Workshop Date: 1966-1972
Poet: Michael Longley
Exhaled at dawn with the cattle's breath
Out of the reticent illfitting earth,
Acre on care the mushrooms grew -
Bonus and bounty socketed askew.
Across the fields, as though to confound
Our processions and those underground
Accumulations, secret marriages,
We drew together by easy stages.
In hotel rooms, in digs you went to school.
These dead were voices from the floor below
Who filled like an empty room your skull,
Who shared your perpetual one night stand
- The havoc there, and the manoeuvrings! -
Each coloured hero with his instrument.
You were bound with one original theme
To compose in your head your terminus,
Or to improvise with the best of them
That parabola from blues to barrelhouse.
You scarcely raise a finger to the tide.
Pavilions, those days-off at the seaside
Collapse about your infinite arrest -
He sees your cove more clearly than the rest.
All evidence of dry land he relearns.
The ocean gathers where your shoulder turns.
Comes into her own
(Her barren increments,
Her false dawn)
As excess baggage,
A currency defaced -
To farmhands, farmers
Crossing the yard
With lamps in the small hours
For such incorrigibles,
In byres and stables.
Unweatherbeaten as the moon my face
Among the waterlogged, the commonplace,
Old boots and kettles for inheritance
Drifting into my head on the off-chance -
A wide Sargasso where the names of things
(Important guests at all such christenings)
Submerge in mind and pool like treasuretrove.
My face as sole survivor floats above.
"...an imagining that the dropsical
collection of water which oppressed
him might be drawn off by making
incisions in his body, he, with his
usual resolute defiance of pain, cut
deep, when he thought that his surgeon
had done it too tenderly."
There was no place to go but his own head
Where hard lick lodged as in an orphanage
With the desperate and the underfed.
So, surgeon himself to his dimensions,
The words still unembarrassed by their size,
He corrected death in its declensions,
The waters breaking where he stabbed the knife,
Washing his pockmarked body like a reef.
Although they've been gone for ages
On their morning walk just beyond
The icons and the cabbages,
Convening out of sight and sound
To turn slowly their missal pages,
They find us here of all places
And I abandon to the weather
And these unlikely mistresses
Where they bed down together,
our maidenhair, your night-dresses.
Conveyed here in what ship of death
- Citations and their death throes,
Epitaphs, each last breath -
Our godforsaken heroes,
Outlandish dead beneath whose
Medals memory lies bruised.
Imagine among these meadows
Where the soldiers sink to dust
An aftermath with swallows
Lifting blood on their breasts
Up to the homely gables, and like
A dark cross overhead the hawk.