• CHECKPOINT

    Out of the deep galaxies
    of detail and the blind ways
    that we go and the light
    or dark that shines on us

    there is this measure of
    the nitty-gritty impact
    that I've made so far
    upon the earth:

    an unreckonable fraction
    of a millimetre in
    wear-down of polished
    kerbstone, the first

    on the bridge,
    southwestern side,
    after I step at half-past
    midnight out of

    Maggie Dunne's
    in Carrick Beg
    to cross again
    (no record of how many

    times in all, of which
    no two the same
    in one direction
    or the other),

    cross again that old bridge
    built before Columbus,
    on my way to sleep
    in Carrick Mór

    where the weir plays
    when the tide's away
    and sometimes
    between quays

    I'm pulled up
    and asked where
    I've come from
    and where I'm going

    by stars
    that stand
    on night-watch
    in the river.... more »

  • COMMONWEALTH

    How odd of my wife
    I thought at the time
    to pluck bay leaves
    to season her stews
    from a tree that shades
    the grave of a girl
    in Kilclispeen.

    Mary Dempsey
    knew seventeen springs
    before they laid her
    into the earth,
    before the bay tree
    put down roots

    before my mother
    and father knew
    fruit of the tree
    of life.

    Sitting at table
    with wife and child
    I relish the dish
    and acknowledge the guest
    who is part of the feast -

    you're welcome, Mary,
    into my house
    and you're more than welcome
    into my mouth

    for this is the way
    the world goes round
    from the first kiss

    to the baby's milk,
    from the first word
    to the tongue's last sound -

    bread of communion
    we taste in the mouth
    is broken in commonwealth
    under the ground.... more »

  • LETTING GO

    I love the abandon
    of abandoned things

    the harmonium surrendering
    in a churchyard in Aherlow,
    the hearse resigned to nettles
    behind a pub in Carna,
    the tin dancehall possessed
    by convolvulus in Kerry,
    the living room that hosts
    a tree in south Kilkenny.

    I sense a rapture
    in deserted things

    washed-out circus posters
    derelict on gables,
    lush forgotten sidings
    of country railway stations,
    bat droppings profligate
    on pew and font and lectern,
    the wedding dress a dog
    has nosed from a dustbin.

    I love the openness
    of things no longer viable,
    I sense their shameless
    slow unbuttoning:
    the implicit nakedness
    there for the taking,
    the surrender to the dance
    of breaking and creating.... more »

  • NORMAL SINGING

    The day is now well advanced. And yet it is perhaps a little soon for my song. To sing too soon is fatal, I always find. On the other hand it is possible to leave it too late. The bell goes for sleep and one has not sung.
    - Winnie, Happy Days
    The piano reclines in the bar's back room
    where in all of its nights and days
    it never knew caress
    or climax of any kind of sonata.
    It's missing two castors behind
    and so leans back at its ease
    in a corner where drinkers pass
    to and fro with bladders full or relieved.

    On the piano and around the room
    are eleven pots of exotic flowers
    that winter or summer never
    need watering, and in the bar are seven
    more pots of the same.

    Over it all is Ellen, who has stood
    by an open grave in her time
    to see husband and son go down
    and almost followed them there
    on the wintry day she collapsed
    in the yard and was out for the count
    two hours on her own. Following which

    she fought her way back and after six months
    dusted off pots of flowers and threw
    the front door open again
    to people and drink and singing

    for this is a house where lifetimes
    of tipsy songs have been sung
    and a place for the singsong still,
    while the laid-back piano with flowers
    just sits in the back room and listens.

    It's taken for granted here
    that every woman and man
    must harbour some kind of a song

    and if you should happen
    to stumble or lose your way
    then you'll be forgiven,
    or helped along if anyone
    else knows the words.

    On New Year's Eve the bar is full
    with spill-over into the room
    of the waterless flowers
    and laid-back piano, with songs
    all around and tactful calls
    now and then for a bit of hush.

    Ellen's behind the bar, with Sheila
    and Tommy and Margaret assisting,
    and women done up to the nines for
    the night that's in it. Colour it simple

    and sacred, this mortal occasion
    of souls assembled to mark
    the flux between all that is gone,
    and all the unknown to come.

    Outside, a steady downpour
    advancing from Slievenamon

    courses over roof-ridges, slates
    and gutters and windows and walls,
    streaming down Lough Street, gurgling
    into dark drains and off to the river,
    then on and on to the sea forever.

