He's here to sing his latest song;
it's all about an afternoon
I never heard him talk about,
when uncle Rab went through the ice
and vanished in the waiting loch
until they pulled him out in time,
beneath a sky of fear and salt.
But Paddy always shunned the light
and suddenly refused to sing.
It's late and wild and Paddy's off,
his forehead angled to the sheets
of lightning and the rolling road,
towards the cottage by the bridge.
I stood and watched them walk away,
remembering the shapes and sparks
reflected in the well one night;
their faces blank and rippling slow.
What was it that we really saw
beneath that spread of silver lights?
How real the thing we gazed upon!
I didn't know a single star.
In all the blackness, not a one;
but oh, their light was in me then
and dark, how dark the darkness was,
the depth that I was springing in
of that wild symphony of stars;
the terror somewhere at my back:
a little house that's disappeared
beneath their ruined memories,
my mother's ashes, trees and weeds,
and meagre stories that remain;
my mumblings to these porous walls.
I am my mouth and little else,
and Paddy, like a giant, walks
and leaps and sings along the track
with Toy and all their dancing ghosts,
a host of shadows holding on
to all the starlight fading here,
on stooks and sheaves I saw them stack,
on laughter under august skies
before they swapped the fifties for
a less convincing innocence;
the broken kind that breaks too well.
With oxygen in short supply
below the ladder on the ice
they rose and shook it off like dogs,
in harder times, but soon enough
I saw the tightness in the men
who struggled night and day to thrive,
and in the poor who truly cared,
who leapt and sang to save themselves
from all their hopes, the bitter stones
that crowd the edge of dreams that drift;
and in the houses all the wives
who slaved their narrow lives away.
But not in nineteen fifty eight.
The past was at its widest then;
my mother's eyes still full of stars,
the glist'ning night a flawless kiss
above the ruins in the wings,
above the faces in the well.