It’s quite terrifying, I’ve discovered, writing a memoir, especially as I’m attempting to write it in the form of prose poetry. A concern is crossing a line in terms of family loyalty. How to accommodate their right to privacy while telling my own story? One way, of course, is to change almost all the names. I’m also keeping the dateline vague. Wish me luck!
Táimse in aimsir ag an mBás, eadrainn tá coinníollacha tarraichthe. Réitíomair le chéile are feadh tréimhse is spás aimsire, achar roinnt bliana is lae mar a cheapas-sa. Bhuaileas leis ag margadh na saoire. D’iarr sé orm an rabhas hire-áilte. ‘Is maith mar a tharla; máistir ag lorg cailín is cailín ag lorg máistir.’ Ní rabhas ach in aois a naoi déag nuair a chuas leis are dtúis faoi chonradh. Do shíneas mo láimh leis an bpár is bhí sé láithreach ina mhargadh. Do chuir sé chrúcaí im’ lár cé nar thug sé brútáil ná drochíde orm. Ba chosúla le greas suirí nó grá an caidreamh a bhí eadrainn. Is tugaim a tháinte dubha chun abhann, buaibh úd na n-adharca fada. Luíonn siad síos i móinéir. Bím á n-aoireacht ar chnoic san imigéin atá glas agus féarach. Seolaim are imeall an uisce iad is gaibheann siad scíth agus suaimhneas. Treoraím lem’ shlat is lem’ bhachall iad trí ghleannta an uaignis. Is siúlaim leo suas ar an ard mar a mbíonn sciollam na móna le blaiseadh acu is tagann míobhán orm i mbarr an mháma nuair a chím faid mo radhairc uaim ag leathadh a thailte is méid a ríochta, an domhan mór ba dhóigh leat faoina ghlaic aige is cloisim sa mhodardhoircheacht bhróin na hanamnacha ag éamh is ag sioscadh ann. Is tá sé féin saibhir thar meon. Tá trucailí óir agus seoda aige. Ní bheadh I gcarn airgid Déamair ach cac capaill suas leo. Ó táimse in aimsir ag an mbás, is baolach ná beidh mé saor riamh uaidh. Ní heol dom mo thuarastal ná mo phá nó an bhfaighidh mé pá plaic’ nó cead aighnis uaidh. My Dark Master Translated by Paul Muldoon I’ve gone and hired myself out, I’ve hired myself out to Death. We drew up a contract and set the seal on it by spitting in our palms. I would go with him to Lateeve for a year and a day—at least, that was the deal as I remember it. When I met him at the hiring-fair he inquired if I’d yet been taken: ‘What a stroke of luck,’ he declared, ‘when a master who’s set on a maid finds a maid who’s set on a master.’ I was only nineteen years old at the time the bargain was struck. I made my mark on a bit of paper and was indentured on the spot. What a stroke of luck, I declare, what a stroke of luck that I fell into his clutches. Not, I should emphasize again, that he meddled with or molested me for, to tell you the truth, our relationship was always much more akin to walking out, or going steady. I lead his blue-black cows with their fabulously long horns to water. They lie down in pastures of clover and fescue and Lucerne. I follow them over hills faraway and green. I lead them down beside Lough Duff where they find rest and where they are restored. I drive them with my rod and my staff through the valleys of loneliness. Then I might herd them to a mountain-pass, to a summit where they browse on bog-asphodel and where I, when I look down, get somewhat dizzy. His realm extends as far as the eye can see and beyond, so much so a body might be forgiven for thinking the whole world’s under his sway. Particularly after the sough-sighs of suffering souls from the darkness. He himself has riches that are untold, coming down as he is with jewels and gems. Even John Damer of Shronel, even his piles of gold would be horse-shit compared to them. I’ve hired myself out to death. And I’m afraid that I’ll not ever be let go. What I’ll have at the end of the day I’ve absolutely no idea, either in terms of three hots and a cot íor if I’ll be allowed to say my say.
