Three Poems from Ireland

A spare line drawing suggesting avian form
Photo by Mark /

Rite of Baptism


If you pass, know that you will have no say 
about what happens. 

Some of our people will hate you as they hate themselves. 
You must create a life 
without giving them all your life’s attention. 

Some people will delight in destroying you. 
Some will strike you. Some will choose 
others as their favorites. 

Some have been waiting for you for generations; 
circling, like hunters, round your little heart. 
Of course they don’t know you.

This truth will set you free, 
eventually. But only after you’ve forgotten this. 

You haven’t learnt to fly yet, have you? 

Somebody will love you.
Somebody will hurt you too, but you know that already.

We offer you little in the way of certainty;
just that the country you live in will not always be that country.

There is a lot you’ll need to suffer.
Remember: help is a howl and an imperative.
   Nothing to be ashamed of.

One way or another, shame 
can teach you what nothing else can teach you. 

One way or another. 

Your body is an event
and you’ll spend decades unpacking what’s happened. 

Here are some things we cannot guarantee you:
guarantees, or history’s purity.

Here is what we can:
A platform on which your past can make or break
depending on how power is conceived. 

There is no such thing as the past. 
Just stories of the past poorly re-enacted.

And nobody knows where the past begins —
in the beginning it was all a dream, not a story. 

Remember: you must believe
some of this.


The Debts of Empire

Memory is born of sensuous experience. —Wilfred Bion


Do you remember when that happened? she asked. 
I feel it, he said. 
That’s not the same, she said. 
It’s not exactly opposite either, he replied. 

And do you hate them? she asked.
Who? he said. The ones who did this to you, she said. 

My brother fights them, and I fear for him, he said. 
My great-great-uncle loves them, tried to join them, 
be like one of them.
My granny studies all their tactics. Mimics. Mirrors. 
She’s hoping for a crack at them.

You keep avoiding talking for yourself, she said.

Only in your language
he answered back.


Reading an Online Review of a Bilingual Edition of Rilke’s Poems



Half this books in German! Making it twice as heavy
as it needs to be. Two Stars! Count yourself lucky it
s not fewer.

Big books aren’t easy to read when there’s standing-room only
on the morning train to work. Jolts and jostles make it hard to 

keep steady and I hate standing in the aisle with nothing to
hold onto. Who do you think you are? someone shouted at me

once when I’d reached out my arm so I wouldn’t fall. The train
had lurched. I was sweating more than usual. Fogged-up glasses. 

Yesterday, I made my way to the post office after work,
picking up the package I’d been waiting on for weeks. I was 

dismayed at the size, wondering if they’d accidentally sent two.
Who could cope with this on a commute? How will I manage? 

There is nothing to support me, I thought, rearranging 
the contents of my bag. What am I supposed to do?

Photo by David Pugh

Pádraig Ó Tuama (b. 1975) is the host of On Being’s Poetry Unbound and the author of Poetry Unbound: 50 Poems to Open Your World. He is a poet with interests in language, violence, power, and religion. Kitchen Hymns and 40 Poems on Being with Each Other: A Poetry Unbound Anthology are both forthcoming in 2025.