One day, feeling hungry, I swallowed Ireland.
It was intense, like eating raw beef in a steak tartare.
I gulped down the sodden fields and stony mountains,
The wind-ton islands and paintbox villages, the famine
ruins in rain, palatial bungalows and stone age chambers.
I sucked in the damp air of pubs, rich with watchful joking.
I swallowed the soup of fiddles and bodhran until I couldn’t move,
licked my fingers, scraped the plate clean. Strangers
said you have the map of Ireland printed on your face.
But, it was the wedding feast to which I was not invited.
They mollified me with porter and stews,
tasting of insouciance, wit and grudges,
even though I could not show off family stories
in a fat photograph album with a lacquered cover.
I pointed out the names and dates.
It was wise to ring a bell when I came to their villages.
They lit candles in the windows
to send me on my way home.
Pauline Plummer is a part-time tutor in creative writing at the Open University. She is also an editor at Mudfog Press, and a cook for a foodbank. She has taught creative writing in universities, schools, community centres and prisons, in the UK and abroad in Sierra Leone and Greece. Her work includes the poetry collection Bint, (Red Squirrel Press, 2011) the verse novella From Here to Timbuktu (Smokestack Press, 2012), and the short story collection Dancing with a Stranger (Red Squirrel Press, 2015). She was the Poet Laureate for Middlesbrough in 2000.
Carol Ann Duffy says: Pauline Plummer’s ‘Swallowing Ireland’ contains a fabulous conceit, the idea of coming to terms with the place you come from by making literal the cliché, ‘You have the map of Ireland on your face’. Though she wants to devour the landscape, the people, to express her connection, she discovers she doesn’t really belong.