I'm back again scrutinizing the Milky Way
ultrasound, scanning the dark
matter, the nothingness, that now the heads say
chockablock with quarks & squarks,
gravitons & gravitini, photons & photinos. Our sprout,
who art there inside the spacecraft
of your ma, the
time capsule of this printout,
hurling & whirling towards us, it's all daft
on this earth. Our
alien who art in the heavens,
our Martian, our little green man, we're anxious
to make contact, to ask divers questions
about the heavendom
you hail from, to discuss
the whole shebang of the beginning&end,
the pre-big bang
untime before you forget the why
and lie of thy first place. And, our friend,
to say Welcome, that we mean no harm, we'd die
for you even, that
we pray you're not here
to subdue us, that we'd put away
our ray guns,
missiles, attitude and share
our world with you, little big head, if only you stay.
Sparrows mostly, but
cardinals, finches, wild canaries
feed all day on our bird-house stairs.
Sunflower seeds, beautiful black tears
your father gave us only a year ago.
He is dead now. How were we to know?
Snow is a white sheet laid silently upon
the body of the earth. How the dead live on.
become your name, loosestrife,
on sheep, spurting up out of ballast,
a cure brought across the deep
treat wounds, soothe trouble.
There have been others like you, the rhododendron,
cattails that you in your turn overrun.
Voices praise your magenta spread, your ability
propagate by seed, by stem, by root
and how you adjust to light, to soil, spreading
glory across the earth even as you kill
by boat, by air, by land all before you: the hardy iris,
rare orchids, the spawning ground of fish.
You’ll overtake the earth and destroy even yourself.
loosestrife, purple plague, beautiful us.
SHOPPING FOR A COMPOSTER
to my mother
around what simply looked like refuse bins
I sounded out the petite clerk. Opening an exhibit,
she picked up a rotting fruit to expose worms
covering the flesh. She talked of them naturally,
endearingly even. I’ll try to take a leaf from this woman
who spoke of the mass of blood-red worms as if it were a rose,
and you fresh in the grave, and I unable to help
picture you, in your coffin dark, covered with such a posy
all the way from your roman nose to your manicured toes.
it's the smell of printing ink
sets me off out of memory's jumbled font
or maybe it's the printer's lingo
as he relates how phrases came about.
How for instance mind your p’s & q’s
has as much to do with pints & quarts
and the printer’s renown for drink
as it has with those descenders.
But I don't say anything about
how I discovered where widows & orphans
and out of sorts came from the day my
unnoticed and unexpectedly set 30
on the bottom of his compositor's page
and left me mystified about the origins
of that end, how to measure a line gauge
and how, since he was first to go,
he slowly and without a word
turned from himself into everyone
as we turn into that last zero
before finally passing on to the stoneman.
ON THE MARRIAGE OF
So you have chosen the way of
the way, perhaps, that is not natural
to everyone, but I will not harp on
about heron, bluebird or dotterel,
nor how the male flycatcher
with two females, keeping a mile between,
so neither cops how the other shares
the same philandering gentleman.
Did you know the life-coupling
of the swan is also that of the crow?
And there'll be crow-black days
you'll caw at each other with blind gusto.
But there'll be times when
the duet of the black-collared barbet,
with the first part of the song sung
by one and the second by the mate.
We wish you now many such duet
and sing for you like the red-eyed vireo
who sings nonstop through the summer blaze
on this day you take the way of swan & crow.
TO MY MOTHER, EILEEN
I'm threading the eye
needle for you again. That is
my specially appointed task, my
gift that you gave me. Ma, watch me slip this
camel of words through. Yes,
rich we are still even if your needlework
has long since gone with the rag-and-bone man
and Da never came home one day, our Dan.
Work Work Work. Lose yourself in work.
That's what he'd say.
Ma, listen, I can hear the sticks of our fire spit
like corn turning into popcorn
with the brown insides of rotten teeth. We sit
in our old Slieve Mish house. Norman is just born.
