Holy Water

by Niamh Prior


My brothers playing soccer in the garden

and my mother out at work,

I tiptoed upstairs to the attic room 

to explore boxes of books, 

Treasure Island, The Famous Five,

getting lightheaded from the words 

and the smell of creamy paper,


from mites scurrying across old-fashioned 

illustrations, the dust motes floating 

in warm sunbeams through the skylight. 

Then I spotted a gleam behind an old handbag 

full of Mass bouquets and ‘Congratulations 

on your baby boy’ cards. Brave as 

Jim Hawkins I squeezed under the eaves,


risked splinters and the itch of yellow 

candy-floss insulation to get at it.

It was Mary I’d hailed so many times!

She’d appeared in the form 

of a plastic bottle, cobweb white, 

draped in robes of opaque blue. 

I knelt, half in hiding.


Twisting off her crown, I put the thread 

of her open head to my lips,

and knocked back the stagnant water in one. 

This was mine, this was real.

No Silvermints pretending to be

communion in the classroom. 

Finally a direct line. 


It tasted like a muddy puddle. 

I kept it down - the nausea passed - 

and I waited for the piety to take hold,

for the miracle, the apotheoses. 

Then I hid the empty bottle on 

a rafter in the shadow of the handbag

and crept back downstairs. 


I keep this to myself.