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Moyra Donaldson
Moyra Donaldson

Moyra Donaldson was born and brought up in County Down. She has published five previous collections, including a Selected Poems in 2013. Her poetry has won a number of awards, including the Allingham Award, the National Women’s Poetry Competition and the Cuirt New Writing Award. She has received four awards from the Arts Council NI, most recently, the Artist Career Enhancement Award. Her poems have been anthologised and have featured on BBC Radio and television, including the Channel 4 production, Poems to Fall in Love With.

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Moyra Donaldson Poetry



I wake beneath a chestnut tree,

back against bark,

legs stretched out through grass.

Long fingered leaves drip light and shade

haphazardly: the air is warm.

In front of me, a lake of all tears

lies like a mirror, and I break its surface,

wash my face in its salty, ice cold water.


My horse is waiting, shaded and patient.

His skin is comfort and his breath green

as he carries me on his back

to the flat stone altar at the forest’s heart.

Being dead, I lay myself down on it thankfully,

and the black bird comes,

lifts me to her round high nest.


Inside the nest, inside the egg,

I am a cell, dividing and dividing,

first heartbeat,

shell filtered light

warm on my lidless eyes

until time comes

and the shell cracks.


My horse is waiting, bright and patient:

his skin is sunlight and his breath air.

Amongst the moss his bones

are white and dry.


In my beak, I lift

his great rib hull,

his long leg bones,

the instrument of his skull,


and in the highest branches

of the tallest tree

in wind tossed waves of leaves,

I build my horse’s nest, my ship of bones.



(from The Horses’ Nest 2010)

If I asked you to


would you set down your drink,

get up from your seat

and dance me, waltz me

across this chequered floor, unclamp me

from the crocodile jaws of tedium,

lift me, defy my gravity, whirl me

away from black and white

and shades of grey,

de-compose me to all the colours,

balance me on your fingertips,

a rainbow arc, promise me,

delight me with delicacy, undo me,

help me out of my head

into the honeycomb of flesh

until I am sticky with sweetness: fill me.



(From Beneath the Ice 2001)

How to Swallow a Sword


There are over two hundred names

in the Sword Swallower’s Hall of Fame

and that’s not counting the fakirs,

the Greeks and Romans, the Mayan Indians,

the Chinese, the Japanese or the Sufis.


There is Signor Wandana, Professor Pierce,

the Mighty Ajax, Chief Willie Bowlegs,

The Great Zadma, Skippy the Clown

and Edith Clifford – Champion

Sword Swallower of the World

taught the skill at thirteen

by one legged Delmo Fritz


begin with something short

 a pair of scissors

or a paper knife

learn to control

your gag reflex that involuntary

reaction that arises in the nerves


keep a bowl beside you

until you have conditioned yourself

to do what your defence mechanisms

try to prohibit


teach your upper gastro

intestinal tract to relax

tilt your head back

extend the neck

align the mouth

with the oesophagus

move the tongue aside

line up the sword

and move it

through the mouth

pharynx past

the sphincter muscle


on its way down

the sword straightens out

oesophageal curves

nudges the heart aside

enters the stomach.


Edith, employed by Barman and Bailey,

was feted in the Royal Courts of Europe

(Houdini said) for her more than ordinary

personal charms, her refined taste in clothes

and her unswerving devotion to her art.


Blades of twenty inches

without a problem, sometimes ten

or sixteen at a time.


Two marriages,

Thomas, the Elastic Stretch Man

and after him, Karl the Trapeze Artist,

then retirement, to open her grocery store.


Her grandson does not remember her

ever speaking of her show business career

and never saw her swallow a sword,

though he has kept one in a cupboard at his home

and can be persuaded to pose with it for the camera.



(From Miracle Fruit 2010)

Mary Patterson


Plied with gin, stupefied,

Burke’s knee on my breast,

Hare’s hand across my breath

til the life is pressed out of me,

then I’m delivered to your door


and it was one thing Dr Knox,

who buys the beef,

to take my body,

for professional

scientific purposes,

for the greater good

so to speak,


and for certain my body

was worth more as dead meat:

I’d hitch up my skirts

for just a few coins

in the shadows of Canongate,

whereas you paid seven pounds

and ten shillings,


but to lay me out like that,

naked on the couch,

sensuously arranged

under the flickering candlelight,

my dead face seductively

turned to the audience,

and a white sheet draped

teasingly over my calves


and then have me sketched

before my dissection


now that’s a disgrace.

What were you thinking?


And you Mr Ferguson, surgeon

in training, looking at me,

in your professional capacity


as I looked at you in mine

just two nights previous.

You still want to use me?



(from Miracle Fruit 2010)



Heat and pressure birthed me   I shift only when the world shifts   wear whatever form that time demands and hold eons   eyes of trilobites forests ferns bones footprints ephemeral   turn to me


First civilisation   first tool first weapon    hewn   lived in written upon   quarried sculpted turned to god and fortress  I ground the grain I sparked the fire   veined with treasure metal mineral  mined  


I expect nothing   indifferent witness rolled to the mouth of the tomb rolled to the top of the mountain to fall again  wait millennia without desire for the hand that will reveal what I contain  the David the uranium


It is not only he without sin that casts me I fit the hand that wants me



(published in the Cincinnati Review, Summer 2012)

Using Only Means Acknowledged to be Holy


I wish to make myself

lovely to you, so I will

cover the bone of a peacock

in gold, tie it to my right hand.


Burnt bones of a hawk,

ash in a box of bone,

mixed with antimony,

a bone pencil

to apply the mixture

to my eyelashes: you

will be unable to resist.


To increase your vigour

I will feed you rice

mixed with sparrows’ eggs

and boiled in milk.



(published in Salzburg Review, Winter 2011)



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