Catie May McAleese – ‘Thy Will Be Done’

“A mature exploration of the prize’s theme in vivid poetry.” – Andrew Jack, global education editor for the Financial Times and Orwell Youth Prize judge 2023

The colonies draw back into the Pale, claiming dominance, yet

fleeing the wind-burnt families of Bramble-thorn and rifle,

uniting to nourish their tense earth for every need.  


The people of burlap knitting and black iron cauldrons,

filled with a herb-ginger poultice for whichever child

has pneumonia presently- the weak. In the winter evenings the

eldest daughter will sigh as she heaves ladle-fulls of carrot

and lentil soup into chipped bowls. Serving it with stale barley

bread, watching as her family watches her every motion.


They sit in a half-moon around the hearth, each giving her a

meaningful look, meaning something she couldn’t understand.

They quickly eat their soup, mouths slavered, all the while holding

her fragmented gaze. She feels coarse as her brown curls escape

from a ragged headscarf; she is coarse and bitter and on fire.

She grasps the long twine: no-one can voice what they say so clearly.

They look repentant and guilty, with their wide eyes and illnesses.

She reigns the family with a severe stick, she is more of

a laundress than a lady. But who pities a lady? 

For that matter, who pities a laundress?


At night, beside her sisters, she thinks: ‘What do they mean,

what would they say, can they not speak?’ Finding that she,

herself, could not utter a word in the deep dark.


The middle daughter will mind the younger twins, 

the larger gripping his brother, biting open 

a burning moon on his shoulder.


Gradually chastising them as she herself becomes

overwhelmed. Falling down at the feet of her mother,

hunched and seized with rheumatism, who smiles at the

little girl and tells her to put on her tin mass brooch,

saying: “Now that you’re a lady you can take care of

the wanes no bother. Ladies are strong and keep order

and wear good brooches, Anne”. Vanity Unfair.


The youngest daughter sits on a tree stump, gazing

in the frosted panes and feeling powerless with a deep chill

making her vision blur and darken. Rose coughs several times

into her pale hands and notices specks of red on her palms.

She calls for father –her father– holding up her hands,

showing him, she really was sick and slept all day because

she couldn’t bear to stand.


The brute man looks out, feeling justified and unrepentant.

Then back at his soup, controlling the spoon in a coarse fist

-staring ‘stay’ into her soul- remembering his encounter

with Elouise, that morning at Market Square.


Her wrinkles and ribbons touching his cheek, murmuring:

and I fear that for very little, I could fall back in love.’ 


The oldest boy watches his sister from where he lies,

smoking, on an overgrown grave, singing of unfinished

rebellions. Open ground, waiting for the next to fall.

He lets the smoke through his body, occasionally

tapping the crudely engraved stone at his back.


“She should be in bed, you know,” he whispers, patting the soil.

He watches her, watch their family, each assuming authority;

thinking remorselessly how he wished she would just go in and die

quietly, like a cat.


Once, mile birds chilled in the ether, a frantic proof of notions

and ideals. “Look at them, see how they lift, puffs of ash on a

shoestring”, he gestures to mallards, sparrows, pines, ash. “The

tendril cuffed stalks of resin which burrow and rise so desperately.

We balance each other, Rose; I am under your control little sister.

Someday I will smuggle you under my hat and we will be free.”

She giggled and said he had the soul of a poet, poked him with a

sharpened stick. In his gut, in his heart.


He hung back, conferring with snapped branches over lost life.  


He draws sketches of limestone castles, American ballrooms

and marble chapels in the crunching frost. Singeing the grass,

then barely grazing the surface with a match, he will bring none

of these people to his remote places; where the winters are just

as mild as the summers and burning hunger is felt by none.

They will stay here and understand what it means to be

trampled. He will ensure it.


He thinks and feels intensely for a sixteen-year-old, his old soul

has wandered for too long to be controlled by open ground once more.


Catie May McAleese is highly commended in the senior category of The Orwell Youth Prize 2023