A BOOK OF MEDITATIONS

BETWEEN WHISPERS
Between whispers
This is what I heard-

Hate dies, like love,
Unless it’s spooned and stirred.

CELTIC TIGER.
We have turned the circle on our fathers,
We have emptied all that tasted of their time
And now in these new days
Full of fortune, full of pealing bell,
Speak the Elysian Fields,
Speak long of bloom and blossom.
Still and all, as jig and reel
Race to take our step
The old gods, motionless,
Watch us eye their script,
Watch us slowly scan the plot--
Be blessed now and evermore,
The point of ripeness
Is the point of rot.
(April 2003)

THE WAVES OF DREAM.
Midnight is close.
The waters of the lough
Calm since the day went down
Sigh in a sigh of breeze.
From east, the lunar dawn
Spreads its silver sheen
And silver waves
Move in the breeze's moan,
The waves of dream,
The waves of dream
Cresting in the risen moon.

RUSSIAN PIETA.
I watched the vast swathe of dead
Spread on acre and square mile
Across the fields of Barbarossa.
I watched them move from where they lay
On the still and vast terrain,
Each rise and bow and turn
Before the dark could drop,
And led by a Michaelangelo
One by one raise their limbs
To stretch out on a mother's lap.
And winter in the north wind come,
And summer in the bluebell follow,
Forever there, child and mother
Settled in the sculptors hand-
A dead head facing the empty sky,
A living head to the silent land.

THE PRAYER
That was his final prayer
As he sat before the hearth,
Lungs scraping for air
Out of a rattle breath-

It was in your distance
I found your closeness.
In your unanswering
I heard your morning song-

And he slumped forward,
And his lips fell apart
As if he died of what he said,
As if he choked on thought.

THE SPACE MEN
And when their engine failed to stop
At the lunar burn back to earth
The mission sped its fresh way
Through planet path, through asteroid,
And thirty years later, passing Pluto
On the edge of the solar homeland
They moved out into the abyss,
They faced the bound of galaxy
Still upright in their space ship,
Three dead men at the helm.

THE FELLING
Like slow and pained breathing
The cross-cut sawed its way
Through the trunk base.
A great ash tree full of April
They inched their way
Draw by draw into the living sap.
A hatchet attack slanted the cut
As the weight shifted of a sudden
With a great ripping sound
Splintering the bark and joint
And began a long earthward fall,
Convulsed and trembled a while
And settled. And as they circled it
Noticed up close the early buds
Prepare the opening of the eyes.
And one of the cutters said-
“I warned and warned again-
Wait until the tree is winter dead.
But now the memory of June
In vain will call out the greening way.
I warned about the days to come.
I warned against this martyrdom.”

THE EYES.
As a sudden opening of eyes
In the camouflage
Of the ocean bed
A thought appeared to me
And whispered-
The word alone has no abode.
The word without the deed is dead.

O IRELAND MY SIRELAND
These verses follows the awkward
attempts to rhyme “Ireland” in song, There are similar problems with rhyming England and Scotland
.
Oh Ireland my sireland,
My spireland and squireland,
My myreland and my direland
Goodbye then, goodbye.
Oh fireland, Oh pyreland,
My briarland and crierland,
My choir land and lyreland
Goodbye then, goodbye.
*
Oh Scotland my lot land
My bonny not forgot land,
My plot and loving spot land
We’re all going home.
O wrought land and sought land
O bonny out of shot land
We’re all for the lot land,
We’re all going home.
*
Oh England my king land
My ring land and cling land,
My spring land, my fling land
I bid you farewell.
Oh wing land and bring land
My dancing old swing land
I’ll miss you forever
My England farewell.

THE LAST SOUND
And what’ll be the last sound
To enter the parting head?
Maybe an old familiar song,
Or piping tune, maybe a prayer,
A door opening, a turning lock,
Maybe a visitor’s gentle voice,
Maybe only a silence broken
By the ticking of a clock.

