Category Archives: Poetry

The conversation

The conversation could – of course – have gone another way.
One that didn’t leave him in a daze, sitting outside the office wondering who to tell first. Or what words to use.
Instead, after 40 or so years, he was left with this: five, six months at most.

As he sat there, fumbling for his phone, an older woman sat alongside him. Next in line, probably. Better luck, missus.
He wasn’t surprised that she started talking to him (something about weekday traffic), but he was when he responded.

Shouldn’t he be staring at a void, or consoling his wife?
After all, why keep up appearances when everything else has fallen down?
Perhaps it was her face, or voice, the human connection
That saw him suggesting alternate routes home for her.

There’s a dull safety in the banal, the simple chat.
Or so he thought afterwards, after the calls, and the tears, and the paperwork, and the goodbyes they didn’t want to admit were goodbyes.
When he could think clearly, he thought about that day, and those conversations.

The one that began with a doctor telling him things were not good, and the one that ended with an exchange about freeway routes.
I know which one I’ll take with me, he thought.

_____





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To The Lighthouse

“What is the meaning of life?”
We ask, we ask, we ask.
Seeking one great answer,
The true face behind the mask.

If there’s one response,
There’s a thousand, of course.
Philosophized, preached or peddled,
So in that case, what’s worse

Than to take it from a novel,
That’s a century old,
About a disconnected family,
And a day trip put on hold?

Virginia Woolfe wrote that
The revelation never comes,
But in its place we watch for
“Daily miracles, illuminations.”

These “matches struck in the dark”
Show us the meaning of life.
No need for one great answer,
One solution to our strife.

That was Woolfe’s take, of course,
Add her to the thousands.
But her small sparks may be easier to find
Than big answers – hollow, if grand.

_____



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Things

There are things I’d like to ask you.
Like how did you do it? How did you get it over the line?
On those days when it seemed that things could go either way.
Were you scared? Where did you find a refuge?
Did you enjoy it, sometimes?

I’d ask, selfishly, because I want to map my progress against yours –
The next generation pushes things forward, doesn’t it?

But I won’t be asking those questions.
I have no idea where you are, though I hope it’s somewhere good.
I try to picture you there and – in moments – I can,
Sitting, reading a newspaper, or reaching for your coat before leaving for town.
But I can’t ask you about these things
That come upon me in traffic, or in the moments before sleep,
Or when walking down a street, halfway lost.

_____

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After the snow

The ice – cornered – clings,
The sun above seeks it out.
The earth returns.

_____

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Mrs Dalloway

Past – present – future.
The clock chimes today and I hear it in Dublin in 1999,
As it sounds in a dozen other places.

I hear it on the Broad Walk in Regent’s Park,
Days before New Year’s, and in early December.

Looking onto Dublin Bay, it sounds over the wind
As I run on the sands, and as I stand to face a furious winter storm.

“Am I alive in all these places, at all these times, at once?”
I asked myself, on the day I finished “Mrs Dalloway’.

“Traces suspended, like fog in trees.
Echoes and marks on places and people?”

Maybe we do survive death, and linger on, awhile.
Until our echoes dissolve in the air.

_____


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Looking towards the Saltees

Salt-washed and swept
By huge winter westerlies,
The two islands sit
On the southern horizon.

They were a limit of the world
When I was a child.
Out of reach, almost out of sight,
To a boy standing on a December pier.

Open, uninhabited, they were all potential,
All light and movement.
Until another thought surfaces,
In the deepening afternoon light.

I wonder did they – unreachable – cross the mind of my great-grandfather,
As he drowned six miles west of here, in a blind fog, a century ago?
—–

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After “Aubade”

I wish that when I wake, at 4 a.m., it is to soundless dark, like Philip Larkin did.
But instead it’s snippets of songs, or random thoughts, that flit around my head.

Silence is never an issue, like this noise can be.
Leaving me to envy those who slumber peacefully.

—–

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On reading Chekov’s “Gusev”

A soft lilac sky spreads above a calmed, welcoming ocean,
That accepts a dead soldier – nature looking after one of her own.

It reminds me of a funeral I attended as a child,
The yellow sunlight bathing the altar and casket, blessing the final going.

And tells me an impossible truth, that the world can sometimes stop,
And breathe, and briefly mark, a spirit flown.

_____

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Book by book, I’m reverting to type

Actual books.

Actual books.

Burn the Kindle.

Trash it, recycle it, get rid of it. In recent months, slowly and silently and after long afternoons spend in Portland bookstores (often, but not exclusively, the labyrinthine Powell’s) this is the conclusion I’ve arrived at.

My Kindle, gifted to me by my wife some years back, is likely outmoded at this point. But it’s crammed full of books – titles I bought and read during in a golden year or two when I believed that e-readers – with their convenience, their ability to store notes, the searchability of text they offered – were the future.

They were not. As time passed I increasingly found myself reverted to type (so to speak), buying and reading physical books (very often used copies, which I’d pick up after hours trawling the shelves). Not only that, but I’ve also found myself buying second copies (hardback, paperback with a different cover or a nicer typeset) of books that I already own.

My plan, vague at present but soon to be locked down (I promise myself) is that the shelves in our home will eventually boast a perfectly-curated browsing experience; visitors will come and marvel at the smooth thematic transitions, the pristine Collected Yeats, the Michael Chabon with the Marvel-esque cover. And this is no books-as-interior-design-feature plan: I’ll only shelve what I’ve read.

My wife, sensibly, points out that this grand scheme may require, at most, a structural refit of our home and, at least, a serious purge of the piles of my existing titles. So be it – but what will remain will be distilled, pristine, our own Library of Babel.

Which reminds me, I need to upgrade my battered Borges…

_____

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Five years on

Co. Kerry, 2009

Co. Kerry, 2009

Five years have passed

And you are missed as much today
As you were on that first day.
And even more.
We cannot turn to you
And chat, and have you there,
So instead we will reach out today
With a thought, or a prayer.
_____
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