'His grace is no longer called for before meals'
RITE & REASON:When the late poet Dennis O’Driscoll published his sixth collection Exemplary Damages’ in 2002 he sent a copy to this column suggesting that the poem Missing God in the collection “might be of some small interest”.
It was, but those ever-prevailing tyrants, circumstance and events, militated against it being published here then. Not so now.
His grace is no longer called for before meals: farmed fish multiply without His intercession. Bread production rises through disease-resistant grains devised scientifically to mitigate His faults.
Yet, though we rebelled against Him like adolescents, uplifted to see an oppressive father banished – a bearded hermit – to the desert, we confess to missing Him at times.
Miss Him during the civil wedding when, at the blossomy altar of the registrar’s desk, we wait in vain to be fed a line containing words like “everlasting” and “divine”.
Miss Him when the TV scientist explains the cosmos through equations, leaving our planet to revolve on its axis aimlessly, a wheel skidding in snow.
Miss Him when the radio catches a snatch of plainchant from echoey priory; when the gospel choir raises its collective voice to ask Shall We Gather at the River? or the forces of the oratorio converge on I Know That My Redeemer Liveth and our contracted hearts lose a beat.
Miss Him when a choked voice at the crematorium recites the poem about fearing no more the heat of the sun.
Miss Him when we stand in judgment on a lank Crucifixion in an art museum, its stripe-like ribs testifying to rank.
Miss Him when the gamma-rays recorded on the satellite graph seem arranged into a celestial score, the music of the spheres, the Ave Verum Corpus of the observatory lab.
Miss Him when we stumble on the breast lump for the first time and an involuntary prayer escapes our lips;when a shadow crosses our bodies on an X-ray screen; when we receive a transfusion of foaming blood sacrificed anonymously to save life.
Miss Him when we call out His name spontaneously in awe or anger as a woman in the birth wards bawls her long-dead mother’s name.
Miss Him when the linen covered dining table holds warm bread rolls, shiny glasses of red wine.
Miss Him when a dove swoops from the orange grove in a tourist village just as the monastery bell begins to take its toll.
Miss Him when our journey leads us under leaves of Gothic tracery, an arch overlapping branches that meet like hands in Michelangelo’s creation.
Miss Him when, trudging past a church, we catch a residual blast of incense, a perfume on par with the fresh-baked loaf which Milosz compared to happiness.
Miss Him when our newly decorated kitchen comes in Shaker-style and we order a matching set of Mother Ann Lee chairs.
Miss Him when we listen to the prophecy of astronomers that the visible galaxies will recede as the universe expands.
Miss Him the way a uncoupled glider riding the evening thermals misses its tug.
Miss Him, as the lovers shrugging shoulders outside the cheap hotel ponder what their next move should be.
Even feel nostalgic,odd days, for His Second Coming, like standing in the brick dome of a dovecote after the birds have flown.
Missing God is taken from New and Selected Poems by Dennis O’Driscoll published by Anvil Press Poetry in 2002, who gave kind permission for it to be published in this newspaper
Dennis O’Driscoll died almost a month ago on December 24th last. He was 58.
He made his name as a poet and critic while working at the Revenue Commissioners, where he specialised in “death duties, stamp duties and customs”, as he put it.
He was the author of nine books of poetry. His last collection, Dear Life, was published in 2012.
Friend and poet Gerard Smyth wrote of him that: “For Dennis, poetry was to be found in the supermarket aisle and in the recycle bin.
“The middle-class blues of the new estate and the rituals of the office were among his preoccupations.
“He was a keen-eyed observer of life at its most fragile – its ‘last chill breath’...”
“...To many fellow poets he was a much-loved mentor, as well as being one of poetry’s true champions and certainly its most prodigious archivist.
“In a short poem, Memoir, he writes: It has been absolutely fascinating being me. A unique privilege. Now my whole life lies ahead of you. No thanks at all are called for, I assure you. The pleasure is all mine’.”