THE DECISION
And what can be done? To turn
And follow down the foe
And vent wrath on their assault,
Or hold the rage in place
And tell time to slow and sober
Following an older wisdom
To let things lower their crave,
Following the older way,
Following the line between
The blinded and the brave.

FARMER BACHELOR
He spoke little in verb and noun
In the long days around the farm,
Spoke rook, spoke hawk and jackdaw,
And turkey gobble, goose hiss,
Spoke rooster yodel, he spoke lamb staccato,
Tuba sow and sucker piccolo,
Flute of owl and mule melodian,
Returned the cattle siren, the hen’s cackle
Murmuring the drum roll of the sheep.
But one morning at the feeding hour
He was not there. The old answering
Did not come. And as the hearse
Moved its slow, solemn journey
On the third day, no chorus sounded,
But a lone rooster yodel, on and on
Like a church bell, on and on,
Until the hearse was out of sight.

ANTI CLIMAX.
And there we strayed, and there we sat
Where the stream danced its jig and reel,
And summer step and winter step
Followed its rhythm, rhyme and spill.
But she is gone, and far away,
And thank Christ she’ll not be back.
So raise the flute and the pipes and fiddle
And rattle the bodhran with the bone,
And the mornings full of snoring bliss,
And all the evenings wild with craic.

THE WARNING
By a droop of oak at Dooskey
Near an old Clontibret road
I heard it said loud to O’Neill-
“This is no family feud with Bagenal!
These are days of raw survival!
You need to sound a trumpet call
And ready things for the final kill.
Never mind Bagenal’s daughter!
The final drive! The final slaughter!

THE PARTING PRAYER
Farewell then, and again farewell.
We spoke of this day after day
Through one and all the seasons,
Spoke of time, spoke eternity
Whispering things of the parting moment.
How many dawns we watched together
As the twilight blessed our waiting eyes,
And your slow smile greet the day
And light the paleness of your face-
But I will meet you in the bloom of hope,
And you be there, and you be there,
And the green buds all gathering
Spread their blossom in the dawn embrace.

OMAGH
It was a time of hymn and psalm,
It was a time of raised head,
Hope had spread out its balm
And our heavy hearts were lifted.

Who could now doubt that the Lord
Had reached and touched his people,
That Heaven had kept its solemn word,
Heaven at last heard our call,

And the chorus raise its new song-
An end to the ways of the bomb.
But we were all wrong.
The worst atrocity was still to come.

THE GHOST
And then he finally said-
“The ghost of Stalin
Somewhere abides
In every ruler’s head.”

THE TREES.
For maybe a hundred years
Maybe more, that line of trees
Slanted south in the north wind.
Once, a sapling from there was taken
And planted in a far off hollow
Isolated from its homeland.
It settled into its early youth,
Grew into the surroundings,
But one April in that windless place
Among its new family
Began to bend south.

I LONG FOR AN IONA
I long for an Iona
In the swells of thought.
I long for a calm un-furrowed place
That the subterranean flow
Seep into lull of the soul.
I long for a coming morning
And all I sought
Waiting like a cold spring well
In the drought,
Staring up at me,
Dripping at the rim.

PRAYER OF WORDSWORTH
Lord, thank you for this fault.
Thank you for this aberration,
The twenty two and a half degree tilt
Of the earth’s axis. Thank you for this.
All my verse is come of there,
Come of the cycle of the seasons,
Ways of death and resurrection,
Ways of welcoming, departing,
The ways of the changing winds,
Ways of migrating animal and bird-
Without this aberration
All is a Godless, mythless land,
All an artless, changeless way
All is gothic coniferous,
Nor Romanesque deciduous,
All is a prayerless void.
Thank you Lord for this mighty fault.
Thank you for the blesséd tilt.

THE UNCERTAINTY
And the moon on her throne of midnight,
The sun on his throne of noon,
And plough and pole, the Milky Way
Command the dusk, bow out the dawn.
But cloudy night and cloudy day
Draw all below into deeper prayer,
And rising chant in the thinning throat,
And swell of incense attend the air.