I raise the needle to the light and lick the thread
to stiffen the limp words. I
peer through the eye, focus, put everything out of my head.
I shut my right eye and thread.
I'm important now, a likely lad, instead
of the amadán
at Dread School. I have the eye
haven't I, the knack?
Prince Threader. I missed it that try.
Concentrate. Concentrate. Enough yaketty yak.
There, there, Ma, look, here's the threaded needle back.
TAGGING THE STEALER
to David Cavanagh
So much of it I hadn't a
bull's notion of
and like the usual ignoramus who casts his eyes
at, say, a Jackson Pollock or ‘This Is Just to Say’,
I scoffed at it. I didn't twig how it was as close
to art as art itself with its pre-game ballyhoo,
antics, rhubarbs, scheming, luck; its look
as if little or nothing is going on.
How often have we waited for the magic
in the hands of some flipper throwing a slider,
sinker, jug-handle, submarine, knuckle or screwball?
If we're lucky, the slugger hits a daisy cutter
with a choke-up or connects with a Baltimore chop
and a ball hawk catches a can of corn
with a basket catch and the ball rounds the horn.
Oh, look, Davo, how I'm sent sailing
right out of the ball park just by its lingo.
But I swear the most memorable play I witnessed
was with you on our highstools in the Daily Planet
as we slugged our Saturday night elixirs.
The Yankees were playing your Toronto Blue Jays.
They were tied at the top of the 9th.
I can't now for the life of me remember
who won, nor the name of the catcher, except
he was an unknown, yet no rookie.
Suddenly behind the pinch hitter's back he signalled
the pitcher, though no one copped until seconds later
as the catcher fireballed the potato to the first baseman,
tagging the stealer. It doesn't sound like much,
but everyone stood up round the house Ruth built
like hairs on the back of the neck, because the magic
was scary too. Jesus, give each of us just once
a poem the equal of that unknown man's talking hand.
A hand holds a receiver out a top-storey
in a darkening city. The phone is the black,
old heavy type. From outside
what can we make of such an event?
The hand, which seems to be a woman's,
holds the phone away from her lover, refusing
to let him answer his high-powered business call.
More likely a mother has got one more
sky-high phone bill and in a tantrum warns
her phone-happy son she'll toss the contraption.
A demented widow, having cracked the number
to the afterlife, holds the receiver out
for the ghost of her lately deceased husband.
He's weary of heaven and wants to hear dusk birds,
particularly the excited choir of city starlings.
It's always dusk now, but the receiver isn't held out
to listen to the birds of the Earth from Heaven.
It's the black ear and mouth in the hand of a woman
as she asks her emigrated sisters and brothers
in a distant country if they can hear the strafing,
and those muffled thuds, how the last thud
made nothing of the hospital where they were slapped
into life. The hand withdraws. The window bangs closed.
The city is shut out. Inside now, the replaced phone
represses a moan. Its ear to the cradle
listens for something approaching from far off.
FROM WOODY'S RESTAURANT, MIDDLEBURY
Today, noon, a young macho friendly
waiter and three diners,
business types --two males, one female--
are in a quandary about the name of the duck paddling
the duck being brown, but too large to be a female mallard.
want to know, and I'm the human-watcher behind the nook
of my table,
camouflaged by my stillness and nonchalant plumage.
They really want to know.
This sighting I record in the back of my Field Guide to People.
NEWS IN FLIGHT
We fly over the city. The screen flashes current news.
it seems, but killing and mayhem all round. Daily we’re brought
low, how lowly we’ve fallen.
anyone says a word. Urban lights stretch into
the rural night below. Even fewer mention such wonders.
lights are like those of countless fans at a concert holding up candles to
their gods, the group Homo sapiens,
fleeting as any. Yet gods nonetheless,
bearing mayhem on the one hand and marvels
other, as is the way of any regular band of gods.
Gregory of Corkus
from The Greek Anthology, Book XVII