Irish Writers Festival McClure Poetry Prize in 2017

Green Milk

Irish Writers Festival McClure Poetry Prize in 2017

There are days I go there in my head. When the babble 

and sky of lowlands fail me and I climb the tumble


of six thousand meters, breathless, in the Himalayas.

I  leave the clangs of  Yak bells behind me, shedding 


tree lines, unlacing ravines of plunge.

I peel of millimeter by millimeter of old belief.


I lean into mountains which pull me to them 

while cascades rob rock of mineral silt


and as granite and gravity remain indifferent,

I dream of that green milk churning.


I climb past prayerwheels of sun-muted pastel

as veins fill with the release of water,


torrents of cloudy rage over, under Khumbu bones. 

Oxygen slides into memory. Blood thickens,


coursing. I come alive, drunk on wind-chill,

as this height. The seize of snow, china white,


smacks at seven thousand (where Boeings fly)

turns bones to glass, and heads to God, inclined.


In this place, the dying zone, the only real belief

is benevolance. Amen and apnoea are both submission.


Sagamartha is addiction. I’ve heard of men blinded,

hypnotized, torn between peak and the safe plod home.


Mesmerised by the crack of glaciers, and the need

to finally look down. Mountaineers, Sherpas alike


are marked on the moraine by stones and flags.

In scree above the Gura red Rhodedendrons, I pause.


Reverence, for the first time in my life, feels right.

Those who’ve never been here call it madness


but the hymns bursting streams are kaleidoscopic.

And if there must be religion, then let this be it.


“White Horses draws on a heritage of ethics and strong-mindedness that extends worldwide, through Germany and Europe to post-colonial Africa and the Himalayas, from the patriarchal and biblical past to a future where reason and the heart lie down together”.  Harry Clifton

“To read Jo Burns’ poems, is to feel exhilarated and enthralled.  She makes bold, unexpected leaps with language, able to mine history and place with authentic poignancy.  This collection will move you, and excite too, as Burns explores the spectacular and the strange, gifting us with vivid poems to be savoured. Poetry has a new, accomplished and necessary voice”.   Rebecca Goss