ONE.
Sunset sky
Is many.

The dawn
is one.

THE MEMORY
And the swan’s wings unsettle
To the lowering of the autumn sun,
The heifer raise its grazing head
As nostrils follow the bull call,
And speeding crow chased by dark
Strum toward the forming nest.
And the clock of May awake the corncrake,
The salmon tailing up the angry fall
Head driven tail driving head,
And lupin open to July’s arrival,
The oak sapling leafing its first June,
And first aroma of the virgin rose
Turn the bee’s wing, raise the drone,
And leaves yellowing
Into October’s stare,
The breath of March arouse the crocus,
The snowdrop teething
On the gums of January.

ICE AGE
As Donard's head
crowned out
in the breaking ice,

a knife of ocean
cut off Ireland
at the joint of Howth.

THERE IS A DARK
There is a dark
Where the dark
Can be no darker,

That is the hour
The newborn flower
Leaves the bulb.

THE DRONE REED.
A memory of my father Jack Makem
creating a drone reed for his uillean pipes
out of a stalk of the boortree.

Solemn as an aborigine
Arriving below Uluru,
As an old Apache scenting water
In the Arizona drought
His eye followed a boortree stalk
That had sprouted in a sudden growth,
And broke it off with a turn of the wrist.
On moving home cut five measured
inches,
Striped the bark, bored out the core
And with the precision of a surgeon’s aim
Made a long diagonal cut, then,
Drop by drop from a candle flame
Sealed off the ending with red wax
Securing all with a coil of hemp.
He left it to settle for a day.
In the early morning following
Raised the lifeless shape to his mouth
And out of a deep draught of breath
It came alive as a wounded animal.
He set the reed in its place,
Strapped on the pipes, elbowed the bellows
And it broke awake again, wild,
Tormented. As a healing blessing
He gently tuned the pipe until
The howl lowered to a deep hum
Rhyming with the calling chanter,
Moved into each other's embrace.

THE SOLDIER.
I thought of that eighteen year old
Full of fright and innocence
Struck down by a bullet
An hour before the Armistice.
I though that as he fell
Wails began to form and rise
From where his body lay,
Sounds of child and woman and man
More and more, hour on hour
And through the day I thought
As the surge went on and on-
These must be the voices,
This must be the voice of those
Who will not now be born.

THE PHILOSOPHER.
By twenty we have worked it out,
By thirty all confirmed.
Forty tells us of a mist
Rising into fifties' fog,
By sixty, map and compass fail,
Seventy we bow our head
Drifting into wind and tide.
At eighty we are back to ten,
Full of fairytale. Amen.

THE WAKE.
The corpse's face, a half moon
In the candle light
Made its dim reflection
Across the sallow room.
Hour and hour went by
Steady in the night's care
Until the call came
To close the coffin,
And all gathered in a ring
To pray their final prayer,
As murmur followed murmur,
And made a soft amen,
And the moon that kept that night alive
Began to dim and wane,
And the moon that set behind that hill
Will never rise again.

THE TWO THIEVES
Do not forget us,
We, Dismas and Gesmas,
We too died
That day
On Calvary,
We too were crucified.

THE FARMER
In the middle of tying corn
At the far end of the field
He suddenly stopped,
He raised his head and shouted-
There is no authentic eurika moment
In a scientific discovery,
No point of final explanation,
That all conclusions fall away
Into the chasm of their Being.

YOUR WORDS ARE MILK
Your words are milk
On a boiling gut,
Your words have landed
On a long pain
And sped the healing flow
Through body and head
Like a stretch of tide,
Into the prow of the brain,
Into in the deep of soul,
And all that throbbing gone,
Away like the snow in the rain,
Away like the moon in the dawn.

 

PSALM 94.
Recited by so many
Down the prayerful ages
I thought the ninety fourth psalm
Like the iron foot of Peter
Underneath the dome
Thinned away by pilgrim's touch
Had worn down to the single thought
The psalmist spread into verse.

