Holy Land – a poem by Nessa O’Mahoney

Holy Land

For my pilgrim mother

Faith might be easier
if it was simply a matter
of almond blossom,
of blood anemones
spotting the hill-side,
or the diamond blue
of lupins and violets
along the valley
still called Armageddon.

Prayer might come quicker
if the caves stayed unbuilt-upon,
if layer on layer of
begun by Byzantines,
destroyed by Persians,
rebuilt by Crusaders,
destroyed by Muslims,
of twentieth century wars
remained scattered dust
in the Samarian wilderness.

Abraham does his best,
yellow base-ball cap at a tilt
to beacon us on through traders
and treacherous steps,
where nothing is as
the guidebook describes it.

The tears come,
not on, unsurprisingly,
the Via Dolorosa
or the slow sepulchral crawl
past Calvary, the quick shove
through the tomb

but in a quiet place
of vaulted roof,
of white Jerusalem stone,
where a smiling,
West Cork Franciscan
guards the door,
where steps descend
to the cave your namesake
may have been born in,

where the notes soar as we gather
a rag-tag choir at St. Ann’s altar:

oh sacrament most holy
oh sacrament divine

and I join in,
try descant
to my mother’s alto tones,
find harmonies
I’ve practised all my life,
came all these miles
to sing.


Nessa O’Mahony is from Dublin. She has published four books of poems. Her most recent publication is Metamorphic: 21st Century Poets Respond to Ovid (Recent Work Press), which she co-edited with Paul Munden. She presents a monthly podcast called The Attic Sessions.


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