‘Virgin of the Rocks’ by Mary Noonan

Go on, Ann Lovett, crawl into the grotto
and join the Blessed Lady there, the one you
prayed to at the railings when your mother
held you by the hand. Water is streaming down
your school tights and the pain is making it hard
for you to move. Go on! Lie down and let your
long hair hang over the cold stones, over your belly,
let the small head come out between your legs
in the grotto cut high in the rock outside Granard,
on the last day of January, nineteen-eighty-four.

Let the small head come out and let the weight
of your heart ballast you to the grotto of your
blood, as the thick liquid starts to trickle down
your thighs, over the stones, a red waterfall
washing the Lady’s alabaster feet. Whimper now,
Ann Lovett, cry to the circlet of stars, to the
corn-flower-blue eyes turned forever to the sky!
Swaddle your little scrap in Her ice-cold skirts!
Offer Her a lily, as the statue of the girl has done
all the years of your fifteen, the stone girl

in the grotto, holding the white bloom, praying
to the Holy Mother – Oh clement, oh loving, oh
sweet virgin Mary, pray for us who have recourse to Thee!

– lift up your blue lily, your silent boy, you prayed
to him in your belly, the secret of your small bed,
couldn’t say the word you heard whispered
by your mother and your grandmother, a word
that could not be said aloud. Say it out loud now,
Ann Lovett, on this last night of January. Then
raise your heavy head from the rocks and pray.

(first published in PN Review, 2016)

Author’s note: Ann Lovett died giving birth in a grotto to the Virgin Mary in Granard, County Longford, on 31 January 1984. She was 14 years old. Her baby also died.

Mary Noonan‘s first collection The Fado House, Dedalus, 2012, was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize and the Strong/Shine Award. She was awarded an Arts Council of Ireland Literature Bursary in 2014. A pamphlet, Father, Bonnefant Press, was published in 2015.