The trees are all dead, they died before the rain
and winter, and no one stopped to witness the faces
in the windows, none saw the passing winds
like souls going, only memories lingered
like past sensations, the way music prompts recall –
our father standing in the last orchard
of the world and holding out the apple
even love could not eat. There was a scream
in the flight of wild geese that restored the year,
all around the gloom echoes died and the trees
interred them – veins and nerves collapsed,
bones crumbled to dust, sounds were silenced,
while the silhouettes of the cursive branches
scribbled their absence into the gloaming.
You left on a silver wave of light
that the dawn turned grey. Who knew your end
was as close as the start of the dying year –
we took our shifts by the bed and we waited,
bells and crows, engines and exhausts said life
would go on though yours was at an end,
even the post arrived with more bills for you –
time stands still for hope though faith strays
into hope – you know who have waited for love
as it was a guest that never arrived, a father
never returned from war, or a promise unfulfilled,
like snowfall at the close of the year, a year
that dies without you, and whose end is buried
in the sad silent heart of a mute betrayal.
The cries of a sparrow pierced the morning,
magpies circled, a fox peered from his lair,
and a hawk hovered above the trees –
we found her where she had flown for cover,
impaled through the heart, her wings broken
and entangled, her blood curdling the berries –
You said, life going is the same life everywhere
and what was lost we all will lose.
The week before you died a sparrow flew
into the kitchen, circled wildly, slammed
into the window and fell lifeless on the sill.
When mother went to scoop the body away,
the bird suddenly stirred, righted herself,
and flew out into the cool autumnal morning.
This is the psalter he carried on that fated voyage,
bitter brine from the Atlantic lashed the deck,
as he stood by the bow and prayed for land,
gazing out to sea and humming psalms into the night –
Off Nova Scotia the waves raged against his passage
and many died … what he took from the land
it never recovered, your name, our patronymic,
a generation destined to die far from the tribe,
buried instead at some wild frontier having caved
there to an alien sickness: story is, delirious,
he walked out onto the plains and never returned –
In those last days you caressed an old sepia photo
of him and bade us read from his psalter,
the only relics to survive that misadventure.
That last week you cried a lot and saw
your mother, long dead, at the foot of the bed.
‘Mammy is coming to take me home,’ you said –
Visions and ghosts hovered like memories,
the past returned and crowded the room, people,
voices, the old tongue, ballads, prayers, and delirium,
and soon we were all gathered by your bedside,
but then it was too late for talk and comforts.
Five Septembers have passed since that morning
and we are all scattered again … what happened
to your ghosts? We can still hear your voice in ours,
your high-pitched nasal screams, and your crooning –
This morning the Adhan called out of another time,
but it was your voice that awoke me to prayer.