Editor’s Note: These poems are taken from Seanín’s debut full collection-in-progress, Reasons for Admission, wherein each poem corresponds to a reason for admission to lunatic asylums during the nineteenth century. In this selection, ‘Lessons in Alchemy’ toys with ‘hard study’, ‘Name Your Poison’ answers to ‘opium habit’, and ‘Behold, the Universal Uterus’ responds to ‘female disease’.
Lessons in Alchemy Every class had one: a cluster of atoms, girlish Cerberus, symbiotic patriots of an island all their own— fresh off the boat to bleeding, breasts, offensive body odour, but already commanders in chief, chanting their gospels of adolescence. Never was a cornflake girl. I was green banana sleeping in the peel. I was the watchword, something plump to sink teeth into: chubby little frump fumbling through an army surplus bag, scrawling frivolities in a year slow for entertainment. Come be one of us. First kiss Friday, eleven o’clock lizard flicking, tasting teeth. Do this, or you walk home alone. I was non-Newtonian liquid, shifting cells to fill the flask, opaque and punchable fodder; impossible to miss. They were saline— conductors of social code, universal solvent astonished at the gloop of my graceless emulsion, a thick mimic curdling their veneer. It was slow erasure. I shrunk; became soluble in the library, the toilets, the empty oratory. I could make white noise of collapsing walls. Daughters, know this: there will be young alchemists, experts at sleight of hand and unseen manoeuvres— quick-fingered engineers and slink-minded magicians, always ready to rinse clean their hierarchies. Name Your Poison I’ll have what he’s having— one with the hat, respectable chap known for it, fills his boots— dope me like him, like that— dope me clever, dope me free—dope toothache, diarrhoea, degeneracy— dope me a continent of my very own, imaginary kingdom to roam and rule— reach into— pull out a prize white rabbit— pull out horror—who needs to hunt for that, ha!— dope me crowned with rubies, gorgeous—imagine!—my best self slit navel to nose, spilling secrets—no telling what I’ll tell then, no— not one of you would be safe. Behold, the Universal Uterus Two swollen brains crossed swords over new land; one a believer in medicine, the other an expert in risk, both keen to unlock the forbidden red room, at once both clock and bomb. She was slumped on the table, sedated head of Baphomet, while the swords debated speculums as provocateurs of lust— she might spin like a primal cyclone, eye stationed in her cervix and aching to feast, starving red beast howling, at once both clock and bomb. They agreed on one thing— a universal theme in disorder, dissipation, and decay. She lay quiet, not quite asleep, and heard it all through the walls of a red cave, ticking at once both clock and bomb.
Seanín Hughes is a poet, mother, and full-time carer from Northern Ireland. She has had work published both in the UK and internationally, as well as selected for study at various colleges and universities. Seanín’s debut pamphlet, Little Deaths, arrived in 2019 and will be followed by her second pamphlet, She, Shapeshifter, in March 2022.