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Picture 10295743 © Finsiel/Alinari Archives/Mary Evans Picture Library

The Saint of Borromeo
by Maureen Boyle
The poor and the plagued fall from the doors of my city.
They come with the pain of loving and the stench
of loneliness in their mouths.
They scream and sing to me in the mornings and the night
and my halting words are no balm for their grief.

I came in the deadtime from the mountains
when even the berries were gone
and a gentle man touched me
and I knew that I lived by my laughter in his mouth.

They sit by the trees in the garden building fires with the
leaves – their hearts lie open in their chests
like red autumn roses – blown and frosted in pain
and I have no holiness that will warm those limbs.

I came from a place of empty eyes
where I could no longer see myself
I was not sure I had not died
for none would claim or own me.

They die in the halls of this palace
cold on the marble of its floors gnarled as the knotted
wood, spitting velvet blood and I must find the way
to consecrate their weeping crimson sores.

My people would bury me in a hole
and leave no trace of me
but this man loved me for a while
and sanctified my story with his time.

© Maureen Boyle
Picture 10295743 © Finsiel/Alinari Archives/Mary Evans Picture Library


Maureen Boyle grew up in Sion Mills in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. She studied English and History at Trinity College, Dublin, and in 2005 was awarded the Master’s in Creative Writing at Queen’s University Belfast. She has won various awards including the Ireland Chair of Poetry Prize, the Strokestown International Poetry Prize, the inaugural Ireland Chair of Poetry Travel Bursary and the Fish Short Memoir Prize. She has received support from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in the form of Individual Arts, Aces and Travel Awards. In January 2019 a long poem, ‘Strabane’, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in ‘Conversations on a Bench’ and was published in 2020 as a single poem by Arlen House Press, Dublin, with photographs by Malachi O’Doherty. Her debut collection, The Work of a Winter (Arlen House, 2018), is in its second edition and was shortlisted for the Strong Shine Award. She taught Creative Writing with the Open University for ten years and English in St Dominic’s Grammar School in Belfast until retiring last year. Her second full collection The Last Spring of the World is just published with Arlen House.

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