Horizons and Bridges

Two poems by Derek Mahon

Derek Mahon photographed by Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Derek Mahon photographed by Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision



Night wind – a continual, baffled aspirate –
wanders the water like a vagrant spirit
seeking repose but there is no repose
till morning, when the tide withdraws
from exposed depths to the southwest
with its imaginary Islands of the Blest.

A straight line, wherever the edge may be,
confines and also opens up the sea
to ancient shipwreck, drowned forest,
lost continents and nuclear waste.
You hear a different music of the spheres
depending where you stand on these quiet shores.

Relatedly, beyond the blue horizon,
beyond the rising and declining sun
are more horizons, and among real waves
the line recedes to infinite alternatives
before the final hot sand or pack ice.
Nobody clears the same horizon twice.


The narrow road bridge up at Cushendun
was where we’d gather when the day was done
back in the fifties. Peaty water raced
past trailing branches, tackle, and dispersed
to late-summer tides at the sand spit.
Stars shone in the leaves at night.

Girls on the bridge, men at the nets, seagulls
planing in and out of the Antrim hills –
it was one of those lasting primal scenes
in sparkling definition, glimpsed again
from boardwalks on the Thames and Seine,
high bridges over gorges and ravines

or the one linking Crane’s two shores to prove
bright theorem and entelechy from above
dockside, freighter and barge, the brief
pedestrianism of the quotidian life;
sun on a hundred windows, icy wings,
a rainbow shining in a flight of strings.