Poems from ‘Massacre of the Birds’ by Mary O’Donnell

Mary O’Donnell reads from Massacre of the Birds – 2 from Conor O’Hagan on Vimeo.

Against the Vanishing

Hollywood Lake, Co Monaghan

On the lakeshore
of conscience I stand.
God help me.

Certain that in Argentina,
a woman also stands,

My unknown companion
will recognise waterfowl,
marvel at grebes, flamingos,

as I too greet the ducks
and moorhens
of this drumlin lake.

The wild pigs of her climate
still suck water
from thicketed reed-beds.

She sprays herself
against mosquitos, feels again
the deceptive rush of abundance.

Here, Polish families picnic late
with children and a shaggy puppy.
Their voices echo, group to group.

Along the shore, two local men chat
about the swallows.
“Not so many th’year,”

one remarks, then bites into a sandwich.
Their murmurs reach me, sentiment
about shy birds from other decades—

corncrakes, cuckoos, long vanished,
and how, at this lake,
the pikes have overbred,

savaged every last cygnet.
“Shame”, his companion adds,
finishing a beer.

A dusk fox slouches
from the wood, summer cubs in tow
as she prepares them for winter.

In Argentina, Saturday night falls
hours after I’m in bed. Even so,
a mirror conversation rumbles on,

thoughts replicate like pock-marks,
Where are the birds?
my unknown woman friend enquires,

What happened to the chinchilla,
the armadillo, giant otter?
And who last heard of any jaguars?

She bites into an olive,
sips her wine, reminds herself
to go again tomorrow to the lake.

Years stretch and reverse.
Hard not to judge.
Argentina as much as Ireland,

Canada as much as France or Italy,
wherever birds are shot and feathers scatter.
See the white playboys

pose with rifles over zebra, elephant,
or cape buffalo,
as if this action was radiant.

Lucent cloud threaded behind trees
still cajoles. Briefly we believe
in the black reflection of a crannog,

its single surviving swan
creating a moment of ease.
But the seasons will not release us

from mounting debt.
On the lakeshore of living conscience
I stand.

I can do no other.


Buenos Aires Autumn

The trees here are playing with fire,
but on my island, the cold sap rises.
All day in this heat my flesh

is a violin, the strings melt
and are songless.
Something leaves me

or arrives, I cannot be certain.
The Rio de la Plata
sends mud-songs to the estuary,

intent on harmony with other rivers.
Eva Peron rests in La Recoleta,
where afternoon crowds leave posies

wrapped in paper, green string.
In Puerto Madero, the air is smokey
from the steakhouses

near the Puente de la Mujer,
the water of the Salado brown
with a sediment of base notes.

In Ireland, the rivers chant one note,
each minds its own sound-passage
to the sea, rises in wet spring-times

of fluted birch, nippled oak-buds
which will not soften until May.
In the south I feel the breath of a god

about to close passageways of air.
Sing on, some people say,
Be silent, say I, looking

to cross the equator in a rush of clouds
to the drenched hill-woods
and mire of my own fields.


It Wasn’t a Woman

who used a stick to abort the baby in an 11-year-old girl
who gang-raped a 14-year-old
who opened a woman to a room of shamrock green rugby shirts,
later texting about spit roast and sluts
who gave money to a rag-picker
took one of her five children to a faraway brown-dust city
who sold her on to the businessmen
it wasn’t a woman who beat the child with an iron bar
so that vertebrae were crushed
it wasn’t a woman who ruptured the rectum of a small boy
who broke the vagina of a baby girl
it wasn’t a woman
who scalded a wife because she spoke to another man
who flung acid in the face of a girl who did not want to marry
who poured caustic soda on a wife’s genitals
in a quiet Irish town
it wasn’t a woman
who broke a nose blackened an eye
bit a cheek so that the marks of those teeth
are tell-tale pits in the skin and her breasts are purple and green
it wasn’t a woman who punched the baby out of her
so she bled to death
it wasn’t a woman who rejected those twin girls
it wasn’t a woman who burned a widow to death
who shouted at a wife in the rich people’s shopping mall
who later forced her to have sex took the children away
kept all the money
who called out names like dog and here, bitch,
who put a collar around her neck
then led her on all fours around a golden apartment
it wasn’t a woman who smashed photo frames
and perfume bottles who kept a gun beside the bed
and threatened to use it
who blamed her even as he punched her
roared the rhythms of cunt-face cunt-face cunt-face
because it helped hit her harder
it wasn’t a woman
it wasn’t a woman
it wasn’t a woman


Direct Provision and the Old Agricultural College Ghosts

We meet on the stretch between two crossroads:
dark-haired schoolchildren,
sturdied in jackets and hats for the town
three miles away, their families bunked up
in the old agricultural college.

In this place, spirits loiter—of young men
who once handled sheep and cattle in pens,
raising them for market
to a clang of feeding buckets, disinfectant smells,
the scrape of shovels
in the dung-lumped byres.

I’ve heard music from the yard in summer,
the thud of a football as boys play
for homelands: Albania, Moldova,
Nigeria, attempting perhaps to forget
half-dreamt voices on night corridors,
to silence a ghostly bleating and lowing at dawn,
as they themselves become invisible.

Poems from Massacre of the Birds © Mary O’Donnell