Hennessy New Irish Writing: October 2018 winning poems

Poems by Ruth Quinlan and Kiera McGarry

Ruth Quinlan

Ruth Quinlan



Her Body, The Hourglass
For HK

A means to measure time by the release
of an unfertilised ovum, a grain of sand
that chronicles another barren 28 days
in the spread of red through white underwear.

She cannot stop the slick monthly sliding,
endures the flushing of another womb lining,
watches it spiral towards the sea, imagining
ragged scraps of herself swallowed,
scarlet upon the pale tongues of fish.

She records the bloody reminders of failure,
tries not to think How many left?,
to be sanguine about her own exsanguination
until the day when the grains of sand run out
and she cannot turn the hourglass upside-down.

Piano Hands
In memory of my piano teacher

To a seven-year-old, impossibly ancient,
thickened to a buttressed barrel, breasts
more ship-prow than sign of gender.
Years carved claws from her hands,
knuckles ratcheted gradually
until finger-bones gnarled
into offshoots of mandrake roots.

When she placed her hands crossly
next to mine, correcting fumblings,
they were dry, papery,
warmed parchments of skin
stretched across crooked scrolls,
ugly ducklings that took flight
across islands of ivory.

Sonatas, concertos soared
to the ceilings, freed
by those hands, the only part of her
that defied the hobbling of arthritis
with such contempt
that as she played,
closed her eyes and hummed, I think
she managed to forget
both acolyte and walking stick.

The Passing

I cannot see an end
to the column of people
approaching us

My mother stands in black
by his head, then me,
my sister and brother,
a line, eldest to youngest

We fall that way, a deck of cards
descending from Queen to Jack
now that the King
is no longer in our hands

A guard of honour
escorts him from the church
I expect an avenue of crossed swords,
but all I see are umbrellas

Ruth Quinlan won the 2018 Galway University Hospital Arts Trust – Poems for Patience competition; 2014 Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award; and 2012 Hennessy First Fiction Literary Award




they told you not to touch it your sister left a glass on the counter
to wrangle a moth said he’d die

if you disturbed the silver-scale dust of his wings with your fingers
and you’re the eldest so you go in

to catch him big as a bird leather-snap of wings battering against the hollow bulb frantic spun out origami scrap

that buzzed in the glass you capped with an envelope you carried him
out there and watched him

clamber to the cup edge saw his antlers spread out like willowherb crooked beak rabbit-scalp cape

a plash of white wings then he’s gone into a night of things
you think are beautiful but are still too scared to touch

Kiera McGarry is a graduate of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry in Belfast. She is training as a secondary school teacher. Her work has appeared in The Open Ear, Abridged and The Ogham Stone. A selection of her poetry is included in New Poets From the North of Ireland (edited by Sinéad Morrissey and Stephen Connolly)