Petalwort

for Michael Viney

You want your ashes to swirl along the strand
At Thallabaun – amongst clockwork, approachable,
Circumambulatory sanderlings, crab shells,
Bladderwrack, phosphorescence at spring tide –

Around the burial mound’s wind-and-wave inspired
Vanishing act – through dowel-holes in the wreck –
Into bottles but without a message, only
Self-effacement in sand, additional eddies.

There’s no such place as heaven, so let it be
The Carricknashinnagh shoal in or Caher
Island where you honeymooned in a tent
Amid the pilgrim-fisherman’s stations,

Your spillet disentangling and trailing off
Into the night, a ghost on every hook – dab
and flounder, thorny skate – at ebb tide you
Kneeling on watery sand to haul them in.

Let us choose for the wreath a flower so small
Even you haven’t spotted it on the dune-slack
Between Claggan and Lackakeely its rosette –
Petalwort: snail snack, angel’s nosegay.

Michael Longley

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Snow Water

A fastidious brewer of tea, a tea
Connoisseur as well as a poet,
I modestly request on my sixtieth
Birthday a gift of snow water.

Tea steam and ink stains. Single-
Mindedly I scald my teapot and
Measure out some Silver Needles Tead,
Enough for a a second steeping.

Other favourites include Clear
Distance and Eyebrows of Longevity
Or, from precarious mountain peaks,
Cloud Mist Tea (quite delectable)

Which competent monkeys harvest
Filling their baskets with choice leaves
And bringing them down to where I wait
With my crock of snow water.

Michael Longley

Awakened

In advanced age, my health worsening, I woke up in the middle of the night, and experienced a happiness so intense and perfect that in my life I had only felt its premonition. And there was no reason for it. It didn’t obliterate consciousness; the past which I carried was there, together with my grief. And it was suddenly included, was suddenly part of the whole. As if a voice were repeating: ‘You can stop worrying now; everything happened just as it had to. You did what was assigned to you, and you are not required anymore to think of what happened long ago.’ The peace I felt was a closing of accounts and was connected with the thought of death. The happiness on this side was like an announcement of the other side. I realized that this was an undeserved gift and I could not grasp by what grace it was bestowed on me.

Czeslaw Milosz

The Pulling

Every hour now, he is changing
shedding some old ability.
Knees up, body tin-coloured,
hair black and grey, thick with
grease like ritual unguent, my father
moves, hour by hour, head-first
towards death. I sense every inch of him moving
through me towards it, the way each child
moved, slowly, down through my body,
as if I were God feeling the rivers
pulling steadily through, the universe
itself hauled through me heavily and easily,
drawn through my body like a napkin through a ring –
as if my father could live and die
safely inside me.

Sharon Olds

Autumn Cancer

(i.m. Liz Suttle)

Each day, the autumn, eating a little further
into the bone.

A leaf falls on a stiller day, coloured a richer brown,
more glowing, more holding, like glazed bread or old apples;

and the lap of the lake gone smaller, a nibbling as of fishes
at feet in tidal pools. The heron stands longer.

Shoals of leaves float further on the water,
the low sun pulses, the light shafts pick more delicately

over woodland and the limbs of ash grown sensuous,
shapely, as a woman from a bath;

while on the alders, yellow, and here and there,
a round leaf hangs, spent coin in the stillness.

I have never known so exactly
this abacus of days. This withdrawal. This closing out.

Kerry Hardie

Some Gods

God with eagle’s head and five-pointed-star insignia on palms of hands. God connected to seven IV drips with fire coming out of mouth; God made of warts; God with horse’s legs and head of ram reading names from a scroll pointing to a hole in the ground; God surrounded by representatives from the animal kingdom; God surrounded by representatives from the kingdom of global finance; God with cobbler’s last andwashing line with human faces pegged along; God with merciful expression holding knife and fork; God as female infant; God with stomach as a gumball machine; God as smiling coma patient between starchy cotton sheets surrounded by cards and flowers; God banging a human skull-gavel to silence a courtroom of lesser gods; God being led into a courtroom and asked to confirm holy name; God in fool’s attire inviting you to play a game of rummy; God as Bronze Medallist forcing smile on podium; God as golden ball of light forming in your chest; God as a feeling of intense and sudden cold; God as a feeling of sudden loneliness; God as a cup in your house that you haven’t yet recognized as God but drink from nearly every day; God as a dead robin; God as the eye of a dead robin; God as your barely visible reflection in the eye of a dead robin.

Jack Underwood