‘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 Sheenagh Pugh

Different Corridors

A moment ago, while you still slept,
they were all in the same story:
the ship, your mother, that job you left.
Now, as the room comes back, they are beginning
to unravel: you catch at a fact, a face,
but they slip by, each diminishing down
a different corridor, calling round corners
like children playing chase in some old house.

And your mind cannot help but go
to the author who is losing the plot,
who stood on the rostrum staring down
at the page where his words had come loose
from their meanings, had freed themselves so far
as to become not even patterns but penstrokes;
he liked the curly ones best, but how to turn them
back into ideas was beyond him.

It is an old house; some rooms we have not seen
in years, and the time is coming
when the way home, old friends, names of things
we have always known, our own children,
will be off down different corridors,
laughing round corners while we stand puzzled.
How random are these dreams, that seemed to fit
so well together, while we were sleeping.
Letter to Dr Johnson

Dear Dr Johnson, I am writing this note,
if you’ll excuse a stranger’s approach,

beside the statue of your cat Hodge,
whose eyes are fixed on your old front door

as if you might come out with an oyster
or two. That odd thought of yours

won’t leave me: we shall receive no letters
in the grave
, however companionable

we be, however desperate for people
and their news, their voices. I shall seal this

and slip it under your door, just in case
on the other side, disembodied but portly,

a dishevelled ghost is waiting daily
for a letter to land on the mat.
(previously published in PN Review)
Sheenagh Pugh now lives in Shetland but lived for many years in Wales and still publishes with Seren. Her latest collection is Short Days, Long Shadows (Seren 2014). She likes writing about northern landscapes and odd corners of history. She blogs here.

Three poems by Carrie Etter

Three poems from Imagined Sons
A Birthmother’s Catechism (September 11, 1986)

What is the anniversary of loss?

A national day of mourning

Really now, what is the anniversary of loss?

My mother and I watch TV well past her usual bedtime

What is the anniversary of loss?

Where the swan’s nest had been, widely scattered branches and some crumpled beer cans

What is the anniversary of loss?

Sometimes the melancholy arrives before the remembering

What is the anniversary of loss?

Some believe it is impossible to spend too much on the memorial

What is the anniversary of loss?

When I say sometimes the melancholy comes first, I know the body has its own memory

What is the anniversary of loss?

The wishbone snapped, and I clung to the smaller piece
(first published in The Times Literary Supplement)
Imagined Sons 6: Introducing Myself As His
(The First Supermarket Dream)

His hand strikes my cheek, and I shudder and sting. His eyes tear and close, his mouth sucks in his lips. The okra and the mangoes are watching; the stock boy and the trio of cheerleaders consider plots. Reflexively I reach toward him, but what reflex is this, so long unused? “My mother is at home,” he stammers as he recoils. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry,” I whisper to the yams. “Yes, your mother is at home.”
(first published in PN Review)
Imagined Sons 7: The Big Issue


As I climb the steps to Hungerford Bridge, I feel in my pocket for change—I’ll be asked to buy The Big Issue before I reach the other side.

A blind man could discriminate between the Londoners and the tourists: the former hurry on as the latter loiter and stare. I weave my way at a leisurely pace.

I see a scruffy boy of a man selling and approach him. “Two-fifty, isn’t it?” I say, and he nods while extending a hand for my coins.

“Thank you, ma’am,” he says, and I’m surprised to hear a familiar accent.

I tilt my head, trying to see around his long fringe, to see his eyes. “You’re American, too,” I say, shoving the magazine in my bag. “Where are you from?”
Carrie Etter’s third collection, Imagined Sons, is published by Seren this month and can be purchased from directly from the publisher. You can learn more about Carrie Etter and her work on her blog.