    As the old year runs out
    the back door's unlocked to let it go.
    Open the front then to flowing night
    and face whatever may come.

    Under the plenteous rain
    that descends on the valley
    midnight strikes on the Town Clock bell
    that has measured the hours
    for two hundred years

    and there, slipping in from the dark,
    the poet from Ayr just in time
    with his presence as all join hands
    and rise to his song together with
    millions of others elsewhere
    this night of old acquaintance.

    Then round the house an exchange of well-wishing,
    embraces and kisses and tears
    before we return to replenishing glasses
    and normal singing continues.... more »

  • THE CLUB

    You don't realise until you're forty or so
    that by then everyone of your age or more
    is walking around with some old wound that's buried
    back of the eyes or somewhere under the coat.

    Even then you forget that some of those you pass
    with a nod every day on the road took their hits
    quite early on, though you may not remember ever
    seeing them stumble or fall or hearing them moan

    since that was before the water cleared to show
    that wounding seems part of some general plan, with rules
    that are not just bloody unfair, they're bloody unknown.
    Strange how it took so long for the light to dawn

    that sooner or later your own due turn would come
    to take one in the shoulder or the gut,
    entitling you to limp into the club,
    a member in good standing, now fully paid-up.... more »

  • THE JACKDAWS OF CHAPEL STREET

    the jackdaws of chapel street
    don't care much either way
    for weddings, births or funerals
    or what the people say

    they perch on roofs and chimney-stacks
    and watch processions pass
    the drunken and the dead man
    the crowd from sunday mass

    they cast a grey and empty eye
    upon the play below
    they nest and feed and squabble
    while generations go

    the grieving man behind the hearse
    looks up to see them pairing
    above the cold stone statues
    that wind and rain are wearing

    the jackdaws of chapel street
    don't care much for the people
    but blithely shit on tombstones
    and fornicate on steeples... more »

  • WEATHERING ANGELS OF ARDMORE

    They never look up at the round tower,
    the weathering angels of Ardmore,
    nor out to sea for invaders or friends coming in,
    nor do they ever turn aside towards
    Michael weighing the souls, or
    Adam and Eve about to fall
    under the tree nearby that's chiselled in stone.

    If you freed your mind for a minute
    you might imagine the two of them
    gazing out from the heavens some night
    and deciding to glide down, making
    angelic approach along the Waterford coast
    and landing at dawn on the round
    tower of Ardmore, for this was a place

    they'd heard about, with its saint
    whose heaven-sent bell came sailing
    over the sea on a floating rock,
    and the thousands who gathered each year
    on Declan's Day to pray and carouse
    and hope for a cure.

    A bell tolled noon and from their perch
    they saw a crowd wend
    out of the village and toil uphill
    bearing a human child
    to be laid in a hole in the ground
    with prayers and reaching of hands
    and embracing and tears -

    so never again did they spread a celestial
    wing except to descend and tenderly
    turn to stone, over that freshly made
    bed among haphazard cells of clay,
    among humps and hollows of time
    and memory dressed
    in grasses and flowers
    breaking from the unfillable
    landfill up on the hill

    topped by the tower
    which men at sea
    watch out for
    while there's light.

    And there they are still, the two
    weathering angels of Ardmore,
    keeping vigil in a place
    where Solomon adjudicates
    between the women and the child

    a place I like to go
    whenever I can if I'm on the road
    skirting the coast from Dungarvan to Cork

    drawn by unreason to turn
    miles out of my way
    and touch a fable
    of fidelity and pity

    now that I've come far enough to know
    that reason's a useful thing
    to show the way
    but only as long
    as the light is on.

    And there's the heart of the thing -
    set aside from the main road,
    the elemental grace
    and constancy of stone,
    marking the mystery
    of flesh and blood and bone

    for it comforts me always to know
    of the angels there in winter dusk
    with all below in the village engrossed
    in a clamorous box of shadows,
    their windows double-glazed against
    whatever may come.

    Under all seasons
    the weathering angels stand
    with eyes cast down,
    reflecting on innocent earth

    telling all I can't hear,
    showing all I can't see,
    waiting for what I don't know

    through ordinary hours
    or dazzling noons,
    mimed nocturnes of moonlight,
    manic symphonies of storm,

    on the honeycombed hill
    with the finger of stone
    that points to the dark and the stars
    above land and sea in Ardmore.... more »