“Nurture” and other poems by Liz Quirke


In the nine months I didn’t nourish you,
I made notes, I studied the seasons
for ingredients to encourage your growth.
Scraps of paper, post-its hidden
in case anyone would view my thoughts,
pity my trivia of leaves and berries.
A mom yet not a mother,
a woman yet not a woman.
My preparation took place in private,
not in maternity wards or hospital corridors,
but in the hallways of my mind
where I could put up pictures, time lines,
fill cork boards with plans.
As the folic acid built your brain stem
I collated ideas to stimulate it further,
mapped journeys for us,
paths we could walk together,
a staggered relay to start
when your other mother
passed your tiny form to me.
And I could see myself holding your hand,
using my limbs to scaffold the structure
your mother put so beautifully in place.
I am your mom without the biology of mothering.
All I have for you is my heart, my brain, my lists of things,
all but those nine months when I was waiting.
(first published in New Irish Writing in The Irish Times)


I gave you a warrior name.
Brazen, audacious,
a statement of intent.
After the third scan,
I set out across the world’s mythologies
to uncover the name to herald you.
I found you in the pages
of an old hardback,
barely two inches in a row of columns.
Sensible, poised,
waiting for me to arrive and collect you
at the obvious conclusion,
assured that this is where you had always been.
For weeks after our first meeting
you kept me company.
Your name fell in ink from my pen
until that sturdy bulk of letters
came as familiar as my own.
The shape of you rolled around my mouth
like a boiled sweet,
pushing taste to unreachable corners,
forcing my buds awake until I had a full sense of you.
Your vowels whispered through my lips,
soft as the steam after a kettle click.
And when you arrived, emergent, slow to pink,
but quickly, so quickly,
your name gushed out of my mouth
like your first breath,
your first victory,
your battle cry.
(first published in New Irish Writing in The Irish Times)


When I die, bring me to the lake
and pour me in. Don’t scatter.
I want my toes to mingle
with the clay at the bottom.
I will become part of the sediment,
constant and forgotten.
Fish will nibble on my innards
and transport me to tables
all around Boluisce,
as a reminder to torchlight
poachers that they can never know
exactly what they’re eating.
My hair will sway among the rushes,
caressing the soggy shore.
My shoulders will fall into holes
left by bedraggled cattle
trying to water themselves.
My heart, I want you to lob
into the middle of the lake
like a stone wrapped in a love letter,
where a salmon will find it
and make it its own.
All this, love, so when you sit
in the damp, my hair will
brush your hand and my heart
will graze your hook.
and the wind will carry
my mouth saying
catch me, I’m yours.”
(first published in The Galway Review, Vol 1)


There will be a changing of the guard,
if such ceremony will be allowed,
A dusting down of dampers to
purge all lamps and lights.
Shops will mourn from their facades,
black-ribboned in the old way.
Passers-by will nod and scuttle
to spurn the mists of death.
Great coats will be sponged as they were before,
and shoes spit-shone to a pitch-like gleam.
The footfall slap will ring out around the streets.
Wedding services kept for cakes
will peek from muslin blankets
to sour-crust dry triangles,
while whiskey flows like speech.
Clocks will chime only grief notes,
humming deep into the silence.
Eyelid mirrors will reflect the dark beneath.
Running along on idle tracks,
children will be shunned
from the adult world
palming flowers in the breeze
to mimic final kisses not received.
(first published in The Stony Thursday Book 11)


New rooms I will build from you, bones and all.
The laboured rungs of your spine will stack neatly,
beautiful furniture. Angled strength
siphoned through your forearms,
trust wrought from the ballast lines of your limbs.
You are the structure I crave, but I have little
to give to this construction,
no materials or design.
The dimensions must come from you,
your shape and clever eye.
I will unpack my flimsy particles for assessment.
Spread me out, inventory what remains.
If you see fit, assemble my unruined elements,
joints, anything you can salvage.
Wrap tight, firm till I set and can stand alone.
These rooms will be a composite of us both.
You, the shape, register of craft.
My fingertips will press your intercostal
muscles to cornice definition,
push your art to show itself.
Debris thickens your knuckle bends
and fist-curled territories,
but this is our arrangement,
where my tiles slot into our mosaic
and you are the setting clay that holds.
Once done with your reclamation,
survey the scree, hold the smallest parts together,
dust my skin with cement-rough hands.
Through the heat of your palms
I will come back,
resembling what I was before,
but better because of you.
(first published in The Ofi Press)


I root my fingers, burying them back and down.
A twist into black, acidic soil,
deeper than anything man-made.
I push to the graves of the lake families,
generations who lived and died by the water.
I pay my respects in the only way I know,
by kneeling in the sodden earth
and sinking parts of me towards parts of them.
I do what no record does and remember their passing,
their assimilation back to the land.
I want them to teach me how to inhabit this place,
to reanimate and diffuse their knowledge into my urban bones,
our times merging under a canopy of living skin.
(first published in An Áit Eile)

Nurture and other poems are © Liz Quirke


Liz_Quirke_greyscaleOriginally from Tralee, Co. Kerry, Liz Quirke lives in Spiddal, Co Galway with her wife and daughters. Her poetry has appeared in various publications, including New Irish Writing in the The Irish Times, Southword, Crannóg, The Stony Thursday Book and Eyewear Publishing’s The Best New British and Irish Poets 2016. She was the winner of the 2015 Poems for Patience competition and in the last few years has been shortlisted for the Cúirt New Writing Prize and a Hennessy Literary Award. Her debut collection Biology of Mothering will be published by Salmon Poetry in Spring 2018.

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