Denise O’Hagan – Ghost of the Great Famine

O Hagan LE P&W August 2023

Download PDF Here
Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Special Australian Edition August 2023

Ghost of the Great Famine, poems by Denise O’Hagan.

Ghost of the Great Famine

I tread the portico of centuries,
shaking from my shoulders
the fine dust of days,

passing the russet mulch of
autumn underneath, where
once the leprous fumes 

of fog and foreign politics
sowed seeds of infinite grief,
and where my child lies.

Far-flung emigrants, know this:
I am the sum of all your regrets,
the echo of all your woes,

minding the fields, the ditches
and in-between spaces where
so many of us lost our lives—

The cardiac surgeon’s daughter dreams

It wasn’t enough
that her father had his hands
in other people’s hearts every day.

Everywhere she turned,
she heard hearts —

people telling other people
that they took after their own — ,
so-and so’s got a — of gold, or (upsettingly)
to eat their — out! There was no situation
into which the heart couldn’t sneak,
take up residence. Words,
whole sentences even, thickened
with association; language itself
was becoming a stranglehold.
That morning,

feigning sickness, she’d stayed in bed:
she was going to get to the bottom of this.
Or the heart of it. She lay very still,
gathered the wayward tendrils of her mind,
coaxed them through the fibrous layers of flesh,
the rows of ribs arrayed, sentry-like, around
that mysterious roseate kingdom of the heart,
and the secrets it held.

And she located it at last:
a giant pulsating kidney bean,
glistening and slickly wet, rising and falling
to its own beat, totally wrapped up
in itself. It had, she admitted, a sort of
terrible beauty. She tried to take
her mind away, but couldn’t; it had infiltrated
the thing that had infiltrated her. She was looking
at what she feared most. And it was in her.
It was her.

The scream, when it came,
fragmented her morning into
a crumpled pillow, half shuttered blinds,
slats of combed white sky cutting the wall.
Her mother’s arms tight
around her, her warm breath in her hair,
and on the bedside table beside her school bag,
a small plate of her favourite almond biscuits,
dusted in the finest icing sugar,

© Denise O’Hagan

Denise O’Hagan is a Sydney-based editor and poet with a background in commercial book publishing in the UK and Australia. Recipient of the Dalkey Poetry Prize, she was Poetry Editor for The Blue Nib until 2020. Her work is published internationally and has been shortlisted in the ACU Poetry Prize, the International Proverse Poetry Prize (HK), the Robert Graves Poetry Prize and the Plough Writing Prize (UK). Her recent poetry collection, Anamnesis (Recent Work Press), was a finalist in the Eric Hoffer Book Award and shortlisted in the Rubery Book Award (2023).

One Reply to “Denise O’Hagan – Ghost of the Great Famine”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.