Gospel Hall Brethren


We were the faithful, we were true:

we never knelt or sat in pews,

all seated in a circle broken,

long prayers in Ulster accents spoken;

repeating cliches too well-known:

the Quaker silence we disowned.


Uncertain acapella, robust belief aired,

then some cliche scripture portion shared,

the sermons droned failed to inspire:

tamped down tight any tongues of fire.


Oh! The lisp of India-paper pages,

we were the Brethren, scriptural sages,

all the ladies’ heads were covered,

all the children’s giggles smothered.

Sometimes even I, a prayer would utter;

sheer spiritual intensity caused my stutter.


In summer the ardent adolescents came –

Northern dialects made strident claims;

unshakeable statements in small-town squares,

shouting out salvation, blind to shocked stares.


Black their bibles, blunt their crass tracts,

dire truth told, fundamentalist facts;

most ill-at-ease under these “grey skies”,

they never quite exploded “Papist lies”.

What did “prayer letters” home report?

With what sneers did rural “sinners” retort?


Mountmellick misfits, dire our disconnect,

socially segregated – an insipid sect?

much missionary effort but what the cost,

meagre heaven’s harvest and little love lost…


NOTE: “Grey skies” is part of Paisley’s dictum: “We shall not exchange the blue skies of Ulster for the grey skies of the Republic.”



She vice grips her hero-husband’s hand,

heaving hormones issue high demands,

pity cannot calm deep contraction pain,

birth-waters gush, sheet shows graffiti stain:

primitive her pant, newborn stirs within,

propelled the push – let baby’s birth begin!

Lar birth

Thighs hinge, tendons rack-stretched,

ejection-effort on her red face etched;

the father’s futile fears, hopeless his tears,

abruptly a damp, dark-haired head appears:

shocked arrival – open one sceptical eye,

instinctive suckle soon silenced primal cries.

Tabula Rasa


Did unwanted visitor carry viral curse?

Unborn baby now in need of nurse.


Scan screen stated heart-beat missing;

no more tummy hugs, no sibling kissing.


Faecal-tinted tide after ten days broke,

no newborn wail but deathly silence spoke.


Mute her mouth, so empty her gaze,

her baby body floppy –  parents in a daze.


Tabula Rasa, listless limbs maternal held,

pointless any pleading, dumb tears welled.


Broken promises from unprotective womb,

Spring floral scent, pungent that perfume.


Petal-peeling skin, death’s ugly souvenir;

tentative this embrace, constant those tears.


Lips didn’t linger on fridge-frozen cheeks;

can the dead hear what we stumble speak?


Stoic parents sobbed, pained their prayer;

no nappy changes needed,  a grave to prepare.


Cruel Fool smirked, April the first –

Easter-empty tomb, His death reversed.


God not mocked, feeble faith rebounded,

young sibling spoke hope, parents astounded…


*Tabula rasa (Latin: “scraped tablet”, though often translated “blank slate”) is the notion that individual human beings are born “blank” (with no built-in mental content), and that their identity is defined entirely by events after birth.

Holly was born April 1st. She was buried on Easter Monday, five days later.

illustration by Neringa Normantaite https://www.facebook.com/artistneringa/