from BLESS


The Head of Oliver Plunkett.

‘Listen to me. Let me tell you a story. I drifted
over here as a youngster, a lifetime
before your kind did, the runt of a big litter,
falling in with a crowd on night-shift

in the Mentals. That was me for forty
years, man and boy. Wiping people’s arses
for a living. Electric shock? Of course
we did. Nobody suffers. It works, doesn't it?

But I do mind sitting in the annexe
once, long past midnight, the dead TV,
the green-on-greener walls slick and shiny,
when up steams the old dumb-waiter and in it

a head. “Here. You’re an educated man”,
it said (although I am not.) “What says you
to the way they gathered the hames of my bones
from Downside, Drogheda and Hildesheim,

gathered and raised them up, sursum corda
and not to the Lord, no, but carried inside
a shuddersome buzzing yoke, a hellish reliquary
in the shape of a fly, whose head was a black orb,

tool-smooth like a conjuror’s, an obsidian crystal
ball, all filled with lights and clockwork things,
with a scorpion's jagged tail, and long black wings
like swords that whirled above it in a circle

and hoisted it up the way a mighty body
might pull a bucket up a scaffolding, so it sways
with its load from side to side but yet holds steady,
up and up, hand over fist, into the motley sky”.

It was Oliver Plunkett, the last of the English Martyrs
as some have it, his head rotating, the gibbous skin
all mustard and ash, about to explode, like a TV dinner
that's been bubbling in a microwave for all eternity.

This was the head before it had cooled to the boked-
up coconut you see in Drogheda, as it must have been
when snatched by its glib from the fire in Tyburn
and bunged in a sack like a rooster, the way it looked

when moved out from the city in a gallon can, strapped
to the chassis of an artic, banging off the sides, its crowing
lost in the grind of the engine, out through the gates of the city
and on into Surrey where the airbrakes finally hiss and lapse

into the peace of a cobbled courtyard, where fountain
and pear tree water and scent the air, lute and viol
and the head still screeching, carried into cool purple
murmuring shadow, its raging skin balmed and anointed.

That hissing, Tango’ed, torn and shrunken dermis
was speaking to me now from its mossy box in a curious
high-faluting accent, a mixture of the North and South, East
and West of Ireland, one minute all spiky consonants and the next

a wheedling, querulous sing-song, one minute a rapid forensic mutter
and the next the toothless sough of syllables in rushes and all the while
its eyes straying about, bright green and unblinking, lidless eyes,
earless ears, a mouthless mouth that had never ceased to utter:

“At last the helicopter stopped, making no headway,
but turning very slowly, whether deasil or widdershins
I cannot remember, for it seemed to me that the land
itself was rotating and the fly was the still point,

and at that precise moment my bones all called out
to each other, a strange sound, an insect chirrup and chitter
that cut through the pummel and clatter of the rotors,
calling out, begging to be assembled, to be joined at the root

of the brain-stem and the tip of the spinal cord, to be tied
together again at talus and tibia, for my clavicle and scapula
to touch and attach and all of my numbered bones to be wrapped
tightly in a winding sheet and, like a burial at sea, eased

over the gunwale of that infernal engine, so that I might
rise or fall myself, or better remain, a mute white
fixture in the evening sky, bobbin or spool that cannot
unbind, chrysalis pinned to the velvet board of night”.

Much else it told me, how the pilot sat impassively
against the sky, a painted effigy, as the bones began
to descend, London brooding below them, an early sun
striking fire off dome and steeple, the intricate city

stretching to the horizon, and running through it the Thames
shining and transparent, a snail’s evaporating glister, the loop
around the Dog’s peninsula dangling like the cabled noose
that hangs from the gibbet’s blanched and lichened arm.

And as they had thronged to see him suffer at Tyburn Cross,
so now a crowd was waiting on the Common, their faces
upturned, though when the chopper settled and the blades ceased
in their din, becoming visible again, we heard not the raucous

jeers and blather of the mob, but rather a great shared
sigh, the kind that exhales itself in the silence back of
a ding-dong, a post-everything whisper, the kind that occurs
when the gallows speech packs in, the breathless gap after death-

rattle, drum batter, thunder-storm, the aftermath of the dum-
dum that was not a dummy, of the blast inside the citadel,
it’s in that vested weight, that pressure-drop, that tumult
you hear voices disinter themselves, the dead voices are the sum

of that change, you get me, that sudden feinted buckle
is where they hail from, not some gross throat 
fleshing quickly along neck bones, not the woven,
sleeving cordage, but the waft of the wind thrapple,

pure sound brought out of itself, a mouthless whistle,
not some vegetal glottis flexing at its centre of its pentacle,
not the uvula’s carnal bleb, but a sine wave, imperceptible
tremble of the middle air, as the water table

in a tumbler on a table trembles long after the column
of armour passes, as the Geiger counter garrolously ticks
in the middle of the rainy swaying pine plantation, as
the lanyard taps on occasion against the logged flagpole’s absence.






