It can be bitter here at times like this,
November wind sweeping across the border.
Its seeds of ice would cut you to the quick.
The whole town tucked up safe and dreaming,
for Brendan Kennelly
It was the piebald horse in next door's garden
frightened me out of a dream
with her dawn whinny. I was back
in the boxroom of the house,
my brother's room now,
full of ties and sweaters and secrets.
Bottles chinked on the doorstep,
the first bus pulled up to the stop.
The rest of the house slept
except for my father. I heard
him rake the ash from the grate,
plug in the kettle, hum a snatch of a tune.
Then he unlocked the back door
and stepped out into the garden.
Autumn was nearly done, the first frost
whitened the slates of the estate.
He was older than I had reckoned,
his hair completely silver,
and for the first time I saw the stoop
of his shoulder, saw that
his leg was stiff. What's he at?
So early and still stars in the west?
They came then: birds
of every size, shape, colour; they came
from the hedges and shrubs,
from eaves and garden sheds,
from the industrial estate, outlying fields,
from Dubber Cross they came
and the ditches of the North Road.
The garden was a pandemonium
when my father threw up his hands
and tossed the crumbs to the air. The sun
cleared O'Reilly's chimney
and he was suddenly radiant,
a perfect vision of St Francis,
made whole, made young again,
in a Finglas garden.
The first warm day of spring
and I step out into the garden from the gloom
of a house where hope had died
to tally the storm damage, to seek what may
have survived. And finding some forgotten
lupins I'd sown from seed last autumn
holding in their fingers a raindrop each
like a peace offering, or a promise,
I am suddenly grateful and would
offer a prayer if I believed in God.
But not believing, I bless the power of seed,
its casual, useful persistence,
and bless the power of sun,
its conspiracy with the underground,
and thank my stars the winter's ended.
To sit an hour in gratitude, the heart
opening to dustmote sunbeam deep shade
in this sequoia grove the mind expands
to the edge of the forest which is the edge
of mind where I see the enchanted path
in and through the teeming forest of childhood,
your poetry written on my empty hands,
the leaves, your pages dreaming a whole age:
its mysteries writ clear as a star chart
across the heavens — the trail you have blazed —
O to be alive! The blest holy land
beneath my bare feet, humble and privileged;
to follow after, to walk the same earth,
to get down and kiss the ground of your birth.
8th of May, 2010
‘Honour the dust …' wrote Gary Snyder
in my old copy of No Nature
before Bella, our beloved dog,
got her teeth into it. Now dog eared,
well chewed, much annotated, it sits
on a bockety shelf right beside
the well made box wherein lies her wag,
her bark, her growl, her lick, her rapture
of devotion — her dust we honour.
from Geomantic, Dedalus Press, Dublin, 2016
It's a happy dream though in it you were
Humping some dancer in a run down gaff
A seafront hotel out of season where
I'm in a kitchen on the single bed
I've pulled from a drawer like the silk scarf
Of the seafront carny man who's filling in for
ManDuck The Magician star of stage and screen
I saw earlier that day at the end of the pier
I had sheets of Belfast linen but you
Had the dancer. And had her again
While the dawn struggled to break on the sea
And break on the quick and the slow and the dead
When I woke the next morning under the bed
Dustdevils, feathers and some child's brown shoes
The field itself is lost the morning it becomes a site
When the Notice goes up: Fingal County Council - 44 houses
The memory of the field is lost with the loss of its herbs
Though the woodpigeons in the willow
And the finches in what's left of the hawthorn hedge
And the wagtail in the elder
Sing on their hungry summer song
The magpies sound like flying castanets
And the memory of the field disappears with its flora:
Who can know the yearning of yarrow
Or the plight of the scarlet pimpernel
Whose true colour is orange?
And the end of the field is the end of the hidey holes
Where first smokes, first tokes, first gropes
Were had to the scentless mayweed
The end of the field as we know it is the start of the estate
The site to be planted with houses each two or three bedroom
Nest of sorrow and chemical, cargo of joy
The end of dandelion is the start of Flash
The end of dock is the start of Pledge
The end of teazel is the start of Ariel
The end of primrose is the start of Brillo
The end of thistle is the start of Bounce
The end of sloe is the start of Oxyaction
The end of herb robert is the start of Brasso
The end of eyebright is the start of Fairy
Who amongst us is able to number the end of grasses
To number the losses of each seeding head?
I'll walk out once
Barefoot under the moon to know the field
Through the soles of my feet to hear
The myriad leaf lives green and singing
The million million cycles of being in wing
That - before the field become solely map memory
In some archive of some architect's screen
I might possess it or it possess me
Through its night dew, its moon white caul
Its slick and shine and its prolifigacy
In every wingbeat in every beat of time
Like a knitted Dutch mitten
found in a patch of snow
I pull the word for little house
over my frozen fingers -
crawling in sunlight
over my own shadow
dragging my bundle of hides
my bundle of skins
towards the door and in
to the stink of sleep
my hand thawed at last
from its carapace of ice.
staggering towards me
I've cast you off
shrugged you off
left you, put you down at the side of the road
by any passing predator
old skin - when your face splits open
in recognition -
you know me now
but not what bar you left me in -
what else would you say but
‘how're ya, me oul skin'