Oliver Murray lives with his wife in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He has published
and broadcast numerous short stories as well as some radio plays. He has also
published cartoons and illustrations. His poetry and fiction have appeared in
Candelabrum, First Things, The New Formalist, The Neovictorian/Cochlea, Iambs &
Trochees, Candelabrum, The Buckeye and Other Poetry. Other
interests include jazz and classical music, particularly Bach, Beethoven and
Van Gogh Paints The Raising Of Lazarus
After Rembrandt’s Etching
May I be guided by a master’s hand—
this tomb has smelled of turpentine before,
knew Giotto’s fresco and Caravaggio.
From Rembrandt’s burin etching I had planned
a butter yellow paint to give you breath,
make sinewed lines vibrate and bring the blush
of life again, and with my nervous brush
I’d heave you back this little way from death.
I think he also found it hard to draw
that fine conflict of feeling in your face
that showed you glad to leave this fetid place,
yet conscious you must die again; you saw
that though your Master held you in his heart
this also was perfection of his art.
Published by The New Formalist
The Unbelievers’ Prayer
In a flash of light the organ mirror stares
odd-angled at the aisle below the loft,
a shuffling creak of pedals follows prayers,
a sighing almost-silence, then the soft
wheedle of Ich ruf zu dir. We share
some comfort in these words, though not belief.
For you, we hope there may be "something there,"
and music makes a faith of loss and grief,
as if some kinder light glows through the scales
in counterpoints that meditate and cross.
Oh Kappelmeister Bach, who never fails
please heal us now, console us in our loss.
Published by Iambs & Trochees
"Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ" — "I Call to Thee, Lord Jesus
by J.S Bach
At Her Request
You asked me keep this promise and I must—
that no bells or candles guide you to your rest,
as you believed your church had not loved best
the ones who placed in it the greatest trust.
Your brother-priest, your sisters, disagree
that you should go non-sancta to the vault,
think I, at best a doubter, am at fault,
though I’d find comfort too in panoply.
Made more than half-believers by our grief,
soft rituals persuade us here below
that loves may meet again, and yet, if so,
how should I tell my brave one her belief
in me was groundless too, if I should prove
unequal to this high demand of love?
Published by Candelabrum
After The Boxing-Day Hunt
Fearing she’s lamed the horse, he tries to count
the hoof-clops on the cobbles, hears a curse
suggesting that she’s fallen off or—worse—
the farmyard drain has claimed her and her mount.
But from December dark she’s through the door,
dismounting, legs near gone, though Reddin’s first
concern is not for her, nor that she’s cursed
him roundly as she does when saddle-sore.
Fifty years ago at Mullaghbawn
when they blooded her at seventeen, how tight
the smile she’d tried—and then got sick instead!
He remembers, later, guests upon the lawn,
her shoulders powdered in the river light,
admirers, then a husband long since dead.
Taking the stable bottle out he pours
a triple measure. She shows no remorse
but scowls at his scolding, "Ma’am, the little horse
is sweating badly." Drinking, she ignores
his old-maid fuss with blankets but she knows
she may not hunt again and that if she
is finished with the horses, so is he,
that long-ago shy stable-boy who goes
about these tender duties still today.
"Don’t make him sweat so hard," old Reddin begs
but brusqueness is her way, she has no new
or softer words. Her Anglo-Irish bray
declares that if he’d been between her legs
these last three hours, then he’d be sweating too.
Published by The Shop and Iambs & Trochees
I’d like your girl to sing, my dear. No date
decided yet, of course. I’ve made a call
on the vicar at St. James Without The Gate,
and we're pencilled in as "possible" for all
next week. We’ve oiled the lock, unstuck the door,
cleared the vault of leaves and swept the place.
Because there’s been subsidence to the floor,
Grandfather’s in some water at his base,
but Gerald’s shelf is dry. Your daughter sings
a fine contralto, dear. Will she be free?
I’ve already made the sandwiches and things—
everything, of course, is piled on me—
and now our smaller freezer’s fully packed.
Gerald’s on stronger drugs and failing fast,
but courage, dear, is something he’s never lacked.
I think each dose of morphine is his last,
then he revives and insists again, "No tears!"
Samantha’s abroad, I’ve begged our eldest, Jake,
but fishing on the Kennet’s the best for years,
and arrangements are so difficult to make.
We’re church, of course, though Gerald’s an atheist.
Now may I cross your daughter off my list?
Published by First Things
Sun, old alchemist, you’ve set us wrong.
Heat grips the land; the ditch-cut where the stand
of alders sipped is dry; your brassy gong
has summoned dust from Africa; dancing
decks have sprung beyond the town, so nights
bring shadows through the fields to trysts in lanes.
The kitchen is a samovar at noon
and hens stroll in our open door, incline
their heads and pause, alert, mid-stride until
my youngest aunt scatters them with a broom.
Singing, bruised with love again, she browns
her legs with Miner’s Liquid Stocking Tan.
Her dreams, she says, are tangled up in sounds
of courtyard fountains and a bullfight band;
the roads are dusty and the air so sweet
our church-bells might be Carcassonne or Arles.
Off Britain’s lee, people of rain and mist,
beehive cells and prayer-rocks, the lost
tribe of Europe, how have we drifted here?
Only the old remember heat like this.
O cousin altars, saints of Southern squares
among your smoky tapers, brass and dust
do not forget us now! Our priest has fired
a fighting sermon at the sin of lust
to face the sun god down while we still burn.
He knows that when the Western weather sends
the driving rain in sheets across our yards
under the low unknowing clouds, and turns
tin dairy roofs to panpipes frilled with wind,
the gray Atlantic brings us back to God.
