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Being The Bird-Poems and Prayers – A collection of new and selected work by Mary Wickham RSM


A reminder that you can order the newly published poetry collection ‘Being The Bird’ by Mary Wickham RSM. The book, which contains new and selected poems and prayers can be ordered online from BooktopiaAmazon and Book Depository.


The collection includes a large number of previously unpublished poems that reflect the poet’s experiences with dementia, abuse and disability. They also reflect her love of Celtic Spirituality and the natural world. Please consider purchasing a copy for a friend or colleague. The book will provide many hours of reflection and is a valuable resource for prayer, containing as it does a number of prayers and blessings with a mercy theme, including the Door of Mercy, Litany of Mercy, and poems that celebrate specific sites at Baggot St. There are also a number of seasonal poems for Christmas and Easter.


You might be interested to read a recent poem of Mary’s that was shortlisted for the prestigious 2021 Australian Catholic University Poetry Prize. In the top ten per cent of over 700 entries, the poem Word Flesh will be published in the annual Chapbook of the competition. The theme of this year’s competition was Resilience. As you will discover, the poem, about the Book of Kells, is very much connected with Mary’s interest in Celtic spirituality.


Word Flesh

My body is taut, steeped in lime, scrubbed,

weeks of pumice-scour have me hairless.

I am the one hundred and fifty calves that gave their breath.

I am oak-gall streaming from the swan’s flight-flare.

All quirk and mishap, I sound like an Anglo-Saxon riddle,

but my start was further west,

on puny islands gasping for air out of turbulent waters,

its humans grasping for ground to till, boost to sea’s yield.


They lean over me, gaze and plot,

truth questers whose eyes flick avidly with figments,

recalling skerricks of pilgrim tales,

sea-supposèd creatures and quasi-lions they will

never meet but summon with mind’s eye and skilful quill.

There is deep in them a seam of silence

with pigments of rare summer sky and fire,

the shining stones of the delvèd earth,

fine words, fine hues: verdigris, orpiment, kermes, woad,

and the meticulously milled

opulence of lapis lazuli of mountains beyond distant.


They loop and arc,

planting the marks that sprout into sound,

the geometric tools of precise torture circling my flesh,

the tiny handmade flourishes pledged to each curling gap,

the sequence and outcome conspiring to confound:

angel’s head emerging from a curve,

within two quill pillars a vine alive with birds,

there a pack of smiling dogs entwined to the heavens,

the droll and the divine not antonymous.

Into solemn arcana they slip little teasing touches:

foible-feature caricatures and cameos of companion cats

that spread warmth in the stone chill,

fiercely guarding me from attack by the scurriers.


The scribe-strokes leap unbidden from me

into pools of meaning for these men of measured ecstasy.

For many shifts of light their devotion meets skill,

infused with fumes from small flames the bees endowed,

eyes blurred and fingers seized from effort

as I, awed convert to their service,

surrender my torso to tattoos of spinning triskeles,

everywhere the trace of Three.

At some determination, art is done:

their sole intent glory for the subject-

homage to the Great Pervasive, the Grand Elusive.


I am elegance of eloquence,

held in a glittering ceremonial case.

I become a conduit for adoration,

the sacredness making me kindred,

until the day trouble vile trembles me,

the praying ones chopped and riven, strife-stricken,

a few fleeing with me over blood-stained water

until they find peace and trust me to a new altar of devotion.

All is haven a long while, custom the same as faces change,

when into the ordinary round violence again bursts

as rapacious hands jolt me in a covert taking.



Ripped from the jewelled casing, I am flung

wantonly into a ditch as if I were the lesser,

peaty mud and water lapping me,

until a kindness plucks me from imminent invisibility,

airs me with warmth, homes me, holding fast the vibrancy.

A hiatus of peace ensues, custom the same as faces change.

Later, many moons, someone slices me,

excising tiny slivers of meaning with a blade,

as benign ineptitude trims my edges, and my heart falters.


I am nursed now to this moon in a southward place of crowds,

a vaulted silence of unvaried air surrounded by clamour.

I miss the sea; I miss the silent scribes and their cats.

Yet I live, extant, not extinct.

Like the Christ they revere, my body is a broken glowing glory.

I am stigmata vellum volume of Iona, Kells, Dublin,

Good spell God spell Gospel,



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