Quick moving goddess of the rainbow
You whose being is only an afterglow of a passing-through
Put your hands
Put your heaven-taken shape down
On the ground. Now. Anywhere
Like a bent- down bough of nothing
A bridge built out of the linked cells of thin air
And let there be instantly in its underlight –
At street corners, on swings, out of car windows –
A three-moment blessing for all bridges
May impossible rifts be often delicately crossed
By bridges of two thrown ropes or one dropped plank
May the unfixed forms of water be warily leaned over
On flexible high bridges, huge iron sketches of the mathematics of strain
And bridges of see-through stone, the living-space of drips and echoes
May two fields be bridged by a stile
And two hearts by the tilting footbridge of a glance
And may I often wake on the broken bridge of a word,
Like in the wind the trace of a web. Tethered to nothing
All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. Or the other notion that,
because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies.
We talked about it late last night and in the voice
of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone
almost querulous. After a while I understood that,
talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,
pine, hair, woman, you and I. There was a woman
I made love to and I remembered how, holding
her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her.
Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.
But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,
the thing her father said that hurt her, what
she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous
as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.
Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,
saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.
Can I come in? I saw you slip away.
Hors d’oeuvres depress you, don’t they? They do me.
And cocktails, jokes … such dutiful abandon.
Where the faithful observe immovable feasts
– boat races, birthdays, marriages, martyrdoms –
we’re summoned to our lonely ceremonies any time:
B minor, the mouldiness of an old encyclopedia,
the tinny sun snapping off the playground swings,
these are, though we can’t know this, scheduled
to arrive that minute of the hour, hour of the day,
day of every year. Again, regular as brickwork
comes the time the nurse jots on your chart
before she pulls the sheet across your face. Just so
the past falls open anywhere – even sitting here with you.
Sorry. You remind me of a girl I knew.
I met her at a party much like this, but younger, louder,
the bass so fat, the night so sticky you could drown.
We shouted at each other over soul
and cold beer in the crowded kitchen and l, at least,
was halfway to a kiss when she slipped
her arm around her friend.
I worked at liking him and it took work,
and it never got any easier being harmless,
but we danced that night like a three-way game of chess
and sang to Curtis Mayfield pumped so loud
that when I drove them home they could hardly
whisper to invite me up.
Their black walls smirked with Jesus on black velvet
– Jesus, Elvis, Mexican skeletons, big-eyed Virgins,
Rodin’s hands clasped in chocolate prayer –
an attitude of décor, not like this room of yours.
A bottle opened – tequila with a cringe of worm –
and she watched me.
Lighting a meltdown of Paschal candles
she watched me. He poured the drinks rasping
We’re seriously into cultural detritus. At which, at last,
she smiled. Ice cubes cracked. The worm sank in my glass.
And all that long year we were joined at the hip.
I never heard them laugh. They had,
instead, this tic of scratching quotes in the air –
like frightened mimes inside their box of style,
that first class carriage from whose bright window
I watched the suburbs of my life recede.
Exactly one year on she let me kiss her – once –
her mouth wine-chilled, my tongue a clumsy guest,
and after that the invitations dwindled.
By Christmas we were strangers. It was chance
I heard about the crash. He died at once.
Black ice and rain they said. No news of her.
I can’t remember why I didn’t write.
Perhaps I thought she’d sold the flat and left.
Some nights midway to sleep I’m six years old.
Downstairs it’s New Year’s Eve. Drink and shrieks.
But my mother’s lit the luminous plastic Jesus
to watch me through the night, which is why
I’ve got my pillow wrapped around my head.
I never hear the door. And when she speaks,
her thick-tongued anger rearing like a beast
I feel my hot piss spreading through the sheets.
But when I wake, grown up, it’s only sweat.
But if I dream I bleed. A briar crown,
a fist prised open wide, a steadied nail,
a hammer swinging down – the past falls open
Ash Wednesday evening.
Driving by, I saw her lights were on.