THE DROWNING.
And at the zenith of the excitement
They fought to shape the flares of thought,
But words would not heed their plea
Only bare utterance, utter mumble,
All frantic in their drowning state
Gasping for language.

DEATH MASK
I watched her face in death
A look not seen alive
In all the years I'd known her,
I watched throughout an evening
And thought as I looked on
Those must have been her features
The hour before she was born.

CONTOURS
And away on the upper slopes
Falling mist revealed
Contours unseen in clarity.
I watched a focused hour
At the revelation,
Things not known before
Until the mist began to fade,
And the vision ended,
And the old clarity
Returned and settled.


OFFSPRING.
Drink maddened, the sheets
Torn and torn dress
As he vent his wrath
On her unwillingness.

Years after and the offspring
Growing, I watch, I see
Its timid smile,
The frightened look in its eye.

THE ROSARY
And into her last moments
The fingers nibbled around the beads,
The only motion in her still body.
It was at the third bead
Of the third decade
Of the third mystery
The fingers locked.
All through the wake
She maintained her grip,
All through the final prayers
And took it to the grave.

SECOND MARRIAGE.
I watched them
As they moved as one
On their Ibiza honeymoon
Step by step along the strand,
And in the glow of evening
Sat to face the Med
Hand holding onto hand,
Head touching head.
But then from close by
A rasping scream arose.
A wild female figure entered,
Writhing, raging away
Half dance, half frenzy,
All around their place of bliss,
Tearing her clothes and hair
Throwing things in the air.
A minute of the fury raged.
Then she slowed and slumped away,
Moaning, chanting her grief.
She stared around before she went.
The face of his deceased wife.

THERE IS A DEED BEYOND
There is a deed beyond
All plan and plot,
A deed of unrequited wrath
To rise up in angry blossom,
To shake the most enlightened,
A deed of no warning,
A deed beyond exact prophesy.

SELF IMAGE
The declared self image
Of a nation, a people,
Is always
The exact opposite
To the reality.

THE MEMORY
I heard from Sigmund Freud
That twenty centuries after he died
Christ, in his returnings
Would still avoid
The spot where he was crucified.

But I heard from Carl Jung
That every year around the spring
Christ and the two thieves meet,
Bleeding hands, bleeding feet,
And break into song.

POMPEII
And voices locked in the ashfall-
a hardened shell
of two thousand years

Until the random strike
of an excavator's pick
released their final roars.

I MET HER BY A SUNSET.
I met her by a sunset.
As far west as I could go
I walked with her before
the darkness fell to its place.

We stood there together
and spoke of a tomorrow
when we might meet again,
and our steps retrace,

But then, I thought we'd move on,
hand in hand
into the narrow dusk
until the morning's grace

Might discover us,
and leave its first shadow
on the night's imagination
of her forgotten face.

DEEPEST THOUGHTS
On returning from the sea and land
in tattered clothes, bare feet,
out of my travels found

The deepest thoughts that greet
do not come at thought's command,
but after thought's defeat.

THE LAST TUNE.
She asked for the fiddle
One last time, propped up
On her layers of pillow.
She fumbled a grip on the bow
And drew the fiddle tight beside her
Finger after trembling finger
Seeking its place on the neck.
A slow, slow old air awoke
Full of vibrato, full of tone
And eyes shut tight as in deep prayer
On and on in the tune’s journey.
But as it climbed to its highest note
She slumped dead. The falling
Away of the bow arm drew the bow
Down, down slow across the low string
In a long deep note
On and on and fell away.
The fiddle loosened from her grip
And followed after it.

DEATH
Death perhaps
is never
an experience
of the dier,
but a calculation
of the watcher.

SPEEDING AGE
And the unmoving flow of teenage times
Enters a slow twenties drift.
A gentle ripple along the banks
Moves the thirties into forty
And there, a drone from far away
Tunes into the rising melody.
Fifties now a freer flow
To ever deepening nearer drone,
Speeding sixties, speeding seventies
Flare a roar as the racing eighties
Thunder into the abyss.

