultra sound picture of the earth’s womb
where you lay crouched for years.

Beside your ribcage, a single blue glass bead
for your ear a bronze ring,
your grave gifts.
If flowers and herbs cradled your head,
they are dust now.
Someone brought you here
and laid you down with care
your death a secret, your story buried.

In the moon bay
at the edge of earth where they found you
the midden’s shelves layer time, like growth rings.
Now is our turn on the surface of time
you and your buried bead, prehistory,
before there were written words to remember with.
A sequence of milk teeth along the bone of your jaw and
the buds to permanent ones spell your age.
You are eighteen months old.

Your bones in the midden are a mystery
Iron Age people didn’t bury their dead
bodies were left to wind, or wolves or water.
But not you.
Perhaps touching your cold cheek your mother
could not abandon your body to the night
and here, where the land juts out toward the sea and the tide moves,
a place she might find again,
she brought you.

Una Mannion is a lecturer in Performing Arts at IT Sligo. She is a member of the Sandy Field Writers’ Group based in County Sligo and is currently enroled in the Writing MA at NUI Galway. ‘Crouched Burial’ won the Yeats’ Society’s Seamus Heaney Memorial Poetry Prize 2015 judged by Paula Meehan. Also in 2015, she won second place in Dromineer Literary Festival for flash fiction, was one of the four shortlisted writers in the Listowel Writers Week Originals Short Stories and was shortlisted in the Fish Memoir Competition and Bridport among others. She is currently on the fiction shortlist for Cuirt (2016)