I noticed both their names still on the buzzer
and when I rang I heard her voice. Come in –
her nose was broken, her front teeth gone,
a rosary was twisted round her fists –
– Come in. I’ve been saying a novena.
Inside, each crucifix and candle shone,
transfigured in her chrysalis of grief.
She spoke about the crash, how she’d been driving,
how they had to cut her from the wreck…
and then she slipped and called me by his name.
Of those next hours I remember most
the silences between her sobs, the rain
against the skylight slowly weakening
to silence, silence brimming into sleep and dawn.
Then, having lain at last all night beside her,
having searched at last that black-walled room,
the last unopened chamber of my heart,
and found there neither pity nor desire
but an assortment of religious kitsch,
I inched my arm from under her and left.
Since then, the calmest voice contains her cry
just within the range of human hearing
and where I’ve hoped to hear my name gasped out
from cradle, love bed, death bed, there instead
I catch her voice, her broken lisp, his name.
Since then, each night contains all others,
nested mirror-within-mirror, stretching back from then
to here and now, this party, this room, this bed,
where, in another life, we might have kissed.
Thank you, my friend, for showing me your things –
you have exquisite taste – but let’s rejoin your guests
who must by now be wondering where you’ve gone.
In the same way that the mindless diamond keeps
one spark of the planet’s early fires
trapped forever in its net of ice,
it’s not love’s later heat that poetry holds,
but the atom of the love that drew it forth
from the silence: so if the bright coal of his love
begins to smoulder, the poet hears his voice
suddenly forced, like a bar-room singer’s — boastful
with his own huge feeling, or drowned by violins;
but if it yields a steadier light, he knows
the pure verse, when it finally comes, will sound
like a mountain spring, anonymous and serene.
Beneath the blue oblivious sky, the water
sings of nothing, not your name, not mine.
Bracken exists and blackberries, blackberries
Bromine exists and hydrogen, hydrogen
Cicadas exist, chicory, chromium, citrus trees
Cicadas, cedars, cypresses, the cerebellum
Doves exist, dreamers and dolls
Killers exist and doves and doves
Haze, dioxin and days
Days exist, days and death and poems exist
Poems, days, death
Early Fall exists
Aftertaste, afterthought, seclusion
And angels exist
Widows and elk exist
Every detail exists
Memory, memory’s light
Oak, elms, junipers, sameness, loneliness exist
Eider ducks, spiders, and vinegar exist in the future, the future.
I place my hope on the water
in this little boat
of the language, the way a body might put
in a basket of intertwined
its underside proofed
with bitumen and pitch,
then set the whole thing down amidst
and bulrushes by the edge
of a river
only to have it borne hither and thither,
not knowing where it might end up;
in the lap, perhaps,
of some Pharaoh’s daughter.
translated from the Irish by Paul Muldoon
where we once lived when myths collided.
Dusk has hidden the bridge in the river
which slides and deepens
to become the water
the hero crossed on his way to hell.Not far from here is our old apartment.
We had a kitchen and an Amish table.
We had a view. And we discovered there
love had the feather and muscle of wings
and had come to live with us,
a brother of fire and air.
We had two infant children one of whom
was touched by death in this town
and spared: and when the hero
was hailed by his comrades in hell
their mouths opened and their voices failed and
there is no knowing what they would have asked
about a life they had shared and lost.
I am your wife.
It was years ago.
Our child was healed. We love each other still.
Across our day-to-day and ordinary distances
we speak plainly. We hear each other clearly.
And yet I want to return to you
on the bridge of the Iowa river as you were,
with snow on the shoulders of your coat
and a car passing with its headlights on:
I see you as a hero in a text —
the image blazing and the edges gilded —
and I long to cry out the epic question
my dear companion:
Will we ever live so intensely again?
Will love come to us again and be
so formidable at rest it offered us ascension
even to look at him?
But the words are shadows and you cannot hear me.
You walk away and I cannot follow
Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat–
the one you never really liked–will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up–drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice–one white, one black–scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.