A PARTING
I thought before hands held
He sang her a final song,
A song she maybe heard of old
At some fair or christening,
And verse after long verse,
A song without a chorus.
It would be maybe evening
When the last note was done,
And when she turned her face
To him, he would be gone.

I thought she followed hill and star
And the song full in her head
Into a springtime later
We stood at the parting bed,
Watching death in love with her,
Her white face, her whiter hair,
And thought a tune began to seep,
Watching the eye's far spill,
Watched the eyelids slowly fall
As they fell on her first sleep.

I ROARED OUT YOUR NAME
I roared out your name
With the lungs' full savagery,
A long unechoed roar
Into the blur of May.
All stopped.
None turned a head
Animal or singing bird
As still as struck with frost
Until one after another
Murmurings and motion came,
And as sound refilled the day
I apologized for the disturbance,
And turned, and moved away.

GHOST
I see a new heavenly light
Appear in the evening east,
The soul of a dead star
A million years after
Its bloated body
Had given up the ghost.

SONATA.
After the tonic had sounded
The fledgling spread its wings, soared
Away from the roost
On key after key, chord on chord

Into a later season reappeared
Out of the cloudy south, and landed,
Full wing, body and head
Unto the deserted nest.

REFORMATION
What trembling hand
Shaped that mould,
What fire
Brought on the melt,
Pouring righteousness
Into wrath,
Pouring Calvin
Into Celt?

RITES
Concorde's shadow
Like a Manta Ray
Speeding the ocean floor,

And a sonic boom.
I thought of initiation rites.
And vows of silence.

THE RETURN
I knew, the feeble old mother said,
I knew I'd see you again,
Forty years since we parted
And wondered where you'd gone.

But I knew before this day was out
In this world or the other,
Knew we'd meet before tonight,
Said the old and feeble mother.

QUARTET
Unless the seeker
is in a melt
and longs to set
they can not enter
the mould
of the C sharp minor
string quartet.

DANCE OF VOWEL AND DIPTHONG
April. Bud ready.
Sweet shower. Proud sun.
Then forgotten January
Stirring on its roost
Spread a whitening wing
Into winds of west,
And frost twisted petal mouth,
And curved beak, and spiral claw,
The frost peeled whin tongue,
The frost infected thorn tooth
Drip poison in the thaw.

THE WOUND.
And then the sore no longer bled.
For weeks, months I lay and stood
To sew and stitch that gaping hurt.

But an old song re-opened it.
A wound healed in the head
Had broken out in the heart.

LATE NIGHT THOUGHT
All pain
divides.

All suffering
unites.

THE POULTICE.
But that memory would not budge.
Year on year no melt, no loosening
As if locked into an inner deep.
I thought of a poultice
Poured hot unto a linen cloth
And set firm on the place of the pain,
Draw and draw at the stubborn grip,
And beel it out of the bone.

GREAT SUN
Oh great sun, rising with blinding glare,
When old age swells your girth
And you droop into a lightless glow,
The dying embers there
Will have wrought immortal shades on earth
When you last sink below.

BELONGING.
I could see no belonging
In her face,
In laugh or frown
Or sleep or wakening,
Saw no trace
Of kin I'd known,
Of parents, uncle, aunt
Or any of her sisters,
And then began imagining
She must be born
S ome far kingdom
And left here an infant,
Until one moment
When bad news came,
Her mother's features
Flashed across her pain.

RINGS OF GROWTH
I though at the post mortem
Rings as trunk growth were found
And one thicker line discovered

Told the state pathologist
That must have been the year
Her beloved parted.

ROBERT BURNS.
What a brain
Mapped that heart.

What a heart
Fed that brain.

SIGHT.
I watch a blind man's fingers move
Around the contours of his lover's face,
The fingers of a man born blind
From cheek to chin in stroke and trace,

And touch the forehead with the palms
On eyelids open, eyelids tight,
And knew as I watched his empty eyes
He saw her face in broad daylight.