Published by First Things
Ley-lines and isolated trails connect
once hallowed places. Belfry links with choir,
and lodes connecting spires and tors bisect
the standing stones. The low midwinter fire
of sun enters and creeps through the narrow eye
to touch the core of the tumulus. By lone
beacons and barrow graves, faint pilgrim tracks
mark out the sacred veins, and when rivers dry
to rocks, the walls of what were once our own
will burn beneath the plain. A geese skein tacks
in offshore wind, they wheel, it smacks them full
above the ocean’s edge, the fine-webbed twines
inside their skulls adjusting to the pull
laid off against the north’s magnetic lines.
They climb into an airy map that dries
and warms, and has in high soft swells unfurled
the patterns of the earth below, the sand,
the grass, the harrowed fields, the surface lies
of water, and rivers of the underworld
that tug the twig of hazel in the hand.
Published by The New Formalist
Brightness of beeswax candles sparkling through
our half-closed lids, eyes stung with incense smoke,
we new boys stumble through the Litany,
the monks' and seniors' voices bearing high
the pure sopranos of us younger ones,
who only half conceal our loneliness,
beginning this first year away from home.
A final Miserere and
the choir has stopped, the organ groans and
The prior, monks and senior boys leave first,
we younger ones then follow close behind
towards corridors of raw sienna tile,
stone stairways to our beds beneath the cold
embrasures guarding tonsured bearded saints.
We flick for holy water. Over us,
between the font and door, a statue stands,
this Order's only saint—from Normandy—
whose picture hangs upon the wall at home
in Carmelite brown and white and holding, as
her statue here does too, a small bouquet
of flowers to her breast. And now I stretch,
taking my turn to press the statue's foot,
with its worn, damp satin feel, this amulet
that every boy before me here has touched.
The little toes are all silk-stropped away,
the instep worn to where the bone would be.
I've often wondered who the first boy was
who thought to reach and touch her foot this way,
what decades of the less than half-devout
had sought in plaster worn like this to bone,
some superstition our religion bred,
more mystery to add to the mysteries
of bread and wine and candlelight and bells,
or in this gentle daughter of the church,
saw not saint, but sister, mother, girl.
Published by First Things
He dropped the Host today, his trembling's worse,
"Can't manage on his own," my mother says
and sends him up some dinner after Mass.
She hopes I might absorb more cultured ways
from a man who keeps a bull on the concrete slats
of a byre behind, and cows on parish fields,
rent free. His hand is shaking, his jacket
and half-way down a bottle of Frascati
he starts to talk of elegant long meals:
That one with Cardinal Agagianian,
in Via della Cisterna, Trastevere;
Castel Gandolfo, in summer heat again,
some visit from Pope John the Twenty Third.
Abruzzi truffles, an aftertang of must,
a Sangiovese wine from Tuscany.
He vaguely rambles on, the window blurs,
light drifting towards a soft rain-spotted dusk
"You think I wanted Rome?" he says, " You see,
it shouldn’t have been me, this other chap
dropped out … or couldn’t go … and then my name,
as second in the class, came up. I had
to go. Maybe I flew too near the flame."
He's dozing now and from his dream I hear
a passage in Italian like a song.
The doorbell makes him start awake, I strain
to identify the car outside—its wipers
swish, a trailer gently steams with dung.
I tell him that it’s Ben Maguire’s. "Ah, Ben,"
he says, "his mother's dying now, for more
than a month, poor love, perhaps she’s near the
The bull is bellowing again, there's a burst
of rain and wind. "A tidy farmer though,
What, sixty Friesians now?" He brightens, calls,
"There might be one on heat. Quick, get the door,
you'll never make a priest! Now ask him if
it's me he wants, or does he want the bull."
Published by First Things
It pleased her then, the way he caught his breath—
the disbelief when she set her catch beside
the broken clock he’d been idly fiddling with,
cursing its innards at the table. "Mine?"
This was an ancient foe, still stung with barbs
she knew he’d recognized. Frayed leaders trailed
from the great pike’s mouth. The yellow-silver
was flaked and tarnished as the handlebars
of the bike she’d ridden early to the lake,
when her patience with her father’s moods wore
Long ago he’d taught her how to use
this rod and paternoster rig—until
today put by for months. She’d struck too soon
but the hook still bit; she’d fought an age, then
Last spring a stroke took half her father’s voice
and half his brain—but even his breathing near
her flesh, when feeding him, still made her shake.
Gripping the wheel-rims of his chair, mouth
he forced out words—he saw this catch as shared
and she recalled the long-past days he’d hooked
and lost this pike, those rages, even though
no days were safe, no peace could last with him—
her mother, with teeth loosened by a blow,
or pleading "Christ, not now, I’m much too ill."
This pike—it must be mounted and displayed,
he croaked in glee, his name on a plaque of brass;
and, daughter-pupil, she’d be named as well.
She touched the festered scars the old hooks made—
he’d taught her to fish, such farming as there
but she’d often cursed him for a girlhood filled
with farmyard chores, the forms for set-asides,
and grants; anglers, fishing the lake each year,
whose beds and breakfasts helped them just
drinking debts, the cast-off clothes, her fear
of the handle of her bedroom door being tried—
the way it was soon after her mother’s death.
She pulled a drawer out and in a clash
of cutlery, ignoring her father’s cries,
grabbed a knife and sawed the fish’s head
right off, crunching through bone and heavy flesh
She scored the belly down, unravelling
the cold, deep-water engine-room, guts thick
with scent of reed and gravel-bed, the strings
of the ruined heart. She knew, from that odd book
some angler left, old Izaac Walton had
a recipe for pike. She’d be more sparing—
no butter or sweet thyme that might withhold
the taste of mud and pickerel-weed. She planned
the roughest country cooking—just plain fare,
a dish, she knew, that would be best served cold.
Published by The Neovictorian/Cochlea