Ruth Quinlan, Beneath Straw Masks

The Mountain and Sea People

After Kim Moore’s My People

I come from people
who are thrown to the waves aged four and told swim,
who fear their blood thins when away from the Atlantic,
who fish crabs from Fenit pier with limpets,
jump from the high dunes at Banna to fly.

I come from people
for whom football is a higher calling than God,
who consider names like O’Sé and O’Dwyer sacred,
who think there’s no holier unity than green and gold,
who spit at scarlet jerseys from the crib.

I come from people
who dismiss other counties as flat,
who feel exposed when unshadowed by the MacGillycuddies,
who deem it fitting when living on Ireland’s rooftop
to look down on all those outside the Kingdom.

I come from people
who crown goats in Killorglin and offer schoolgirls as queens,
who hide behind straw masks on Wren Day in Dingle,
who welcome the annual return to pagan ways,
putting on a show only half for the tourists.

I come from the descendants of high kings,
cute hoors masquerading as sheep farmers
who can whistle hillsides of heather into bloom,
catch music of the púca in naomhógs,
speak in the lilt of ballads sifted from the rain.

Board Games

Others have packed their toys away
replacing jigsaw puzzles with Ikea furniture,
Ladybird books with coffee table tomes.
They have faced snakes and climbed ladders,
bargained with the Monopoly bank
and got the mortgage,
collected the tiles in Game of Life,
then hid the rule book.

I’m still here at the table
with a Get Out of Jail card
that’s never been used,
arguing over triple word scores,
trying to hit the two-hole battleship,
always saving that last trump card.
I never learned that the stakes don’t get any higher
than when you never bet at all.

Ruth Quinlan is originally from Kerry but now lives in Galway. She was selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series in 2019 and was awarded an individual artist bursary in 2018 by Galway City Council. She won the 2018 Galway University Hospital Arts Trust Poems for Patience competition, the 2018 Blue Nib Summer Chapbook competition, the 2014 Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award and the 2012 Hennessy Literary Award for First Fiction. She has been shortlisted or runner-up for other competitions like the Trim Poetry Festival competition, Cúirt New Writing, Francis Ledwidge Poetry Awards, and Doolin Writers’ Weekend.

Ruth’s work has been published by the Irish Times and Irish Independent amongst others, and has been nominated for the Forward Poetry Prize. She is also co-editor of Skylight 47, a Galway-based poetry magazine.

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