THE NINTH
I thought Beethoven's Ninth
Had crashed, and in the gloom
Of dawn, crochets and minims found

Strewn all along the ground,
And workers sifting through the length
Of Tochter aus Elysium.

MYSTICS’ CHORUS
So sum all up I asked -
If they sang with a single voice
What is the mystics’ chorus?
He spoke at once and this he said-
'Here is the full refrain,
Our pains are not of death,
Of dying,
But the pains of being born.'

CLOSURE
And the final line
Of the final song-
Closure
Does not belong
To the living.

THE SMILE.
As we bade our last farewell
To her, candle above the coffin
And the pale wax drops

Hardening, felt a tear
Might dampen her face,
And then I thought a smile began,

A slow smile appear
At the dim light's tremble
On her solemn lips.

SUMMER SCHOOL
The descendents have returned,
The offspring of those
Who in your days of hunger
Would not touch a stretching hand,

Walked past your begging lines
Now stalk school and resting place
To scavenge on your carcass,
To vulture on your bones.

THE BLIND HARPER'S PRAYER
Then blest bé the nightfall,
And blest bé the dawn,
And blest bé the dusk again
That calls the evening down,
And blest bé its calling
On hollow and on height,
And blest bé the blésséd dark,
And blest be the light.

I pray the lonely moon
As she wakens in the east
To cast her eyeful gently down
On every sleeping beast,
And every beast that stands awake
To follow shadows' flight.
And blest bé the blésséd dark,
And blest bé the light.

I pray the solar lover
To find the moon's pale lips
And both clasp in an embrace
Into full eclipse.
And let the full corona there
Dance around its night.
And blest bé the blésséd dark.
And blest bé the light.

ET EXPECTO
I met that stone figure at his solemn place,
A warrior youth in the sculptor’s chisel
But wind and rain had saddened the face,
Narrowed cheek and brow until
A gaunt shape braved his days. And as I stood
I sensed a stir, a motion of his agéd head
That eyes began to move, and thought again
As the wind arose around the rain
Thought his stone lips trembled open
And a croak from the rock throat come-
Ex expecto, et expecto,
Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum.

THE DARK, THE LIGHT
The darkest night
Most brightens morning glow.

The brightest light
Throws the darkest shadow.

ON THE DAY I WROTE NO VERSE
On the day I wrote no verse
As the clock moved to midnight
I thought of a couple come
To make a home. Hour on hour
Under noon and evening waited
Until into the fading light
Bade each other a weeping farewell,
And turned, nor met again.

THE SUPER- SUPERFICIAL
More pedestal than statue,
More halo than head,
More package than parcel,
More water than blood.

This is indeed the age,
This is indeed the call,
This is indeed the age
Of the super-superficial.

GOLDEN GATE
And where the ocean breath
Clears in the sun’s lifting,
The Golden Gate slips naked
From her fog robes.

HOW DID THE LAST DODO DIE?
How did the last Dodo die,
How did it live its final day,
Where did the final bones lie
Before they vanished in the clay?

And did that male or female pine
For a lost lover, torn apart,
And make a long and pitiful moan,
And die of a broken heart?

A TALE OF THE GRAVE
And the closed eyes open again
In the socket stare past skin,
And wild grimace of joy
Break out, open into the vision.

LAND OF MY FATHERS
I entered down a telescope
Into the bound of galaxy,
Millions motionless in spiral,
Chasm of shade, unmoving flare,
Millions over the clearest night
So vast, so silent there.
But thought I heard a faint hum
That the silence seemed to brew,
I thought I heard singing come
From the distant deep of stars
Fading, rising, filling up
Into surging choir sounding
Land of my Fathers,
And then the vast crescendo
In that stupendous glow
Tapered suddenly away until
The ear could find no more,
Faintest tremble, murmur gone.
I waited hour after hour.
It never made return.

END