Poem of the week – ‘January Train’
Today’s poem is from Colm Keegan’s new collection, ‘Randomer’
Fields of trees encased in frozen dew.
The sun a sullen distant heatless disc.
Tractors in a line retired between
cold foreground and an almost lost horizon.
A smattering of slick and sharded ponds.
Sheep, a flock of huffing moving heat.
Buckled fence all bent like broken teeth.
A swollen river eating up a field.
Through the Norman shock of Ballinasloe
the train rolls over sleepers eight years old.
Ivy covered chimney plays mute host
to a starving winter crow.
Beauty in a row of frozen trees.
Copse of colour muted by new fog.
Each drop a fractal gem escaping frost.
Louis MacNeice on the Radio
for Ciaran O’Driscoll
I awoke to Louis MacNeice on the radio
Singing his ‘Carrickfergus:’
When I was five the black dreams came
Propped on an elbow
I plumped and fattened the pillows behind us
And our room was different and the same
Grey doubt in the slow drop of a curtain
Photos leached black-and-white
As before sleep they’d shone in colour –
Now their image was uncertain
As if spoiled by night-coughs of parasitic light
And to look at them made them duller
So when the ’phone rang there was no surprise
No loss of breath
No leap from the bed, no theatric show
No grope in the heart for the old script of lies,
Just a friend declaring another friend’s death
Morning still monochrome, the sun still low.
Fred Johnston’s most recent collection is ‘Alligator Days’ (Revival Press ). He was writer-in-residence at the Princess Grace Library in Monaco in 2004
Murmuration for Dolores Lyne
We lie that I am here to learn
how to splice rope, but we both know –
in dread of slipping my moorings,
of falling away from the world,
I’m here to learn neither line nor lash.
Old friend, you tell me to wait a half hour,
to watch the seasons flit across the lake.
Near evening and I cannot see it,
December seems continuous night, brutal,
abandoned by the sun – our lakeshore an etching.
In Cloondavaun Bay we sit on the quay.
I trust your understanding – how time slows
as the day deserts us. The sky darkens
above Gortmore and you point at the cloud
moving up from Drominagh.
We watch flocks of Starlings merge,
and you say, this is how to splice rope.
The Starlings ravel to a tight line,
drop a vertical cord of wing and sound,
then unlay three strands, tuck once,
twice, three times, twist, over and under,
undo it all again, knot at the heart
and the head and break apart.
The danger of knots, you say,
is they weaken a rope by fifty percent –
a spliced rope holds its strength.
Skimming the water’s surface
Starlings form an eye through which
the setting sun stares. You say,
mooring lines should have a splicing eye –
large enough to fit the horns
of home-port cleats. You say,
an anchor line should have an eye too,
spliced around a metal thimble,
to prevent chafe. If you know these things,
you won’t slip your moorings
in heavy weather. Hold fast, you say,
our lake is as alone as the mind
before dreams return, and as handsome
as a scatter of Starlings in the winter sky.
Eleanor Hooker’s second collection, ‘A Tug of Blue’, was published by Dedalus in 2016
The straggled skin of the goldfinch
we fed for weeks on black seed
lay on the muddled path after the downpour.
Rain scragged plumage dragged into quill points
each writing the quenched fire of a half bird,
the failed spark of some guttered pyre.
His tiny cape of streelish feathers
spatchcocked on the marl,
his small red mask, the peeping wingstreak of yellow,
gave off the flittering joy he had given us.
I couldn’t tell you he has gone –
just as I can’t tell you we are a thing
torn in half, dragged onto
death, cold as wet ash.
Paul Bregazzi was awarded the Cuirt New Writer of the Year in 2017 and is working towards a first collection
Roger Casement in Carrickmines
If there is a place to mourn travellers, this must be where it is.
Already the sky is lit up with the discipline of autumn,
Branch by branch, hand over fist, as if nothing is the matter;
The ivy and green willow unfettered, sovereign and ablaze,
By the same paths perfect horses danced on to make a solid earth,
Where everything that’s lost is remembered equally and for ever,
Which means nothing is; which means the generations heal over.
It is a fair step from here to the seashore, as you well know,
Although I am on my way there even so with foreign cousins
And inhospitable neighbours – cherished outcasts – to make amends
For the black wounds of the natural world, its prefab Eden,
For the cathedral of a sparrow’s chest, the incendiary tea-lights
Of your plastic bouquets, zinc clatter of your murdered talk.
O valour of your exiled children, O sultry darkness of Congolese vines
Dripping sap into the gourds: I ran away with two old people,
But they were killed, and the soldiers made me carry the baskets
Holding their cut-off hands. The North King Street tenements
Run-through again, bayonets bright under the shell-fire of Mons.
After all, aren’t the Four Courts always on fire? Those squats
And factories – Boland, Jacob, South Dublin Union – suddenly vexed
That had been antique and tired, now once more extraordinary.
And the sea is still where salt water is summoned by the handful
For your dead children; brought to them by the fistful over Irish miles,
Till their silks, blouses, their curls and jumpers, are extinguished
By the island; a whole hundred years too late but sorry on our behalf.
Damian Smyth’s collections include ‘Downpatrick Races’ (2000), ‘The Down Recorder’ (2004), ‘Lamentations’ (2010), ‘Mesopotamia’ ( 2014 ). A new collection, ‘English Street’, is due this year
Discovery. An Elegy for Stephen Hawking
The sky is full of shuddering colours,
Heaven is born in the death of a star.
I am an eye in a shoreless ocean,
a force beyond pain and identity.
Anonymous now, free from all rumour,
free from all theory, all doubt and all fear,
free from the prison house of useless desire,
in awe at the immensity of everything.
Graham Allen is Professor of English in UCC. He collections include ‘The One That Got Away’ (2014) and ‘The Madhouse System’ (2016), published by New Binary Press