Issue 22: Luke McMullan

from Crown


And the colour of direction clarified:

a pigment of air on the chatter

of the room, dilapidating like an old

master: Kalf’s svelte spillages in brown;

you sitting down to tell your father’s

spillage on the boards, firemen’s axes

breaking down the door. This world has been

cruel to you. I have heard there is another

crueller still. The firstness of America

is climate: frigid summers, torrid winters

that stagger the indoor-comer

with the promise of a crueller world

to come: brown as the canvas of a master’s crop,

assuring us the rain’ll dry like blood.


Assuring us the rain’ll dry like blood

still lurching along my veins (the clichéd blood

of mizzling Ireland, which’ll never cease

to be remarked upon). The wee country

of my memory grapples to fix it

in mind. All I remember’s oil tanks:

green, rotund, unclimbable, and contents

unknown. They were called oil tanks, but I knew

nothing of what lay within. Could have been

oil. Could have been leprechauns. I know

you’re wondering at my ignorance but sure

that’s Ireland: there are many memories

that have been lost like weather,

recorded in ice—but then we have no ice.


Recorded in ice, but then we have no ice:

this year you doused me in temporal fire

ignited to outlast an age’s span, O dread

fucking disease. You are simple unfanciful

agony. There’s nothing

I can ask of you. You’ve ziptied me in your

vice of clear pain, no, that’s not sexy;

elsetimes you throw only a pale shadow

flashing over the moment, like that

of a terrible bird. And then

I am afraid. In the core of this fired

frame you skulk, a reprobate, yearning

for release from the immune frost.

So let it melt: I’ll fall to murder you.


‘So let it melt: I’ll fall to murder you.’

That’s all grand and all, but the illness is more

permanent than the ice caps,

and your immune system’s not the landscape

of a fantasy novel. There is no will

sufficient to the drawing of that sword,

will be only the creep creep of remission

and relapse. Still, these gestures keep

you in a kind of continuation:

a perennial but necessary falling

short. Try to avoid eating methane

and CO2, why don’t you; but who cares,

truly, if the birds should fall and fish rise,

out of sorts, to a single leaden plane.


Out of sorts to a single leaden plane

a plastic sheath descends. It is a bag

for life. Our infinite supply of bags

for life implies that at some future point

(all else being equal), we shall attain

maximal life. For the materiel

of rhetoric is boundless in its power,

providing it is unfragmented by

its dialect. Tip for the curious

Sassenach: say ‘pyre’ but all the way back

in the throat. Add hard R. Do you now begin

to get the hang of this country?

This country is godawfully pro-life;

yes, this land is haunted by Jesus Christ.


Yes, this land is haunted by Jesus Christ.

I saw your man Christ there up Nutt’s Corner

after the ten-poun’ firework deal; gonnae

set off some screamers next twelfth time. Aye sure,

down roun’ Ol’ Warren they’ll nat touch you,

not even for the ritual layin’-on of hands.

Say hands like there’s half a W

in there. Bag is pronounced beg. As in beg

for life. Life you say close to leaf, as in

they fall down all around us and lie under

boot. As in yer mawn Christ’s hoos is stuffed wi’

begs for leaf, you can’t even get out

to the yard anymore, so full it is, where all

the sodden leaves are clamourin’ to go.


The sodden leaves are clamouring to go

where I will blow them, to the next lapsing

memory, the next storehouse of cordite.

Stormont. Where the reps are locked

in a death embrace. Behind closed doors

it’s a lark, everywhere else it’s belt-and-braces time:

Each draws support from fear of the other

like some incredible game-theory nightmare.

Sammy Wilson’s afeard of dinosaurs,

imagining what he might learn from them.

And of course the autumns pass, while times goes

no further: our women need the choice, our queers

the recognition that their love is real.

Milkman’s set in the 1970s.


Milkman’s set in the 1970s.

Individuals in the book trade say

it’s a hard sell. It’s hard to read it.

Burns’s talky style is a hard sell.

Just the style. The style of Milkman makes it

hard to read: something about how Burns turns

the experience of that place to

words, towards a clear articulation

of the coverts and thickets of Belfast

speech. A note to these individuals: a wee

word to the wise: a little breath in your ear:

from one who might know: you heard it here first:

a bone to chew on: the state forces

strain to reduce all politics to style.

Luke McMullan is from Belfast, Northern Ireland. The sonnets here come from the manuscript of a work called Crown. He is currently based in London. Luke is the author of Ruin (2018) and Dolphin Aria (2012).

Copyright © 2019 by Luke McMullan, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.