Seanín Hughes

Making ‘Den of Sibyl Wren’ by Salma Ahmad Caller


Notes on Salma Ahmad Caller’s process for the making of ‘Den of Sibyl Wren’.


The Den of Sibyl Wren is my response to A Hierarchy of Halls (forthcoming, Smithereens Press, 2018) by Christine Murray. It is my response to words Chris wrote about how she feels about this poem, and what she sees in her mind’s eye.
Details of the image ‘Den of Sibyl Wren’ by Salma Ahmad Caller 
Materials: Watercolour, Indian ink, collage, graphite and gold pigment on Fabriano acid free paper 57cm x 76.3cm

My process involves an intense working back and forth with words and images in my imagination. I write a lot as part of my creative process as an artist, and these writings help me create and develop the visual image. The so-called ‘visual’ image is to me embodied, materialised, haptic and tactile. So the ‘image’ in poetry…

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Seanín Hughes, Shade


She was always a mad bitch. If it wasn’t for me, she’d have had nothin, not after her Da. The poor fucker couldn’t take anymore, y’know? Between the wife and the daughter his head was turned to fuckin mush. I says I’d do him a turn and take the girl and he was as relieved, so he was, sittin there in his kitchen with the stained walls and filthy fuckin floor. Sure she never knew how to lift a mop til I showed her. Same day I had to show her the fist, too, and put her right on a few matters. I’ve had more than one shade of her on the knuckles since.

So there’s me, and there’s her and I make her my wife. I doubt she was ever as fuckin lucky in her life, but it didn’t stop her from makin a show of herself at the…

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Smile, Sugar

when your palm pressed

against mine, you unzipped

those pearl homilies

tallied across your skin

and showed me your reasons

for keeping count. I saw


your mother hiding

in the medicine cabinet, clinging

to the brown bottle —

her stash of tiny anchors

while you have none


your father’s whiskey-spit,

his fists, his laugh, the limp

you blamed on pulled ligaments


and that boy, who

put red flowers in your mouth

and told you to smile more

so you taste better.

Points of Reference

My axis is a blister pack

containing copper dots –

take one tablet three times daily

to subdue that feeling skin of yours.

Without it, I become

a wailing organ in a monsoon,

the eyeless monarch on the heath;

a roomful of smashed mirrors,

or a carpet of teeth, canine,

sharp and starving.

My axis is a blister pack

containing points of reference –

full stops that say there, now

pause and breathe –

see: a fat moon, a torch,

chamomile to taste;

plumes of smoke, burning peat

in the crisp air of October –

a coming sleep,

the quiet feather fall of dusk

and everything dressed softly

in its sepia self,

including me.


womb wrapped/skin silk

pulse pure/warm milk

hours soft/heart drum

rose mouth/clasped thumb

loose tooth/gummy gap

pillow treasure/starmapped

skinned knee/knuckle pop

tongue catching/rain drop

other body/lips lost

limbs enfold/criss crossed

foster flesh/breath songs

here going/going gone

white shock/slow rest

hands locked/full blessed

last psalm/cold coil

into fire/into soil


Image: ‘paracosmos’ by torbakhopper

Daughter, please         hold my hand. There is rain       coming; look — a congregation of heavy promise

waits above our heads

to bathe us.        It gives God

to our ordinary air. Aren’t you

beautiful? I have a gift for you. 


hold my hand; k ep me in your tender palm. Parts of me are fading — your name, your sister       flowers.

Did    have sons? Oh.  Why must

I be               dismantled

s  slowly? I’m afraid. Please     hold my hand. I’m s rry.

Aren’t you          beautiful?

I have a gift for you; diphylleia — the rain makes a s-skeleton    most gentle          from its petals, translucent when touched        by falling skies in Japan. See how its colours      weep

— see that crown of clarity, the petals

in     their party dress, clear as

Cind rella’s glass slipper. Ar n’t you

b autiful?

Pl ase, dau  ter,

hold my hand. Parts of me     fading. A   ‘t you beautiful? There’ll b   ain    for flow rs

today. I named you

after a

fl wer,  crowned  you   mine. Please

I  m

be utif l.

hold my hand?

First published on Poethead, June 2017

Going Dutch

image: Paperfish6, Jacque Davis

I cut my teeth on you;

let enamel tear

through the warm pink tissue

of adolescence.

I bared my legs, but bent them inward,

dressed them in angles in case

you found them

too soft

too fleshy. You didn’t (they weren’t).

I kept my hair down

so subtle shadows fell

where cheekbones might be,

stolen symmetry, in case

you realised I wasn’t

pretty enough. You didn’t (I was).

We’d play pool –

I never won (I never cared) –

and eat chips on the way home;

you paid your way and

I paid mine, and I never needed

to wear my coat (I did), until

that one night when

you didn’t walk me home,

the night I fell asleep and

you cut your teeth on me,

the ones you lied through (you did),

and I paid in full.

First published by Poethead, June 2017.



I’m strutting: stratospheric,

embellished and splendid

in my NHS wedding dress.

My mother was here before me,

her father before her, his uncle

before that, lucky lucky me.

Our platinum gilted heirloom hops generations and genders,

our gene pool a puddle of madness

thickened with blood and tear-streaked shrieking saliva.

I’m in my unsilent season,

souped up and bursting,

far too sexy

to sedate. This is my circus

and I am the airborne acrobat

defying my earthly anchors

until they come for me,


First published on Poethead, June 2017.

Pink Is A Sister Sick 

with sweetness. Bright;

blinds beautiful men, robs

them of their enamel, but

they never protest.

Fat lashes fan those

flushed cheeks, like

blood blushing milk,

bones so high and hollow

beneath. Pink licks the dark,

but refuses to wear it.

I went panning for

black diamonds in her hair

in our girlhood, and found

nothing but dirty pebbles

and rust for treasure; I

couldn’t love her. She’s

a predator with doll parts,

a perfect Pinocchio gone

rogue and hungry

for boyprey.

I’ve got a perverted

prayer that in time, she’ll

dissolve into herself;

melt at midday,

nothing more

than a

discarded boiled sweet.

First published by Chris Murray at Poethead, June 2017.