After the bitter words — retreat, regroup.
He spades the thick soil of the lower beds,
I worry at deep-running roots of scutch
that mine blue irises and cut-leafed cranesbill
and choke the knotty stems of marguerites.
The garden is indifferent to our fighting.
We go in when the spring dusk fades the light,
I hold my hands under a jet of water,
scrub at dark stains in seams and folded places,
small soil-marked scars as obstinate as love.
It’s a small tree,
but old, and its branches
are nobbled and greened with lichen.
This morning the rain
falls through the spaces it makes
on the print of the world, its branches
are bones, holding the air in its place,
folding this hillside
into the cloth of the sky.
Taking the Weight
I remember watching
your closed hands on the rope,
the gold hairs on their backs,
their shine in the March sun,
then the rope going taut with the weight,
your face giving nothing away,
your father’s coffin settling
into the open grave.
A hard task, taking the weight
of those that have left before us.
A hard thing to be facing into
the space in the ground which is ours.
There’s More than One of Us in Here
Oh where ha’e ye been, Lord Randall, my son?
Oh where ha’e ye been, my handsome young man?
Is it you,
or is it the Other One?
Other One? Have you gone mad, woman? What Other One?
Maybe you mean
that auld crone in the mirror
with thick skin
I talk to her when
there’s nobody listening,
she’s lonely, poor crater, what harm will it do
to throw her a word
when there’s nobody listening?
But sometimes they listen.
And when they do, they think she’s me.
I ha’e been to the Wildwood, Mother mak’ my bed soon,
for I’m weary wi’ huntin’ and fain would lie down.
Fain. Now there’s a word I know I knew once,
I remember it well but now the meaning escapes me.
Where did I lose it? Out there in the Wildwood?
Maybe somebody stole it on me in the night —
the staff here can’t be trusted, but if you say anything
they look at each other over your head
and smile into each other’s eyes.
She’s daft. That’s what the smiles are saying.
But it’s the Other One that’s daft,
the One that looks like me but isn’t me at all —
because I know well who I am and what I’m saying, but times are
I’m just too tired and the Other One gets in. It’s a terrible thing,
sometimes you can’t go on fighting, you can’t find the energy
to see off that Other One, or explain
to people that it isn’t you. Never mind, they say when you try.
Never mind, don’t be worrying yourself.
Sure, they’ll be coming soon to take you out for a bit of a run —
Then I ask them who they are.
Why your son and his wife, they say,
don’t they come every Sunday to take you out?
Then I don’t say anything because I’m not too sure
about this son they’re talking about, nor his wife either.
Last night her feet wouldn’t keep still
and I told her to get the hell out of the bed but she wouldn’t listen.
Instead she laughed and said it was the poppies.
The poppies and the angels running about to get a look at them.
I said what poppies? She said the poppies in the poem, had I forgotten?
So I said I hadn’t forgotten at all and I asked her
would she tell it over the way she used to?
Oh certainly, she said,
I’ll give it to you now, just you sit quiet and listen —
It starts like this. ‘Mad Patsy said, he said to me,
That every morning he could see…’
But then she stopped, she said she couldn’t be bothered with such stuff.
More, I said, there was more,
you’ve forgotten the angel.
I closed my eyes. ‘An angel walking on the sky —
Across the sunny skies of morn —’
There, you see, I said. I can do it as well as you.
And I told her I liked it better than Lord Randall,
who was poisoned in the Wildwood by his True Love,
and she said I was right, and there was all different kinds of madness,
there was Mad-Patsy-glad-mad, and plain sad-mad,
and little gaps-and-holes-in-the-lace-mad.
And the same went for poppies.
There were Opium-poppies and First-World-War-poppies
and just plain poppies-in-the-sun-poppies.
And anyway when all’s said and done, she said,
what harm’s there in a line or two gone missing — ?
Sweeney or Shuibhne: a king in Ireland, whom legend claims was changed into a bird by the curse of a saint.
Lord Randall: an anonymous ballad, probably from the Scots border-country.
In the Poppy Field: written by the Fenian poet and prose writer, James Stephens, who founded an unnamed organisation which was later to become the IRB.