The Second Voyage
Odysseus rested on his oar and saw
The ruffled foreheads of the waves
Crocodiling and mincing past: he rammed
The oar between their jaws and looked down
In the simmering sea where scribbles of weed defined
Uncertain depth, and the slim fishes progressed
In fatal formation, and thought
If there was a single
Streak of decency in these waves now, they’d be ridged
Pocked and dented with the battering they’ve had,
And we could name them as Adam named the beasts,
Saluting a new one with dismay, or a notorious one
With admiration; they’d notice us passing
And rejoice at our shipwreck, but these
Have less character than sheep and need more patience.
I know what I’ll do he said;
I’ll park my ship in the crook of a long pier
(And I’ll take you with me he said to the oar)
I’ll face the rising ground and walk away
From tidal waters, up riverbeds
Where herons parcel out the miles of stream,
Over gaps in the hills, through warm
Silent valleys, and when I meet a farmer
Bold enough to look me in the eye
With ‘where are you off to with that long
Winnowing fan over your shoulder?’
There I will stand still
And I’ll plant you for a gatepost or a hitching-post
And leave you as a tidemark. I can go back
And organise my house then.
But the profound
Unfenced valleys of the ocean still held him;
He had only the oar to make them keep their distance;
The sea was still frying under the ship’s side.
He considered the water-lilies, and thought about fountains
Spraying as wide as willows in empty squares,
The sugarstick of water clattering into the kettle,
The flat lakes bisecting the rushes. He remembered spiders
Housekeeping at the roadside in brown trickles floored
Horsetroughs, the black canal, pale swans at dark:
His face grew damp with tears that tasted
Like his own sweat or the insults of the sea.
The Polio Epidemic
No hurry at all in house or garden,
The children were kept from the danger —
The parents suddenly had more time
To watch them, to keep them amused,
To see they had plenty to read.
The city lay empty, infected.
There was no more ice-cream.
The baths were closed all summer.
One day my father allowed me beyond the gate
With a message to pass through a slit in a blank wall;
I promised I would just cycle for two hours,
Not stop or talk, and I roamed the long roads
Clear through city and suburbs, past new churches,
Past ridges of houses where strange children
Were kept indoors too, I sliced through miles of air,
Free as a plague angel descending
On places the buses went: Commons Road, Friars’ Walk.
Lucina Schynning in Silence of the Nicht
Moon shining in silence of the night
The heaven being all full of stars
I was reading my book in a ruin
By a sour candle, without roast meat or music
Strong drink or a shield from the air
Blowing in the crazed window, and I felt
Moonlight on my head, clear after three days’ rain.
I washed in cold water; it was orange, channelled down bogs
Dipped between cresses.
The bats flew through my room where I slept safely.
Sheep stared at me when I woke.
Behind me the waves of darkness lay, the plague
Of mice, plague of beetles
Crawling out of the spines of books,
Plague shadowing pale faces with clay
The disease of the moon gone astray.
In the desert I relaxed, amazed
As the mosaic beasts on the chapel floor
When Cromwell had departed, and they saw
The sky growing through the hole in the roof.
Sheepdogs embraced me; the grasshopper
Returned with lark and bee.
I looked down between hedges of high thorn and saw
The hare, absorbed, sitting still
In the middle of the track; I heard
Again the chirp of the stream running.
The payment always has to be in kind;
Easy to forget, travelling in safety,
Until the demand comes in.
Do not think him unkind, but begin
To search for the stuff he will accept.
It is not made easy;
A salmon, a marten-skin, a cow’s horn,
A live cricket. Ants have helped me
To sort the millet and barley grains.
I have washed bloodstains from the enchanted shirt.
I left home early
Walking up the stony bed
Of a shallow river, meaning to collect
The breast-feathers of thousands of little birds
To thatch a house and barn.
It was a fine morning, the fields
Spreading out on each side
At the beginning of a story,
Steam rising off the river.
I was unarmed, the only bird
A lark singing out of reach:
I looked forward to my journey.
Séamus Murphy, Died October 2nd 1975
Walking in the graveyard, a maze
Of angels and families
The path coils like a shaving of wood
We stop to read the names.
In time they all come around
Again, the spearbearer, the spongebearer
Ladder and pillar
Scooped from shallow beds.
Carrying black clothes
Whiskey and ham for the wake
The city revolves
White peaks of churches clockwise lifting and falling.
The hill below the barracks
The sprouting sandstone walls go past
And as always you are facing the past
Finding below the old clockface
The long rambles of the spider
In the narrow bed of a saint
The names inscribed travelling
Into a winter of stone
He fell in love with the butcher’s daughter
When he saw her passing by in her white trousers
Dangling a knife on a ring at her belt.
He stared at the dark shining drops on the paving-stones.
One day he followed her
Down the slanting lane at the back of the shambles.
A door stood half-open
And the stairs were brushed and clean,
Her shoes paired on the bottom step,
Each tread marked with the red crescent
Her bare heels left, fading to faintest at the top.
A Hand, A Wood
After three days I have to wash —
I am prising you from under my nails
Reluctantly, as time will deface
The tracks, their branching sequence,
The skill of the left and the right hand.
Your script curls on the labels of jars,
Naming pulses in the kitchen press.
The dates you marked in the diary come and pass.
The wet leaves are blowing, the sparse
Ashes are lodged under the trees in the wood
Where we cannot go in this weather.
The stream is full and rattling,
The hunters are scattering shot —
The birds fly up and spread out.
I am wearing your shape
Like a light shirt of flame;
My hair is full of shadows.