By Eva Bourke


The eighth collection of poems by Galway-based poet Eva Bourke, charts a journey of bereavement, heartbreak and, ultimately, renewal.

SKU: 9781915629272x

Tattoos by Eva Bourke charts a journey of bereavement, heartbreak and, ultimately, renewal. In poems that record – with courage and tenderness – the loss of loved ones, of close family and friends, there is throughout a refusal to soften the keen gaze and precise detail for which her work is so often praised, as if the poet’s role is ever to be witness, guardian and curator. Instead of heartbreak enforcing a retreat from the world, rather it seems to strengthen her commitment to those in danger (“the boats adrift in the night / and the storms that sweep them overboard” — ‘Twenty-eight Swimmers’) and her belief in the power of art and music as both consolation and celebration, an engagement that has been the heart of her work over many years. As she says in ‘The Singer’s Fable’, in memory of Mary McPartlan: “Sing, even if your hearts are heavy, even if your houses are on fire, rise up and sing.”


“[T]he maturity and wide sympathy of this poet’s vision is everywhere in evidence.The formal and tonal variety achieved by Bourke in this volume [SeeingYellow] is also very pleasing….Warmly recommended.” —Caitriona O’Reilly, The Irish Times

“These poems suggest that the soul is an enduring gentleness in us, in others, in perhaps everything, and that it needs us to release it, to let it breathe, to nourish it with what we create rather than destroy.” —Fred Marchant on piano



in memory of my granddaughter Ruby
April 30, 2003 to May 4, 2022

for Miriam


Did you know then, just weeks before your nineteenth birthday,
as you rubbed disinfectant onto the inside
of your friend’s wrist, dipped the surgically clean needle

in India ink and, applying it gently
and taking care not to cause pain, pierced
the skin with its point again and again with

a steady hand, releasing the ink
and progressing little by little until
the clear outline of a larger-than-life bee appeared –

B for Beatrice, Brianna or Bee –
then having wiped away the excess ink and cleaned
the finished image with alcohol, and repeated

the process on your friend’s other forearm, drawing
a seated, cross-legged angel two inches
in height, bent over and resting her forehead

on her knees as though in thought, the wingspan
measuring three inches across – did you then know
that these winged beings would outlive you,

would move through the world, through the narrow streets
of your hometown and further afield
on a young woman’s warm breathing skin,

would be lifted in gestures of joy or despair, in dance
or the embrace of friends whom you had once
called your friends, too? How could you have known it

when you gave these tattoos as a gift for life,
inscribed with the clean lines of ink onto skin:
a namesake and a guardian, two messengers

taking wing in the growing light of spring days?
You couldn’t know we would have to mourn you,
much too soon and without warning

leaving us helpless, unable to grasp
your sudden death, because this
was not supposed to happen – not this – none of this.


We were so many in the ICU it was a wonder
the hospital staff didn’t fret and ask us to leave
and it was a wonder we didn’t wake you

the moment we were allowed in and gathered round you.
The ICU ward’s silence pressed on our ears, our hearts,
a silence broken only by the rhythmic sob

of the ventilator breathing into your lungs.
It was a wonder we had hope still, gazing at you
while the monitors flickered, your life support

scooping you up and lifting you elsewhere:
Snow White lying in a deep dream on snow-
white pillows, with your black hair and delicate face,

the endotracheal tube in your mouth, the ward an array
of glinting steel, monitors, oscillating graphs.
And while we stood there, your voice

rose suddenly like a wonder and filled the room
from a phone your mother had turned on to play:
a song we’d heard you sing not long before

with your own warm breath, your fingers picking
and holding down the guitar strings, your arm slung
casually round the curved body of the instrument.

And now we’re here beyond the unit’s door, lost and bereft,
all of us who loved you. We are tattooed now
with the permanent ink of grief

that penetrates past skin into the heart,
etches its sign, and colours all the world,
the same world that had opened up to you,

displaying the sweetness of its prospects
for just one moment
before slamming shut again.

You were nineteen that night of CPR and ambulance
and doctors in a rush that’s just a blur in our minds.
Often I think of the Sybil now

we’d seen with you in Paris at an exhibition
six months earlier on a screen.
She danced outside her cave among the whirling leaves

inscribed with people’s futures which she sang
in her strident voice while reading from the leaves.
We should have listened to her, but we didn’t know.

If she had picked a different leaf for you,
what would her prophecy have been? Would you have
been given a chance, would you have been granted life?


Tattoos by Eva Bourke
26 March 2024
ISBN 9781915629272 PB
ISBN 9781915629265
88 PP

Cover artwork Mountainside Cilin by Miriam de Búrca, by kind permission.

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