​B E L F A S T ,  B É A L   F E R S T E  ,  W I N T E R  ,  2 0 1 1

I may be familiar with a face without ever having perceived the colour of the eyes in themselves.

                                                                                                                   - Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Here, sounds don’t match their speakers’ eyes, the way come means go, the way it does when a woman whispers, ‘Anyways, she’s supposed to have taken things to make the baby come away.’

Belfast—we land hard on your second syllable. All teeth, no lips. In Irish, mouth of the sandbanks. A city of lost mouths, gone off, gone hungry, gone sick off waiting.

‘No point in biting the hand that feeds you,’ Gerry Adams writes, ‘Unless you’re starving.’

Snow has fallen, and, all night, it glows orange in the lamp-light of fog. 

By morning the pipes in the council homes have frozen. The children on the Falls Road hold their mouths open to the sky. 

A woman runs through East Belfast. She imagines the stones falling behind her are fresh pears. They—or we—want her. Eyes and skin not yet brined in whiskey or shrapnel. 

Here, desire cowers under layers of skin and wool and fog. 

No curfew anymore but the one in the air, in the dust on each brick council house. Four walls that still hear feet tapping on pavement, waiting for knees to bend and snap.
The doors of the Royal Maternity shimmer like moon-lakes. A mother walks into the glass-water to find her child in pink pajamas, circling the psych ward.

A mute woman wanders the Shankill, looking for her sick mother, a bald woman gone missing ten years ago. Over the peace lines, there’s a grave: a small stone painted with poppies.

East of the Lagan, past empty car-lots, children beat a ball. Each day closer to the long nights of summer and fire.

Off Botanic Avenue, the grey-haired book-shop owner flips her last Woodie Guthrie record, and puts on more water for coffee. Smokers outside guard the doors.

The student protest over, but Black Marias circle City Hall, waiting for the orange miniskirts, black boots, the grey leather jackets. A boy and a girl slip down an alley. Rime-red fingers touch with just enough vodka and glitter to peel back a layer…fill their skin up ‘til midnight. Above, the Union Jack flutters. 

Above the city and soot, a man, bow in hand, looks to the shipyard, the water. Lowers violin to shoulder, tries a few double-stops, the slow drone of a Slíabh Luachra tune. One face rises from the soot. The face of a woman last seen elbow-deep in payne’s gray, alizarin crimson, at work on the floor of his house in the country. Bodies—painted, real—flashed wet and warm in the windows. Bodies made with the edge of a knife. 

We—so hard to say here—but here we slipstream and fall on the wrong street, your streets, Belfast. We paint the pavement with shadow, with knife-edge. We say come, grip the bed, and you slip off into moonlight. 

Here, child, city—what’s the difference—take this fist. Let me add one more violence to your list. Drink it up. Let it give you trouble.

​​H E R M E N E U T I C   C H A O S   J O U R N A L

The Jane Lumley Prize '15 : Finalist

Emily Holt’s essay ‘Hunger’ is forthcoming in Brief Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015) and her poems have appeared in the Honest Ulsterman and Fragments. She is a candidate in the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University. 

E M I L Y   H O L T