Gib mir das Wegrecht
über die Kornstiege zu deinem Schlaf,
das Wegrecht
über den Schlafpfad,
das Recht, daß ich Torf stechen kann
am Herzhang,
morgen.

Paul Celan

Saturday, June 15, 2019

JUNE 13th, 2019


This is the place where time stands still –
I arrived under heavy rain and stood alone
in the wet silence, I saw grey haemorrhaging
over green to mark that ground where cenotaphs
like afterthoughts house our history’s ironies,
the names of all those who had to labor to die –
memory lifted like a mist battling fading fog,
like storm clouds giving way to golden light –
I came to this, the only place where you are dead
to me and from which your stopped clock
can be borne beyond its brackets of stone –
when I left, I knew I would always carry you
in the only place where you are alive for me.

~~~~~


Every year on our birthday, June 13th, I visit my father's grave. I recognize (after a slight admonishment from my sister) that this is truly the only place where he is dead to me; everywhere else, he lives and breathes and that is where I carry him - in my heart and mind. It was a rainy, overcast, and dull day when I arrived, which meant I had the place to myself. Soon, the clouds would clear and a brilliant golden light shimmered above the tombstones.

At the back of the cemetery, as if to frame its outlying boundary, are 15 headstones, erected to commemorate local men who volunteered for the Royal Irish Fusiliers and died in the Great War. These cenotaphs always seem like an afterthought to me, like the young men who sacrificed their lives to fight for England have been relegated to the margins of our attention, in the same way as they have always occupied a peripheral place in Irish history: their act of volunteering for the crown at a time when Ireland was fighting for its freedom was frowned upon by de Valera and his subsequent governments. They and 50,000 just like them were largely ignored or forgotten in our historical narratives and that's one of the great ironies of our complicated history.

In my poem, I weave their story into my own anniversary by observing that graveyards are the only places where people are truly dead to us: as soon as we leave we carry them with us, alive again, in our hearts and minds.

~~~~~~




Monday, June 10, 2019

AL-ARDAGH


White-veined marble quarried in Dhee Ayn,
glowing village of the sky and eye of the sun,
bleached and blanched by the clouds,
empanels the vestibule walls, the floor tiles
from Thassos shimmer with a cooler lustre.

Oud smouldering in bakhoor burners fumigates
the room, the men flock like preening storks,
fanning their kaffiyehs to smoke the incense,
a Bedouin plays a mizmar and the slow beat
of the Daff drum softly raises the tempo.

Golden scimitars and swords with gilt hilts
of ivory and peridot adorn the dancers’ daghlas,
ornate crossbelts and embroidered sashes tie
their bishts together, and hanging on girdles
their jambiyas gleam in studded asib scabbards.

The tempo rises, the shadowed women ululate
as the men shuffle to the stage, the drum dies out,
now the Ardagh will begin, now the poets will sing,
the flag is raised, the warriors face one another,
link arms, brandish their sabres and begin to sway.

But these are no warriors and theirs is no battle cry,
the bullet belts are all loaded with blanks and the swords
would snap like twigs – these are boys only, marking
their rite of passage in the old way. The tabl baladi drums
reach a crescendo right at that moment before they don’t.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

AFTER LOVE ~ Poems


The Esthetic Apostle has just reprinted After Love in a corrected, revised edition. This edition unlike its predecessor comprises my final emendations, and also unlike the previous copy is now registered with an ISBN and is available on Amazon.com. I would like to thank the Editor-in-Chief, Samuel Muiris Griffin, for his tasteful work on the book, as well as Benjamin Erlandson [benerlandson.net] for kind permission to use an image from his series, 'Escarpment Fog':


After Love is a short collection of wistful poems, 16 in all, that treat of love, loss, war, regeneration, conflagration, aging, illness, and the exotic. One senses slight, nuanced transgressions in some of these poems, especially in 'Nereids', 'The Disappearing Art', 'The Wasps', and 'Oulipo', where the exotic grows out of the macabre and sometimes even out of brutality. An allusion to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in 'The Disappearing Art' finds its poetic correlative or analogue in 'Oulipo', while the miscarriage in 'Midwife' is recalibrated in 'Our Lost Son'. Curiously, even ephemerally, the poems converse with one another so that the theme of bugonia in 'The Wasps' finds an alternate treatment in 'Wildfire' and 'Ephemeris'. The title of the book, After Love, can suggest either a life after love or a yearning after love, and both senses are subsumed in the eponymous poem. The long poem 'Tunnels' expands on many of these themes and explores the larger one of aging, ailing, and the grief of departing our teeming earth. The old man in section III sees his world reflected upside-down and in reverse in the bauble-like apples hanging from the trees, and he tries to find answers to his own condition in their cycles, symmetries, and ultimate decay. After Love is a small book but its themes are large and highly provocative, and it captures in beautiful lyrics the extraordinary majesty and mystery of nature, life, and the human condition.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

