The Spirit Dolls

© By Medbh McGuckian

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They subtract us as matter from their lives –
spice-merchants, tanners, coopers, weavers,
wine-merchants, innkeeper, florists, casual mercenaries.
They made themselves up as they went along,
their cross-streets linked in city wards,
the Parish of Hospital, in the Diocese of Emily.

Authentic children of the Covenant, my anti-family,
my anti-home, my counter-home, residence
is being conferred on them, a homely dress
that they have donned, as insiders’ outsiders,
as a new us and an old them, in the scoured pot
of our acid, indigestible, please-and-thank-you army.

And now, from their eerie inland sea, from water
house or drowning cell, a species of anti-workers,
anti-bodies, professional loiterers, ne’er-do-wells,
emerge corrected, dusted by clandestine truce,
like the reputed male, ‘Semper Augustus’, red flames on white,
to avoid turning out as a nation, turning into a state.

© Medbh McGuckian, The Spirit Dolls, 1998, complete text, Shelmalier, 1999, The Gallery Press.

McGuckian reflects on all the ambiguities of language - the idea of a ‘state’, of being or a nation; its transience; the varying allegiances of locale and townland and tongue; and the ironies of secrecy and exposure - the ‘insiders’ outsiders’. Insofar as one should avoid the studied obliqueness of the poet’s sensibility, her ‘anti-bodies, professional loiterers’ who ‘emerge corrected’ perhaps refers to the former paramilitaries who donned nice suits and became political negotiators during the peace process, conducted in the year the poem was written.

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