Ireland. Night. A grotto the the Virgin Mary illuminates a deserted road. Overhead, the soundless roar of the Milky Way’s glittering traffic reminds us of a past that runs parallel to our own uncertain times. Olives ripen in a Portuguese valley. The sound of gunfire approaches a Paris café. Irish women revolutionaries march towards their future. Tigers prowl through County Leitrim’s rural townlands, whose names emerge like neon signposts through the dark: Red Marsh, Small Watery Place, Round Hill of the Boys.
Róisín Kelly’s Mercy is an attempt to reconcile her Catholic background with her pagan heritage, transcending the limits of a world in which everything is connected. Both intimate and political, this powerful debut collection combines a passionate exploration of self with an awestruck confrontation of wilderness.
‘Mercy by Róisín Kelly is a debut that approaches both the personal and the political with passionate physicality. Here is a book that repositions the erotic in the poem in a manner that Eavan Boland would surely have appreciated… Mercy demonstrates a heady mixture of lyric earthiness and flight, and reclaims the lyric space as one of female desire… Kelly is a fearless poet, whose innovative use of the lyric form refreshes a tradition in danger of becoming moribund in Ireland.’ —Poetry Ireland Review
‘I have suggested an affinity between Kelly and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. She may also have learned something from Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, that other doyenne of contemporary Irish poetry… By any standard, Róisín Kelly’s Mercy is an impressive debut. It’s a collection that one needs to savour slowly and to which one can return with increasing pleasure. The language has cadence and focus. The images are burnished. She is, by turns, visionary, savvy and passionate.’ —London Grip
Two poems from Mercy
On the beach, I undress in the dark.
Naked and blind before the gods, below too many stars.
Here is my body, which I was told to never touch.
An Orthodox shrine glows red by the closed coffee truck.
But as the Aegean comes to my hips, rises within me,
my movements stir luminous plankton or algae:
bright opal specks in the water
that drift to my wrists, around my cold breasts.
They glow and swirl and die like shooting stars,
turned on by my nakedness. They are kind.
I didn’t think such tiny compassion
could make me want to cry. How gorgeous
they are, mysterious creatures
dazzling the same seas that Homer once looked on,
that surrounded the ancient Greeks on all sides.
When I begin to walk back, I will hide
from the twin suns of any car I hear coming:
all women learn to be shadows, crouching
down low in the pines. Artemis, I can turn only to you
in a world with such dim light to live by.
Give me the flight of deer through the woods,
fleeing the hunters’ sharp spears.
Help me decipher these sparkling trails
like the Milky Way’s dust in Morse code.
Guide the small boat of my body back to my self.
Tell me which path brings me home.
Gold stars above Leitrim’s cut fields
were almost enough, once.
But last week in Tesco I heard a cry
that was my baby, my baby.
Once I wore a rainbow scarf
and every shop-front lit up for me.
My eyes once held the warning glow
of red Atlantic bulbs:
the breakfast table of love
has wrecked many ships.
Saturn’s rings, an empty attic room,
dust motes in sunlight.
The only truth worth knowing:
that we are alone.
The moon rises and something in me rises with it
like a howl.
I dip my hands between my legs
and streak my face with red.
Dust I am, and to dust I will return—
in a starless dusk I lie in the grass with my gun.
I long for a man between my lips
for my eyes to reflect two Jupiters at the last.
Waiting for the lonely whistle-blast,
the light at the bend,
I see the train fly backwards over silver sleepers
as apple peel flies upwards to my silver knife.