It feels like it’s about to snow, that foreboding
sense of weight and silence, a signal from the sky-
docked cloud. At the tower. I slip my phone
from my breast to snap her in her clamber

up the rigging, bless, but it’s frozen in selfie mode,
the image magnified fish-eye style so I find
myself peering deep into my own left nostril,
where something is shining out, a crystalline

structure sinking slowly down, projected upon it
a long but bulbous face, snout more than face,
conk more than snout, hippo-like, very white,
all parched and scrotal, no mouth at all. The gull-blue

eyes are deeply scored with infinite lines,
there are lines across the staring brow, lines piled
high to the pointed ears and between them
a quartz anemone that tinkles, chimes.
                                                                                 Then a low voice:


‘Nothing moves
in my veins out here
and nothing ever will,

crystal and stone
and coral and bone
are all that is real,

all that is cold
is all that abides
let silica stone

crystal and bone
shine out of your soul
let your soul be content

with cloud and stone
so the polar light
shines out of your eye

your heart become home
to the spirit-bone
the seal

the Groke
the scop
the skua

the thing
that inhabits
the wintery zone

in the lee
of a ruined dome
or rotunda

scrolling light
now black
now white

eternal diurnal
hyperborean temple no
entrance no exit

its roof cut away
at an angle revealing
a humanoid form

all succour and calm
beside him his bones
disassembled replenished

exposed to the sky
they sing they chirp
they bless they hiccup

totally smooth
totally clean
scoured and bourne

by solar winds
or carried in a solar boat
above remote primordial oceans.


The stars above
and the rock below
the dome holds steady

in the snow
the drifts of snow
that cloud the rock

the wind of grit
that sands the bones
beside the creature

incredibly old
cryogenically frozen
lying in profile

the muzzle set
the brow unlined
shining out

the delicate ear
its plug of fur

the wattled neck
its jugular
one visible eye

cast up to heaven
blue inhumed

the question
what place is this
what zone what region?


The fur on his flank
is rising subsiding
each easeful breath

an aeon
an instant
in synch with

light and cold
sudden strobe

or slow oscillation
the landscape goes
from white to grey

the dome
the snow
the rock the bones

from white to grey
then grey to black
the sky

the cloud
the eye
the brow

from freezing point
to fifty below
the chest

the arms
ensleeved in sheets
then back again

but rarely higher
certainly never
exceeding zero.


You pick up each sigh
such is the silence
a scatter of molars

a pattern of knuckles
the sky tonight is
inside out

scene cordoned off
ceremonial site

of bone and snow
of stars arrayed
beneath the dome

that’s broken open
to a sun
of silicon

a coral eye
the snow is rising
to the sky

your dad is dead
in negative
is constellate

of star and bone
is tantamount
to light in eye

of eye and light
a concentrate
a bone-bright crystal

on your lash
weighed assayed
and not found wanting.




Bone Song

Look. A Chinook, hammock slung between two grey derricks, very low,
hanging fire, then angling heavily down and away, as if the tower at the tail
had been pinched between a fastidious thumb and forefinger, escorted out
of this summer day like the pesky mouse in yestermorning’s Tom and Jerry.

Silence. Now look. Two furls of smoke from our barbecue pit weave up
in a helix, an impermanent spiralling twister, a couple of copulating serpents,
each bound about the other, bless, rasping and slithery, wriggly and sibilant,
a snookered caduceus thrashing inside the voice box of the Common, the voice

box, the black box, the glory and priest-hole. Echo-socket. Yokey-buzzer.
An empty set, a clearing house, a vernal emission, combined and uneven.
A wildflower’s calyx humming with hexes and pesters, coos and prustens,
woofs, tweets and geckers. A bee-mouth-grille. A little pink or blue kazoo.

A semi-conducting portal for pant-hoots, bless, like the bouncy pontoon
crossing Beverley Brook, where the martyred voices blow in colloquy
and counterpoint, Fisher and More, coughing in bole and leaf-blower, ingle-
nook and keyhole, chanting in tongue and groove, cobweb and cooling tower.

