(Hindi: the pleasure of looking)
In my favourite of your Indian stories
you are working in your room in the garden ashram:
the air is heavy with mangoes and dung
the cows in the gowshala sing
the saffron cloths of the swami flap like prayer flags on the line.
You are working on the Gita intent and peaceful
but suddenly you look up and there is the cook,
Santakumar, with his extended family smiling at your door
and when you ask what you can do for them
he says, “No, no – just Darshan Mr Malki, just Darshan.”
And now, on many nights when you are asleep before me
I lie and look and think, “Just Darshan, just Darshan Malachi.”
First published in ‘Incertus’ 2007.
Invoking St Ciarán of Saigher
When the blackbirds begin to build their nest against your house
we take it as a good sign – an omen of continuance, of the birds
knowing it as a gentle place, trusting its rafters, burrowing
into the soft hydrangea, coming right into the luctual house,
the house of the dead. They swoop in – the rich open sough
a sound bigger than themselves, comic with beards of grass,
busy with the build. But at your month’s mind, the birds are frantic
through the night and in the morning the perfect nest is overturned,
one small fledgling left by the sparrowhawk upon the ground
and the bewildered mother bird still flying in with worms, unable
to break her instinctive act. I lift the scalding and feel again the cold
of death as I had on your cheek in the bright mornings of that May week
when I stole downstairs to be with you alone. Now I wish I had the power
of the Midlands Saint, whose prayer alone could bring back the birds,
could put the breath back into men when it had gone.
First published in ‘Festschrift for Ciaran Carson’ 2008
Put Out the Light
in Memoriam Robert Mc Crea, 1907 – 1990
The entrails of a salmon flower in the sink
in the picture I have of you
teaching me to gut fish.
You have lifted it from the river
at the foot of our house
the Mourne filled with Sperrin water
and now its insides stream
like river weed running in the current –
something of the river brought home.
You handle it tenderly, call it “she”,
a hen, and are saddened when you find the roe
that will not have a chance to spawn.
Another time, the weather in the window different,
you show me how to clean out a hen bird,
a turkey, that will hang in the cold ‘til Christmas.
This lesson is serious. You say, “You must take out the lights”…
the lungs that hide in the dark of the turkey’s vaulted belly.
“Put out the lights and then put out the lights”.
On ordinary days you mush up Mother’s Pride
to feed Rhode Island Reds, the smell of wet bread
filling the scullery for hens that scare my mother.
Those days, you had finished with the Mill
and the blizzard of the scutching room that gave you Monday fever.
How cruel that the weekend seemed to mend you, only to begin again.
Proust’s father gave it another name, byssinosis,
from the fine linen you were dying to produce
but would never wear.
At weekends you would make a rosary of the village lanes
up High Seein, spitting into hedges with the other men,
knowing the name of every plant it landed on.
First published in ‘Incertus’ 2007.
Lilacs from the Field of Mars
Bringing armfuls of lilacs from the Field of Mars
blushing girls hide them under cotton skirts,
stiffening petticoats like the dancers’ horsehair net
bought by the shimmering bolt they have seen carried
to the costumier’s in the neighbouring street. Once in place
they must brave the babushkas who sit in the dusky corridors
of the old theatre knitting, darning the dancer’s shoes
holding the block in the satin where blood has soaked into cloth.
The hidden flowers rustle as they walk and when inside
are pulled out in a wash of Spring scent to be handed
carefully over the balcony and down to the blind box
where they will wait until the last beat of his pas-de-deux
and then fall in a lilac shower – flowers warmed
by the thighs of girls as offerings for the young god.
First published in ‘The Honest Ulsterman’ 2014.
Your love, Lord reaches to heaven
your truth to the skies.
I am on the roof this breezy day,
in the sixth month of my pregnancy,
picking off the moss and lichen and tossing them
in soft bouquets to the ground.
Above me are the chimneys –
their stacks the colour of sand
and round the tops, circles of hearts
opening… to the sky.
I am a billowing blown crow
in my dark work clothes
and this is punishment for vanity.
For finding my face in a bucket of blue
Sister brought me up the back stairs.
The slates I clean are greens and shell-greys
that turn dark ink-blue in rain.
Today is a weather-breeder
the nuns say, presaging a storm,
so I am here to clean the way
and the rain will wash the loosened moss
in green runnels when it comes.
I am as high as the monkey puzzle,
Its open branches wide smiles
at the level of my eye, arms outstretched –
as if they’d catch me.
Down below is the road I will walk
my baby across to give him away
he, in a big dicky-up pram,
me, all dressed. Every Monday
the nuns take me to the parlour
to write a card telling everyone
who needs to know: that I am well,
that the sea is wild, that I am working hard,
that I miss them, when all the while:
I’m sitting at an oak table –
the smell of polish heavy in the air,
the grandmother clock ticking nearby,
dry spider plants on the windowsills
and a sad-eyed Mary hanging her head
in the corner. They take a lot of trouble
with the cards. The gardener runs them
up to Portrush and posts them there
so that the stamp’s right,so that the postman
can tell everyone I’m grand
and it’s not just my parents’ word on it.
I talk to my baby up here.
We’re not supposed to but the wind
takes the words away.
They say Our Lady had no pain
in either the making or getting of God
and she was allowed to keep him.
I’d have liked mine to have an angel for a father –
he’d have been light on me.
I mind my Granny saying
that when the midwife helping Mary
put her hand in to touch
it withered away.
Who’ll help me when the time comes?
It’ll be one of them and I think I’d love
to have that power to wither their hands.
My hands are cold; the first raindrops splashing
on the slate. The red bricks of the walls burn
in the dying sun’s colour and the birds have gone,
taking the little offerings of moss and lichen.
They’ll line their nests with them.
First published in Poetry Ireland Review in 2007.