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Wake Forest
University Press

Wake Forest University Press

Dedicated to Irish Poetry

Wake: Up to Poetry

"The act of poetry is a rebel act."

Poem of the Week: “The Smell of Blood” by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill

“The Smell of Blood” (or “Boladh na Fola” in the original Irish) is a surreal and nightmarish account of guilt and paranoia in relation to the phantom experience of the pungent scent of blood on one’s hands. The reference to Hamlet suggests grief or existential crisis.

The Smell of Blood

I wake up, and my hands are sticky
With the smell of blood.
And though there’s not a smudge nor blot
In eyeshot, nor any soul
That I know missing (I’ve counted them, each one,
And they’re all present and correct),
Still, it seems my hands are sticky
With the smell of blood. 

I swear my hands are sticky
With the smell of blood.
I’ve rummaged underneath the mattress,
n cubbyholes, behind doors,
For fear the body of a rotting king or courtier—
Polonius behind the arras—
Might lurk behind this smell of blood
That’s sticking to my hands. 

Hell’s freezing over with sour water
And icy cataracts pour from the tap.
My hands are hacked, the skin is all volcanic
Cracks from this eternal pumice-stone,
And I don’t know how many bars of Sunlight soap
Have shrunk into exhausted slivers
Since I’m stuck forever with this stink of blood
That’s on my hands.

Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, translated by Ciaran Carson, from Pharaoh’s Daughter (1993)

Categories: Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Poem of the WeekTags: , , , , ,

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