Interrogation of Silence, on George Mackay Brown.

I found this book in Charlie Byrnes Bookshop in Galway , whilst awaiting the beginning of Nuala Ni Chonchúir’s launch of  You. Indeed , I got into a tangle about whether I should buy the bios of Ginsberg and Brown or the poetry/writing instead !

I settled in the end for a biography of Ginsberg , having bought his Kaddish at an earlier date from the same shop and the Collected Brown from Murray & Murray. The names of both books are added in at the end of this short piece.

It took a while to get round to the Brown, though I am familiar with the salt of his writing and have added a poem of his onto Poethead recently. I am excerpting The Shining Ones from the Murray edition today, as I brought the book to hospital with me yesterday and enjoyed it tremendously, while realising that aside from daily writing , I rarely get prolonged periods of time with good books in the daily busyness and bustle of my world !

The Shining Ones

They locked their crystal wings, and gravely eyed
The man coming in, cold and remote and silent.
His foot on the last step, he turned again
 And threw one wild look backward. But the night
Was a funnel of darkness, roaring with stars. Beyond
ranged the great beasts of time.

The watchers stood,
And still his feet came on.

He could not tell
If they were angels or demons, or if the road
That drove him through his death now swung him sheer
Into eternity (a flower pressed dry
By poets, preachers, all the literate humbugs),
Or was the bitter cobbles of a dream
Where he must walk till morning shook the clouds
From his blunt brow, and storied Legion ale
Gushed from the lever pressed to his tired heart.

‘This is the house of death’, he prayed, and grief
Salted his eyes.

They watched.
There as he faltered
Into the cruel dawn, twin blessings fell
From that hard cry; its echoes Bread and Breath
Had in his father’s house with enormous love
Shored his first steps , and now they blazed into
The immortal cornstalk.

The birds of Dread and dearth
 That all the dolorous way clung to his wrist
Shrieked down their homing gale.

A new wind rose
And stripped the rags of anguish from his shoulder
Supple as tulips, brighter than the hour
He fought young Kelly in the Lammas booth
(The surgeon’s scar still visible on his side)
And thrashed his man, and won his thirty bob,
And sent the profit raging down his throat.

The sky grew tall as Lupins. Far below
Wave and boat swayed like familiar dancers.
That sea must hold him now. it swung him over
To the purgatorial hill.

The silent watchers
Out of dawn lifted their swords. They blazed.

(for H.B 1912-1956)

  • The Shining Ones , from Interrogation of Silence, George Mackay Brown (Rowena Murray and Brian Murray, John Murray 2004)
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