Jul 132021
 

Rivers level granite mountains,
Rains wash the figures from the sundial,
The plowshare wears thin in the furrow;
And on the fingers of the mighty,
The gold of authority is bright
With the glitter of attrition.

trans. by Kenneth Rexroth

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Mar 182021
 

Let them not forget us, the weak souls among the asphodels.
                                                                           —Seferis, Mythistorema
(for J. G. Farrell)

Even now there are places where a thought might grow —
Peruvian mines, worked out and abandoned
To a slow clock of condensation,
An echo trapped for ever, and a flutter
Of wildflowers in the lift-shaft,
Indian compounds where the wind dances
And a door bangs with diminished confidence,
Lime crevices behind rippling rain barrels,
Dog corners for bone burials;

And in a disused shed in Co. Wexford,
Deep in the grounds of a burnt-out hotel,
Among the bathtubs and the washbasins
A thousand mushrooms crowd to a keyhole.
This is the one star in their firmament
Or frames a star within a star.
What should they do there but desire?
So many days beyond the rhododendrons
With the world waltzing in its bowl of cloud,
They have learnt patience and silence
Listening to the rooks querulous in the high wood.

They have been waiting for us in a foetor
Of vegetable sweat since civil war days,
Since the gravel-crunching, interminable departure
Of the expropriated mycologist.
He never came back, and light since then
Is a keyhole rusting gently after rain.
Spiders have spun, flies dusted to mildew
And once a day, perhaps, they have heard something —
A trickle of masonry, a shout from the blue
Or a lorry changing gear at the end of the lane.

There have been deaths, the pale flesh flaking
Into the earth that nourished it;
And nightmares, born of these and the grim
Dominion of stale air and rank moisture.
Those nearest the door grow strong —
‘Elbow room! Elbow room!’
The rest, dim in a twilight of crumbling
Utensils and broken pitchers, groaning
For their deliverance, have been so long
Expectant that there is left only the posture.

A half century, without visitors, in the dark —
Poor preparation for the cracking lock
And creak of hinges; magi, moonmen,
Powdery prisoners of the old regime,
Web-throated, stalked like triffids, racked by drought
And insomnia, only the ghost of a scream
At the flash-bulb firing-squad we wake them with
Shows there is life yet in their feverish forms.
Grown beyond nature now, soft food for worms,
They lift frail heads in gravity and good faith.

They are begging us, you see, in their wordless way,
To do something, to speak on their behalf
Or at least not to close the door again.
Lost people of Treblinka and Pompeii!
‘Save us, save us,’ they seem to say,
‘Let the god not abandon us
Who have come so far in darkness and in pain.
We too had our lives to live.
You with your light meter and relaxed itinerary,
Let not our naive labours have been in vain!’

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Mar 172021
 

No wise man ever wished to be younger.

                                                     — Swift

          1

Down the long library each marble bust
shines unregarded through a shower of dust
where a grim ghost paces for exercise
in wet weather: nausea, gout, ‘some days
I hardly think it worth my time to rise’.
Not even the love of friends can quite appease
the vertigo, sore ears and inner voices;
deep-draughted rain clouds, a rock lost in space,
yahoos triumphant in the marketplace,
the isle is full of intolerable noises.

          2

Go with the flow; no, going against the grain
he sits in his rocking chair with a migraine,
a light in the church all day till evensong,
the sort of day in which a man might hang.
No riding out to bubbling stream and weir,
to the moist meadow and white belvedere;
on tattling club and coffee house a pox,
a confederacy of dunces and mohocks —
scholars and saints be d-mn’d, slaves to a hard
reign and our own miniature self-regard.

          3

We emerge from hibernation to ghetto-blasters
much better than our old Sony transistors,
consensual media, permanent celebration,
share options, electronic animation,
wave motion of site-specific daffodils,
closed-circuit video in the new hotels;
for Niamh and Oisín have come to earth once more
with blinding breastplate and tempestuous hair,
new festive orthodoxy and ironic icon,
their faces lit up like the Book of Kells.

          4

Defrosting the goose-skin on Bridget’s daughters
spring sunlight sparkles among parking meters,
wizards on stilts, witches on circus bikes,
jokers and jugglers, twitching plastic snakes,
pop music of what happens, throbbing skies,
star wars, designer genes, sword sorceries.
We’ve no nostalgia for the patristic croziers,
fridges and tumble-dryers of former years,
rain-spattered cameras in O’Connell St.,
the sound mikes buffeted by wind and sleet —

         5

but this is your birthday and I want to recall
a first-floor balcony under a shower of hail
where our own rowdy crowd stood to review
post-Christian gays cavorting up Fifth Avenue,
wise-cracking dialogue as quick and dry
as that in The Big Sleep or The Long Goodbye;
for we too had our season in Tír na nÓg,
a Sacred Heart girl and a Protestant rogue,
chill sunshine warming us to the very bone,
our whole existence one erogenous zone.

          6

I could resign these structures and devices,
these fancy flourishes and funny voices
to a post-literate, audio-visual realm
of uncial fluorescence, song and film,
as curious symptoms of a weird transition
before we opted to be slaves of fashion —
for now, whatever the ancestral dream,
we give ourselves to a vast corporate scheme
where our true wit is devalued once again,
our solitude known only to the rain.

          7

The one reality is the perpetual flow,
chaos of complex systems. Each generation
does what it must; middle age and misanthropy,
like famine and religion, make poor copy,
and even the present vanishes like snow
off a rope, frost off a ditch, ice in the sun —
so back to the desktop and the drawing board,
prismatic natural light, slow-moving cloud,
the waves far-thundering in a life of their own,
a young woman hitching a lift on a country road.

     

 

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Mar 042021
 

I returned to a long strand,
the hammered curve of a bay,  
and found only the secular
powers of the Atlantic thundering.

I faced the unmagical
invitations of Iceland,
the pathetic colonies
of Greenland, and suddenly

those fabulous raiders,
those lying in Orkney and Dublin  
measured against
their long swords rusting,

those in the solid
belly of stone ships,
those hacked and glinting
in the gravel of thawed streams

were ocean-deafened voices
warning me, lifted again
in violence and epiphany.
The longship’s swimming tongue

was buoyant with hindsight—
it said Thor’s hammer swung
to geography and trade,
thick-witted couplings and revenges,

the hatreds and behind-backs
of the althing, lies and women,  
exhaustions nominated peace,  
memory incubating the spilled blood.

It said, ‘Lie down
in the word-hoard, burrow  
the coil and gleam
of your furrowed brain.

Compose in darkness.  
Expect aurora borealis  
in the long foray
but no cascade of light.

Keep your eye clear
as the bleb of the icicle,
trust the feel of what nubbed treasure  
your hands have known.’

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Jan 212021
 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

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