‘Virgin of the Rocks’ by Mary Noonan

Virgin of the Rocks

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.

Two poems by Mary Noonan

The Moths

The artist is sitting, perfectly still,
by his mulberry tree, watching
it. He has been in that pose all day.

The white moths have flown
through my open window,
drawn by the light of a bedside lamp.

They are everywhere – cloaking
the walls, sleeping in the folds of sheets,
crawling over the shoes on the floor.

I try to flatten some with newspaper
but they are too many, and I lie down
among them. Soon, they cover me,

their anaemic wings lining the creases
of my eyelids, lashes thrumming
to the sound of a thousand tiny wings

flicking. In the bed, I rustle. Moths are
spinning from hairs, slinking over the skin
of my scalp and pubis. I lie in a rictus.

In the morning, I walk on a flittered
bridal veil of wings, from bed to bathroom.
I pass the artist. He is sitting

by the fish tank, watching his black
piranha slip through cool water,
behind glass. Has he been there all night?
(published in Poetry Ireland Review 114 (2015)
Into the Night

You fling yourself out the door into the wind
and start to row yourself down the steep hill
with your standard issue steel stick, working it
along the dark path, clickety-click, clickety-click.
It’s a path you would know with your eyes closed,
the old Richmond Hill you cycled up and down
as a boy, in all weathers, coming and going from
the house perched on top. You shuttle along at first,
taking full advantage of your exit velocity, clickety-
click, clickety- flop against the rail, breathe heavily,
rattle on. At the bottom, you tilt into Patrick Street
and fluorescent lighting, poke at the white rounds
winking on the ground, checking for coins, finding
gum. You have forgotten
your glasses, and so your vision is that of a small
subterranean animal, tunnelling with its fore-paws.
Staggering now, you keel against walls, your flittered
left hip giving way. A passer-by gives you a second
glance, wonders. Your cap is pulled tightly over
the bald eyebrows you shave off every other day,
along with cheek bristle. You propel yourself on,
slashing the wind, and the dark. You don’t know
where you are going, or why.
(published in The Spectator , 6 December 2014)
Mary Noonan lives in Cork, where she lectures in French literature at University College Cork. Her poems have appeared in numerous magazines, including The Dark Horse, Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry London, The Spectator, Wasafiri, The North, Tears in the Fence and The Threepenny Review. She won the Listowel Poetry Collection Prize in 2010. Her first collection – The Fado House (Dedalus Press, Dublin, 2012) – was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize and the Strong/Shine Award. In 2014, she was awarded an Arts Council of Ireland Literature Bursary, and she was selected as one of a group of eight to take part in the Aldeburgh Eight Advanced Seminar. Mary Noonan audio archive at From the Fishouse.