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maureen oliver painting of a young woman's head

Seventeen - oil on canvas, 2004 © Maureen Oliver

Maureen Oliver presents a selection of her poetry

Maureen Oliver has been writing since childhood. She says that "in a sense it was my first love, though for many years treatment with large doses of psychiatric drugs rendered me unable to express myself creatively."

Eventually, however, she began to write again and had work published with Rethink’s ‘Perceptions’ magazine, Survivors’ Poetry and Chipmunka.

‘Breaking Down & Poetry’ was published in 2007 by Chipmunka, who have since published three more of her books: ‘Short Stories & Poetry’, ‘Being Icarus’ and ‘Molly Cullen, Blessings on the Wild Child’.

You can see a selection of Maureen Oliver's artwork in her Dao gallery.

Breaking Down

It was snuggling warmth,
it was babies suckling
in a cosy kitchen,
while bread baked
sending fragrance
along the hall
and out into the misty
autumn streets.

It was laughter, sometimes
tears, but smiles and soft words
and coruscating gold and
silver light glowing
as she lit the candles
on the birthday cakes,
warming fire on those days of
biting frost.

The sun would filter
through the lacy patterned
tree outside the window
as they baked together,
played together,
modelled shapeless little things
and painted pictures; bright strokes
of colour falling,
splashing on the paper.

The pickaxe shattered all of that.
In a fearful arch of pain it rose and fell,
audible, awful, screaming, full of dread,
and she could not stop it, the breaking down.
That world that seemed so safe, entire,
so whole, smashed all to pieces and
however long she would try to put it back
no amount of Heaven's glue
would ever mend those
broken hearts.


Last night I had a dream,
in my dream I was surrounded
by doctors, nurses, social workers -
I was the patient, the client;
like cake fashioned in the shape
of a woman,
all melt in the mouth soft sponge,
wholesome - compliant;
"Helpless" said a nurse.
Yet my humility was fake;
I might be drenched
in sugary sweetness but
inside I was rotgut whiskey,
raging against vulnerability,
raging against the world.


I knew she was around again -
felt her presence, almost palpable,
in the corners of the dim lit room and
the dark recesses of mind.
Even in the garden's misty
autumn light she has been
rustling through the leaves,
shimmering silver in the falling rain.

Now she turns her face to me -
a loving face - pure personification
of kindness. Her liquid gaze, her smiling rosy lips
belie the ancient truth,
for now she turns her head
and terror grips me as I see
the other side of her -
the darkness, the vacancy.

No warmth in this aspect - her eyes flash
with spite, the mouth is drawn back
over snarling teeth.
I recoil in fear, step back a little -
it's too late, she has  taken me
to Hades, where I will stay,
longing for one last  glimpse
of  that bright smile.


I never fancy men these days
they don't mean a lot to me,
don't get me wrong they're OK,
they just don't ever turn me on.

Their hairy chests
their smelly breath
just make me turn and run
but I remember a callow boy
and how he turned me on.

I never fancy men at all
they never turn me on,
I'm a woman centred woman,
that's what makes me strong.

Memories live on and sentiments fine its true but,
don't get me wrong,
I don't need a man to make me strong -
it's women who turn me on.

The Lost Boy

I saw him again
yesterday, the Lost Boy,
still in that same baby blue
school sweatshirt.
This Catholic child with the face of
an angel,
an angel unaccountably fallen -
fallen here among us.

We are mere shades in our own
personal Hell -
a demon on each one's shoulder.
About the once shining youth there is still
a detectable, faintly shimmering, radiance,
hope's innocent halo -
 but tarnished, fading now.
Today his hair is two-tone,
one side bright bleached yellow.
He cracks a joke, "It was a bargain, I got it done
half-price". Then he lights a cigarette,
twisting his mouth into a crooked grin -
and everyone smiles.


The voice in my head
recites speeches I will never say
to people who would not want to hear.
Don't give me empty phrases, useless words,
just tell me stories, spin me rhymes,
that I may write and pray
through the long night,
the restless day.

The Maze

Winner of the Martha Robinson Poetry Prize 2009

Sometimes it seemed futile
as she wandered aimless
through the maze,
uncertain of her direction,
losing heart - would she ever find the centre?
And where was the exit?
What awaited her behind
the tangle of  thorny growth
that hemmed her in?

There were potholes
and sometimes gaping chasms would
appear so that she feared
falling helpless to her doom.
What would save her then?
Would some divine hand lift her
from destruction?
What was that force that
drove her onward?
That filed her beating heart with hope?

Dazed at times she'd stumble
over rocky paths between the twisted vines.
She only knew she must persevere,
would there be glory?
would there be joy?
But the game would end someday
then, perhaps, at last, she'd learn
the secret of the maze.

Eve and the Pomegranate

She takes the fruit,
its dimpled rosy skin is
hard, unyielding.
Undeterred, she breaks it open,
it splits
and the blood red seeds spill
into her palm.
She lifts them to her mouth,
she eats, slurping the delicious juices;
pulp slides down her body
in a crimson stream.
She closes her eyes in pleasure
and something stirs in the garden;
a serpent's tail slides away
out of sight.

You Can't Cuddle a God

It's all very well consorting
with gods and goddesses,
radiant in glory - ineffable.
Coruscating hallowed holy divinity -
omnipotent deities.
It's all very well conversing
with a carved and perfect
face of stone,
or sensing the Mother Goddess
thrill in the earth.
It's all very well but...
if you reach out in the dark night
to touch them
there's only empty air there.
Well may your arms ache...
you can't cuddle a god.