Their gobbledygook is grafted onto particle and polymer, root and radial.
It spreads by contagion, by capillary suasion, a legion, a lurgy, the legbone
connected to the collarbone, the collarbone connected to the nose-flute.
Pepsi & Shirley, Kelso Cochrane, Chief Long Wolf, Cannon & Ball.

Starting to seethe now, bubbling down in the lees of the whale like a full English
breakfast, crooning from the zeros, the binary codes, the whale bone connected to
the genome, the genome connected to the Overton window, Sarah Namala, Robert Emmett.
Billing and cooing from the dry, tidemarked throats of porcelain cisterns in padlocked

municipal lavs, bless, keening through the twin little colons in Bazalgette’s
manholes, Richard Gwyn, David Lewis, the backbone connected to the cash flow,
the cash flow connected to the drop zone, the neurone connected to the ink stone.
Stirring in the lift-shafts and the windlasses of the tower blocks, stained white cliffs where

 the gannets preen, smooth breasts bedabbled with ketchup, Cuthbert Howlett,
Alice Samuel, calling through the star-crossed panes of benefit hostels
etch-a-sketched with forgotten initials, Kevin Gately, Agnes Waterhouse,
breathing from the toothless gobs of postboxes, from the kissers of vape sticks.

Hissing from the unshackled earbud of a drowsy boy on an otherwise empty
nightbus, bless, or trickling from the narrow neck of a defrocked sugar sachet
in the tea room of HMP Wandsworth, the tea room that was once the gallows:
the Stratton Brothers, William Joyce, Little & Large, the hip bone

connected to the peep-hole, the allophone connected to the yongy-bongy-bo,
Sapphire & Steel, bless, Naomi Hersi, bless, Hammett and Brine, bless,
Hinge & Bracket, gah, the mouth-hole connected to the asshole, the asshole
that’s grassing to a footpatrol, the footpatrol that’s searching for the old mole.

Bland and Frankesh, bless, Bodie & Doyle, ach, Larkin and O’Brien, bless.
Mewling in the grim flues of kebab shops, in the cindery exhaust pipes
of delivery mopeds, the trombone connected to the wig-wam, the ding-dong
connected to the bunga-bunga. Altab Ali. Blair Peach. Edward Jakubowsky.

And all those you couldn’t put a name to, never ever put a name to:
Janet & John, let’s say; Meg & Mog, let’s say; Bill & Ben, let’s say.
Sooty & Sweep, let’s say; Pinky & Perky, let’s say; Crystal Tips & Alastair.
Uncle Bulgaria, let’s say. Mistah Kurtz, let’s say. John Maguire, let’s say.

             Whispering from the gaps between the dry, dusty lips of two large bags
of sawdust, Sacha Murphy, Joe Meek, two full-bellied torsos dragged to the jail
in Horsemongers Street in 1802, Edward Despard, Robert Drury, Cherry Groce,
bless, lugged to the jail and into its courtyard, Ball and Tyler, Tyler and Straw,

the frayed chapped lips around their mouths, the dust bone connected to the blood
bone, the blood bone connected to the neck bone, the neck bone connected
to the axe bone, bless, brought into the smoggy courtyard and set beside the block,
Dips and LaLa, the Demdikes and the Chattoxes, the daddy bone and the

mummy bone, the daughter bone, Joan, Margaret and Phillipa Flowers, bless,
faint breath in the crumbling mouths, the dry mouths of a couple of sacks
of sawdust, bless, breathless, bless, Alan Turing, Mark Fisher, a blue cloud
in the fasting holes, Oliver Plunkett, Roger Casement, the faintest of whispers

stirring the dust, the sawdust and the bone dust, the smoke dust and the coal
breath, the lip bone and the dirt song, the song dust and the heart bone, the ash
bone and Boney M, a fish bone, a foul bone, the heart’s mouth, the bone dream,
the spirit bone, the occult zone, the throat bone, the dust breath, a bone song.



[Conor Carville was born in Armagh, N. Ireland. He is Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at Reading University. His first collection of poems Harm’s Way was published by Dedalus Press in 2013. A new book, English Martyrs will appear in late 2019 from Two Rivers Press. Other publications include Samuel Beckett and the Visual, from Cambridge University Press, 2018 and a book on Irish cultural theory The Ends of Ireland: Criticism, History, Subjectivity, published by Manchester University Press in 2012. He lives in London with his wife and daughter. Email: ]

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