A poem for Bob Dylan: Old suitcase with contents: no offer refused

A poem for Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday, by Joseph O’Connor

(Handwritten notice seen in Dublin charity shop)

The broken suitcase asked a short reprieve.
'Before you junk me, touch what I enclose:
A boy, a girl, a scorched Midsummer's Eve,
Rusted keys, old guitar strings, a book-bleached bus ticket
In the pages of a paperback Catcher in the Rye.
A tape of Dylan, hoarse with lover's pain.
(…'I laid on a dune…and looked at the sky'…)
He wanted her as dustbowl riverbeds want rain.

A night-tryst in a park. The burning gorse
Reflected in the windows on the road
So they thought the houses burning, glimpsed the force
Of what they wanted, were afraid.

I close, said the suitcase, I sunder, grown older,
But the flames in those windows still writhe, still smoulder.

I console the gold flames in a window at midnight,
Crib-notes on The Sonnet, an unspooled cassette
Of Slow Train Coming. A poem attempted.
A ticket for Slane. A comb. Divorced buttons.
These inhabit me now. I enfold them still.
And I, forgotten baggage, bunked in the murk,
Clutch-sack, salvage, I do not kiss and tell.
I accept my compartment, do not need much.
With noisy, wanted children, my parents' mizzled thoughts
Are jumbled like cross-tides. I suppose they lost touch,
Or they share a locked cargo, a stowed, precious ache
Like a snowglobe they treasure but can seldom bear to shake.

Then press down my lid. Thread these worn, untracked zips.
Close me to the silence of kneading mouths.
Only spare me a berth in your hold – nothing more.
For those nights can still shake me when the sea-storms roar.

Joseph O'Connor is the author of 19 books including the novels Star of the Sea and Ghost Light. His most recent book, Shadowplay, was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award and won the Irish Novel of the Year award. He is Frank McCourt Chair of Creative Writing at the University of Limerick. With performers including Paul Brady, Loah and Lisa Hannigan, he will be giving a reading at Dignity, an online celebration of Dylan's 80th birthday, streaming live and for free on Other Voices' YouTube and Facebook platforms from the US Ambassador's Residence in Dublin's Phoenix Park, at 8pm on Monday, May 24th.