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.