A Longley Miscellany

The Meteorite

We crossed the fields by moonlight and by moonlight
counted the whooper swans, each a white silhouette,
A shape from Iceland, and picked out thirty, was it,
Before we were interrupted by a meteorite
And its reflection that among the swans was lit.

A Touch
after the Irish

she is a touch of pink
on crab apple blossom
and hawthorn and she melts
frost flowers with her fingers

The Weather in Japan

Makes bead curtains out of rain,
Of the mist a paper screen.

A Prayer

In our country they are desecrating churches.
May the rain that pours in pour into the font.
Because no snowflake ever falls in the wrong place,
May snow lie on the altar like an altar cloth.

The Exhibit

I see them absentmindedly pat their naked bodies
Where waistcoat and apron pockets would have been.
The grandparents turn back and take an eternity
Rummaging in the tangled pile for their spectacles.

A Linen Handkerchief
for Helen Lewis

Northern Bohemia’s flax fields and the flax fields
Of Northern Ireland, the linen industry, brought Harr,
Trader in linen handkerchiefs, to Belfast, and then
After Terezín and widowhood and Auschwitz, you,

Odysseus as a girl, your sail a linen handkerchief
On which he embroidered and unpicked hundreds of names
All through the war, but in one corner the flowers
Encircling your name never came undone.

Bjorn Olinders Pictures

I have learned about dying by looking at two pictures
Bjorn Olinder needed to look at when he was dying:
A girl whose features are obscured by the fall of her hair
Planting a flower,
and a seascape: beyond the headland
A glimpse of immaculate white sand that awaits our footprints.

The Yellow Teapot

When those who had eaten at our table and drunk
From the yellow teapot into the night, betrayed you
And told lies about you, I cried out for a curse
And wrote a curse, then stitched together this spell,
A quilt of quilt names to keep you warm in the dark:

Snake’s Trail, Shoo Fly, Flying Bats, Spider Web,
Broken Handle, Tumbling Blocks, Hole in the Barn
Door, Dove at the Window, Doors and Windows,
Grandmother’s Flower Garden, Sun Dial, Mariner’s
Compass, Delectable Mountains, World without End.

Leaving Atlanta

I shall miss my students and the animals – chipmunks
Vanishing into the lawn, on their twiggy trampoline
The squirrels, a racoon activating the alarm lights
‘He who scratches with his hands’, the Indians named him,
And no visitors to the verandah more ghostly than
The lugubrious opossum and her child – my students
And the animals combining underground, overhead,
Wherever the mind goes in the small hours, at sunrise.

Michael Longley


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