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,
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.