Wednesday, September 09, 2009

361. West Clare

Warmth travelled as much from the looks
as it did from the glow of the low-banked fire
that a good country house requires in August
when you chance to live in the West of Ireland.

My cousins were as pleased with me as I with them
as we smiled and sipped strong amber whiskey,
but then the stories and jokes of the day gave way
to more sombre thoughts, the bringing back of the dead,

To the memory of not-forgotten figures who lay
no more than a mile away along the outer lane
under rustling grasses, an immemorial counterpane
to the cold unmoving clay, heavy, dark and final.

That’s what happens to you in Ireland, even without
the whiskey; even, I think, without companionable cousins.
The dead forever come back, yet they won’t say anything.
I arose, smiling, said that I needed a breath of air,

That I’d take the two dogs for a gallop, be back in no time.
Polite protests and smiles, but no real sense of care
as I went down to the hallway, found a pair of heavy boots
and reached for the stick that stood by the door.

Yerrup! says I to the dogs, tails frantic with excitement,
getting a shot of freedom at this time of the night!
G’wan the pair of you! And they shot off down the road.
I stepped out the door and the cold hit me like bullets,

Sudden as the real things, like those that hit great-uncle Jim
over there beyond in Poor Little Belgium, the useless mud
they were fighting and dying for; when they reckoned they might,
in the end, have been fighting for Poor Little Ireland instead.

No matter, there they were, their lives drained out and dead,
including the ones who came home to cold suspicious welcomes
ninety years ago. Can we ever make it up to them? I don’t think so.
Jim’s part of a foreign field that is forever fucking England.

Sheen of rain on the road; night black as the hairs on a witches arse,
I can hear the wind howling, keening through the bushes on either side,
and black indeed are their blackberries for I confess I cannot see them,
even in the ferocious fiery glory of the cold far distant stars.

Before me the beckoning graveyard … the dead that gave me life.
Behind me a warm and well-lit house and my laughing, living cousins.
I whistle and call to the disappointed dogs: Wheeesh!! C’mon, c’mon!
C’mere to me, lads! Heel to me!
Come on, we’re heading home.