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Twelfth Century, County Clare

When we arrived at the monastery, a guide
was midway through his talk on ruin and dates,

as yellow birds twittered past window holes.

We wondered if the ancient holy ones
stopped trying to be good and just sat or kneeled

astonished by the birds’ antiphony.

Of course, we too came here
hoping to be cracked open, amazed.

Before the roof fell in, before the grass

made itself at home, the monks must have
bent over their texts:

Condemn not, forgive, give—

words that might save, or simply shimmer
like grass blades in late sun,

solvents for hunger and dread.

In the hedgerow birds sang their inscrutable vespers
while the guide talked politics and decline.

When the tour bus left, taking its information,

the stones settled back into silence,
not so much ruined as struck real by the light.



Betsy Sholl’s most recent collection is House of Sparrows: New and Selected Poems (Wisconsin). She teaches in the MFA program of Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Portland, Maine.

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