‘The Irish Slave’ by Ian Duhig


It is the Night of Power and the puppeteers
are playing Kara Guez, Martyr to Chastity.
Nubian Grooms are breaking cameleopards.
Janissaries reline their cloaks with lynx fur.

Sultan Mahmoud shows off his new French wife
on a caïque drawn by jewelled fish.
These fan the Bosphorus like a wedding train
with an escort of heartbroken gulls.

The pirates came down on Baltimore
like gulls on a bucket of fish-heads.
A traitor’s cross marked on their maps:
they laid another black cross upon us.

The Kizlar Agha was full of sympathy,
bruising almonds with myrrh emulsions,
warming poultices of medicinal sand.
He told me it was either this or death.

At home I’d’ve worn the priest’s black frock
with the farm to Michael and Hugh abroad:
years forgiving women and children’s sins
while their men diced in the church porch.

Castration has been a good career move,
guarding Fire fuelled by people and stones.
I could be drinking my mother’s thick tea:
the Kizlar Agha has ordered my sherbet.
(A footnote to The Irish Slave can be read here).
Ian Duhig has written six books of poetry, most recently Pandorama (Picador 2010)

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