ABSENCES ~ A SEQUENCE


The Esthetic Apostle, a new monthly literary journal out of Chicago, edited by my son Samuel, whose aesthetic discernment is reflected in his dedication to showcasing beautiful prose, poetry, artwork, and photography, has just published my poem sequence Absences. The chapbook is available from Amazon ... Here. The artwork is by the wonderful Dutch artist Martine Mooijenkind, alias, Knutseltroep, from Gouda, The Netherlands. The dialogue between between art and the written word is itself one of the subliminal marvels of this collection, and Samuel was most judicious in selecting this particular pairing. He has truly given both works a new breath of life and has infused each with the unsayable essence of their own peculiar aesthetic.

He selected this precis to describe Absences:
Absences addresses the themes of loss of youth, loss of innocence, isolation, separation, exile, death, the absence of familiarity, affection, and above all the loss or absence of love. The sequence meditates on the natural world but finds little comfort there. There are no idyllic, romantic refuges from the self, and pathetic fallacies remain just that: instead of providing a balm to the sick heart, the dales of Arcady merely accentuate its angst. The poems find fitting motifs in poetic echoes and these are channeled into the poems' movement to harmonize their rhythms and oscillations and to achieve a kind of unsettling but restorative equipoise. The sequence resonates with allusions to classical mythology, Virginia Woolf, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julio Cortazar, Franz Kafka, Johann Georg Hamann, Paul Celan, and Bruno Schulz, and tries to weave its patchwork aesthetic by drawing on their disparate but unified themes. Ultimately, the sequence is a celebration of life, even if life's great peroration is death, and even if we all die the same death over and over again.
 The Esthetic Apostle maintains a Blog [Here], a Facebook Page [Here], and a Twitter Account [Here]. Be sure to visit often, read, and if possible subscribe or purchase.

Friday, November 7, 2014

In Memoriam


~ For Mother ~

 i

In the end you became
Your father when death
Had tripped him into sleep,
And when you stumbled
We all stumbled closer
To your ends, and ours –
Your hands were our hands,
And your bones settling back
To earth were our bones
As we carry them further
Down the road you went,
Further and closer, father,
Until we meet again.

ii

We never wanted you to go,
So we held the frayed thread
You clung to over the edge,
For five days we watched it
Strain against your freight,
And for five days you fought
To haul yourself back …
Now we struggle to fill
The spaces you displaced –
More presence in your absence
And more music in silence
Than all the living noise
That fills a heart with home.

iii

Everything you left behind
Still wears you, father,
But everything is nothing
Without you –
We sift sadly through
Your things but find in them
What only lamentation brings –
A spade against the wall,
A cap or old sandals
All things shorn
Empty and forlorn –
Even your beloved trees
Followed you into absence.

iv

But how could you of all men die,
You who were so indelible
And so crucial, a different dad
For each of us, though one again  
When the appointed time arrived?
Did we really board your passage,
Father, or did it arrive home
With each of us on board?
All the times we spoke of it
And the way we spoke of it,
The way the fear informed
Our words – we never knew
What had already been decided.

v

There was nothing we could do,
And though your mind was gone
You were not gone –
Though you’d vanished around
The corners of every absence
You still met life midway
As if not undersea or beyond
The call of all that tolled
You back from sleep –
When the church bell rang,
Your face went grey
And then your vital clock
Pulsed that one last time –

vi

I think of you lying there
Exactly as we last saw you
Before they closed the lid,
Your eyes and mouth glued shut,
The fingers intertwined,
And the loose suit bunched –
When we put you under
You were a long way down,
With the tight earth round
And darkness closing in.
Are you really there now, father,
Still under the wet clay,
You once dug to nowhere?
 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Au Revoir, Dear Heart


At 8:00 am on September 16th, my dad took his final breath. He was surrounded by his wife of 60 years, his 12 children, and 2 of his 21 grandchildren. He died peacefully after a prolonged illness.

It is very hard to let go of a man who was my hero and my savior. My father knew how to provide for and protect his family. He was our champ and we'll miss him dearly, but as my sister said in her eulogy -- 'we will often glimpse him again in the faces of our children and grandchildren, and there he will live into perpetuity'.

The latest edition of Agenda Poetry, entitled 'Scentings', has a poem of mine dedicated to my father:



Go gently into that good night, dear father, and sleep with the angels.