FOLLOWING is a selection of our Isolation PoemCards, chosen from the many submitted via the comments section on the Dedalus Press Facebook page, during March and April 2020. Thanks to all the poets, and the many hundreds of others who posted, commented, liked and shared, helping us in our mission to Spread the Word!
The following three poems are taken from Paula Meehan’s Mysteries of the Home (Dedalus Press, 2013). The volume gathers together the poems from her two seminal 1990s collections The Man Who was Marked by Winter (1991) and Pillow Talk (1994).
Included are some of her best-known and best-loved poems — ‘The Pattern’, ‘The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks’, ‘My Father Perceived as a Vision of St Francis’ and ‘The Wounded Child’ among them. They show an artist at the height of her powers producing work of “remarkable candour and … stunning lyricism” (The Colby Quarterly).
I know this path by magic not by sight.
Behind me on the hillside the cottage light
is like a star that’s gone astray. The moon
is waning fast, each blade of grass a rune
inscribed by hoarfrost. This path’s well worn.
I lug a bucket by bramble and blossoming blackthorn.
I know this path by magic not by sight.
Next morning when I come home quite unkempt
I cannot tell what happened at the well.
You spurn my explanation of a sex spell
cast by the spirit who guards the source
that boils deep in the belly of the earth,
even when I show you what lies strewn
in my bucket — a golden waning moon,
seven silver stars, our own porch light,
your face at the window staring into the dark.
My Father Perceived as a Vision of St Francis
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.
The following three poems are taken from piano, Eva Bourke’s 2011 collection of poems.
“In these new poems Eva Bourke leans into what she calls the “heart of things,” discovering for herself, and us, time and again that there truly is a heart of things, and to things, and that it might well survive all that conspires against it, even in the most war-broken, besieged, and harm-full places on earth. These poems suggest that the soul is an enduring gentleness in us, in others, in perhaps everything, and that it needs us to release it, to let it breathe, to nourish it with what we create rather than destroy. That gentleness is what we hear throughout the ample and beautiful margins of this book, the notes of its music being played with such care, and played softly, piano.”
August Near Südstern
The sturdy gentleman outside
the Café Lux devours his meal, his dog
takes careful note of every bite.
The red and white umbrellas flog
high garden spirits, and the sunlight passes
through empty pools of mirrors in the bar,
each green-blue vein in cocktail glasses
a drunken streak. August, a shaggy beast,
sleeps stretched full-length beneath
dead leaves—they’re this year’s first—
and an unseasonal tristesse
creeps grey and cold among the trees
inching past couples in the shade,
until at last it settles down
next to a woman on her own
talking in whispers to herself who tries
recalling what she had known best
in all the years: the names and faces
of friends and lovers, the familiar places
so dear to her, all gone, all lost.
The Garden at the Road’s End
Turn left at the elm with the heron’s nest,
go past the Forbidden Village sign,
then right where the two thieves on the cross hide
under mounds of mildewed brambles,
take the long and narrow path for a mile or two
till you come to the garden at the road’s end.
Three magpies, those bêtes noirs in their chalk
and ink plumage will spy you first,
cackle and mock you, trotting around on the grass
over flinders of eggshells—relics of a recent
murderous foray—then flap onto the thatch
for a better view. A wren seizing his chance
will speed into the white thorn hedge.
The sun will stare through the spokes of an old motorbike
parked in the yard, nettles and dandelions open
green telegrams beneath the trees that stand
in a circle around the house, stiff and tight
as police cordons. Silence and absence.
Go up close. Your heart in your mouth.
Pressing your ear against the door, listen
to spiders glide across the black and white
piano keys, the hammers softly touch the strings,
the pedals—or somebody’s breathing—rise and fall,
the wind play funeral marches on a minor scale.
Four People on a Lake
Three hundred and sixty-five volcanic islands scattered
along the shore of Lake Nicaragua, each
with barely enough room for one house.
No human is an island perhaps, but each of these isletas
possessed a soul behind fringes of bougainvillea
and tropical green.
There was a small church on one, it glinted
in the sun, just discernible
between tree tops,
on another a school, a corrugated roof
on a few posts where wisdom could
come and go as it pleased,
on a steep rock in splendid isolation a villa—the flag
of the most powerful nation rose stiffly
in the breeze above it—
and on an island with a landing pier of rough planks
tables were set offering food and drink
in the shade of a mango tree.
Our boat glided along narrow channels through
the reeds. We sat in silence, four people
from four different countries.
White herons stood sentry-still, in the shallows.
Forgotten were sleepless nights, regrets,
A jewelled bird swayed on a branch, water lilies
dallied in yellow birthday hats, sea lettuce
was everywhere, rootless, adrift
on the glittering surface. The Danish woman stared
through the lens of her camera, unable
to believe her own eyes.
The young boatman who ferried us asked her politely
to post her photograph of him
to the second last house
before the old jacaranda on the León road. All this time
islands, boatman, ourselves and all else on the lake
the lake itself and all its creatures
the trees, plantations, fields and deserts around it, the far-away
coasts of two oceans, dusky cordilleras, cloud forests,
volcanoes beneath smoke rings
farms, villages, cities, people and animals were
held in the dispassionate gaze of a pair
of maritime eagles that circled
and cruised overhead, air-lifted by the thermals
into a blue way beyond
our mortal vision.