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MAHON, Derek

The poets lie where they fell

There is no rest for the wicked.

Curled up in armchairs

Or flat out on the floors

Of well-furnished apartments

Belonging to friends of friends,

We lie where we fell.

One more shiftless habit,

It joins the buttered books,

Stale loaves and wandering dishes,

The shirts in the oven

And the volcanic ashtray.

Forgive us, this is our way;

We were born to this –

Deckchairs, train corridors,

American bus stations,

Park benches, open boats,

And wind –worried terraces

Of nineteenth century Paris.

Forgive us, we mean well

To your wives’ well-wrought ankles.

Their anthropomorphic shoes.

We love your dying embers,

Your happy moonstruck bottles,

And we lie where we fell.

Back home in mid morning

We wash, we change and drink

Coffee, perhaps we sing.

Then off we go once more,

Smiling our secret smile and only

Slightly the worse for wear.

A Garage in Co. Cork

Surely you paused at this roadside oasis

In your nomadic youth, and saw the mound

Of never-used cement, the curious faces,

The soft-drink ads and the uneven ground

Rainbowed with oily puddles, where a snail

Had scrawled its slimy, phosphorescent trail.

Like a frontier store-front in an old western

It might have nothing behind it but thin air,

Building materials, fruit boxes, scrap iron,

Dust-laden shrubs and coils of rusty wire,

A cabbage-white fluttering in the sodden

Silence of an untended kitchen garden —

Nirvana! But the cracked panes reveal a dark

Interior echoing with the cries of children.

Here in this quiet corner of Co. Cork

A family ate, slept, and watched the rain

Dance clean and cobalt the exhausted grit

So that the mind shrank from the glare of it.

Where did they go? South Boston? Cricklewood?

Somebody somewhere thinks of this as home,

Remembering the old pumps where they stood,

Antique now, squirting juice into a cream

Lagonda or a dung-caked tractor while

A cloud swam on a cloud-reflecting tile.

Surely a whitewashed sun-trap at the back

Gave way to hens, wild thyme, and the first few

Shadowy yards of an overgrown cart track,

Tyres in the branches such as Noah knew —

Beyond, a swoop of mountain where you heard,

Disconsolate in the haze, a single blackbird.

Left to itself, the functional will cast

A death-bed glow of picturesque abandon.

The intact antiquities of the recent past,

Dropped from the retail catalogues, return

To the materials that gave rise to them

And shine with a late sacramental gleam.

A god who spent the night here once rewarded

Natural courtesy with eternal life —

Changing to petrol pumps, that they be spared

For ever there, an old man and his wife.

The virgin who escaped his dark design

Sanctions the townland from her prickly shrine.

We might be anywhere but are in one place only,

One of the milestones of earth-residence

Unique in each particular, the thinly

Peopled hinterland serenely tense —

Not in the hope of a resplendent future

But with a sure sense of its intrinsic nature.

Noon at St. Michael's

Nurses and nuns —

their sails whiter than those

of the yachts in the bay, they come and go

on winged feet, most of them, or in sensible shoes.

July, and I should be climbing among stones

or diving, but for broken bones,

from the rocks below.

I try to read

a new novel set aside;

but a sword-swift pain

in the left shoulderblade, the result

of a tumble in Sheridan Square, makes reading difficult:

writing you can do in your head.

It starts to rain

on the sea,

suddenly dark, the pier,

the gardens and the church spires of Dun Laoghaire.

You would think it was suddenly October

as smoke flaps, the yachts tack violently

and those caught in the downpour

run for cover.

But in a few

minutes the sun shines again,

the leaves and hedges glisten as if with dew

in that fragrant freshness after rain

when the world seems made anew

before confusion, before pain;

and I think of you,

a funny-face

but solemn, with the sharpest mind I know,

a thoughtful creature of unconscious grace

bent to your books in the sun or driving down

to New York for an evening on the town.

Doors open wherever you go

in that furious place;

for you are the light

rising on lost islands, the spéir-bhean

the old poets saw gleam in the morning mist.

When you walk down Fifth Avenue in your lavender suit,

your pony eyes opaque, I am the one

beside you, and life is bright

with the finest and best.

And I have seen,

as you have not, such is your modesty,

men turn to watch your tangle of golden hair,

your graceful carriage and unhurried air

as if you belonged to history

of ‘ her story’, that mystery.

You might have been

a saint or a great

courtesan, anachronistic now

in some ways, in some ways more up-to-date

than the most advanced of those we know.

While you sit on your sun-porch in Connecticut

re-reading Yeats in a feminist light

I am there with you.