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The Man from Kinvara

At the beheading of the statue
the laurel parted from
the garter, and what they did
with King Billy’s head I do not know,
for in 1763 the statue stood at
the Boyle bridge, near the Royal Hotel.

But bridges come and go, as this one did
and when rebuilt in 1834, Viscount Lorton
had Billy hefted to the Pleasure Grounds,
complete with picnics and strollers.

But pleasure seekers, as a residue
of the early 1920’s ‘troubles,’
beheaded the statue among sycamore
and ash—the headless remains later
removed, as an assault on order. Arms
and torso, feet and waistcoat
bludgeoned down. Now the spot

is simply: ‘the pedestal where King Billy
stood,’ for it is the pedestal-makers
who win the day as that young boy
strikes a pose, then leaps like a jaguar
onto the back of his unsuspecting
friend. Double portrait of heads rolling
through grass, dew cool to their cheeks:
gleeful cries of predator and victor unravel
below the Curlew Mountains,
named for birds we seldom see.

Still, there will always be witnesses; I am waiting
for the man from Kinvara. He is mild
for someone having attended
a beheading. Like me he was a visitor
to the event. But having held onto one’s head
while another’s falls rearranges
notions of a body. May he let
some detail slip to enlighten me, such as
what they did with a head so dislodged, so
beyond its danger.

The man from Kinvara is taking his time.
I think, like me, he often walks headless under stars,
above the child combatants
rolling across the lawns of the world.
One might yet encounter such a man
with his headless moment, his freedom-glee,
his vacant stare.

Let me up on your back, oh man from Kinvara.
I’ve a spare head with a girlish sheen

gazing out across Lough Arrow
where daily the swans are shedding a lake
and taking up a sky.


Tess Gallagher’s selected stories, The Man from Kinvara, was published in 2009 by Graywolf. Her most recent collection of poetry, Midnight Lantern: New & Selected Poems, came out in 2011 also with Graywolf.