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    scratchboard illustration of a barn owl landing on a split rail fence

    Poem: “For the Celts”

    By Mhairi Owens

    September 14, 2021
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    This poem is the winner of Plough’s 2021 Rhina Espaillat Poetry Award.


    Hart Island, New York, April 2020

    To whom it may concern: leave them their rings—
    those sentimental claddaghs pledging love,
    friendship and loyalty; enduring things
    that might scorch ash in a nameless, kinless grave.
    Those daytime drones will pass overhead.
    Then from night’s watchful edifice a quill
    will rain—not on the ceased, but on the dead.
    If only there should lie a poet whose words prevail.
    But know for those remotely Celtic—for the throng
    of voiceless, faceless, buried without coins
    for passage but with proffered hearts—dark’s song
    will come. Then pray the cailleach-oidhche bhàn’s
    forgotten scream might raise them; and unleash
    their shimmering green dancers, Na Fir-chlis.

    cailleach-oidhche bhàn: white hag of the night, barn owl
    Na Fir-chlis: the Merry Dancers, aurora borealis.


    Watch Mhairi Owens read her poem at the first annual Rhina Espaillat Poetry Award ceremony.

    scratchboard illustration of a barn owl landing on a split rail fence

    Kay Leverton, Barn Owl Landing, scraperboard Used by permission.

    Contributed By Mhairi Owens Mhairi Owens

    Mhairi Owens is the winner of Plough’s 2021 Rhina Espaillat Poetry Award. She is a community worker living in Fife, Scotland, who writes poetry in both English and Scots.

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