Long, longer, longish
With thanks to Poetry Ireland Review (the poem appears in issue 109, edited by John F. Deane). The issue is partly devoted to long, longer and longish poems, which tend not to get much room in journals as a rule. Galway Kinnell, Harry Clifton, James Harpur, Patricia McCarthy and Robert Minhinnick also contribute longer pieces, and there's an interview with Bernard O'Donoghue.
In the dream of perfect ownership
light drenches the wood, falling
through windows long looked through.
The wine and the oil sleep in the store
and small gods have come to rest
in hearth and threshold, tile and countertop,
in doors, in handles smooth from long use.
They inhabit radios, tumbling clothes,
the silence of the winter yard, and when we’re here
they stream through us so every breath
is altar and core. Robed with home we go,
from room to room moving with grace,
lords of our little universe.
Who could forget the poet’s house, the one he made
when he ran out of money and time
and what the world couldn’t provide
he supplied himself, in verse after verse?
Remember the stonework, the avenues, the orchard?
Next came flowerbeds, the kitchen garden,
the wine cellar and the wood where every morning
he strolled for kindling. One river
led to another, a rusted gate grew meadows
where the autumn poured its aching light
and every evening he walked the boundaries
with calm affection, working the land
so hard in his mind when frost comes in April
we stumble from our beds, fearing for his vines.
This is the house that Jack lost, that packed up
and slid away, forgetting Jack and everyone else,
the faces, the photographs, breath on the mirrors,
prints on the bed, forgot hands, feet, fingertips
and so removed us not a crack in the wall or a stain
in the floor remembered anything that came before.
Our uses passed, our noise fell back to whisper, rumour,
the age before silence gripped and held.
This is the absence the house proposes,
the emptiness we rush to fill when we enter,
eyes darting from corner to corner,
until we’ve hammered ourselves into it. This is the house
that Jack retrieved, hauling it back from ice-beds, oceans,
that he voiced, echoed, ghosted, that slips through his fingers still.
What do the places know? What do the rooms retain?
If there’s a time when we might sink silently
into the hidden core, when the house
finally finds us out and comes to stay,
it must equally happen that unknown to us
the movers come and a slow
withdrawal enters the furniture, crawls
over the floors. We’ll lean, unsteady,
against a countertop and see
that everything that matters has gone ahead
or stand helplessly, flailing at the tide,
as someone we love tries to put the key in the door
and tries again, and looks back, unhoused,
at the sudden strangeness of everything there.
Try again. She stands in the hall and tries to lock the door
but the action is composed of so many parts
the key is strange in the hand and the lock stares back
as if it did not belong here, as if it had slipped in
from an alien machine to stare her down. The key
falters, falls, my mother looks back at me
then reads again the instructions I’ve written out.
Words don’t help. The whole house is making strange
and the place lived in so long is as though
just stepped into. She moves in her mind
like a stranger looking for some promised place,
wakes to a day that seems someone else’s,
the house looking down without warmth
or particular interest at the entering guest.
Dream of me, the house inside the house, house
sneaking in to sleep under the skin, the stairs
under the stairs, the surface rising to the touch
from every surface; dream of the footscraper
outside the door, the march of a hundred shoes
shining with purpose, climbing through floors,
dream of the linen chest and the rims of glasses,
hands in the air, hands within hands, the memories
of bones, dream of the endless multiplication,
the children breaking out from us to play their games
and rain their voices down. Their faces are assembled
in the frames again, their unvanished smiles look out
at the filling space, in the dream where past after past
has come to roost, and everything has returned.
There is never one place to go to or come back from.
We might stay forever in a shifting room,
as if we crossed a river on driftwood --
someone throw us a line from the secure bank,
someone guide our steps across the (broken) lumber --
or fall from room to room in a broken house
where days drift into each other with small separation.
Lapped at, lifted, the floors move. Is this us
standing in the hall, watching everything familiar
peel, unstick? The walls stretch and thin, we’re blown
from house to house down tunnels of silk. Every
life reaches in, every garden remembers our touch,
every photograph lifts from its frame
and comes running toward our open arms.
What lives here now is cold, seeping
through the house
and hanging there like the guest
who has inherited everything.
Furniture like stones in the rooms,
the opened drawers hoard their years
and whoever comes in comes
as through a tangle of briars
to wake the dust and blow summer back
into the old photographs.
Outside unruly grass, spring light
urge and press, so coax the carpet
whatever lay inside unwoken
must have long moved out and on.
Pack the walls away let this be the room
from rock chair to rock pool from breaking surf
to quicksilver shallows
from the boat-shaped house yearning on the headland
to the graveyard island hard and clear
as if you might measure a distance
from falling stones to spreading dunes and across the grass
to the wooden gate where the whole summer
has come to rest
all childhood gathers on the bars
swings inward to whatever’s wished for
as now with every step a lightening and at the end
the delicate unlikely gardens we linger in
a hand here an eye there drawing it together
let this for once hold and compose us
The house washed out of you like a tide.
As you sat in your chair the wood
released your grip, the keys melted away.
Light poured through the window
and heat from the radiator filled the room
but the cold gathered, the doors
forgot your touch. A hand moves
to sign a contract, the language
returns to its vault and the bench
rots quietly in the garden or is sanded,
varnished, weather-proofed to take
the no less reliable sun, the no less
indifferent rain. What must be here,
what could any of us have taken
that wouldn’t slip through the fingers,
what could we have left behind that if
out of the blue we came back, gusting
through the open doors, might still
move towards us, remembering?
The map dissolves, the house falls down.
Who, ever, is really at home? Live
in the cracks, in the creak of salvage;
where the ship lies snagged on the broken roof
and the years lie ripped in the fields.
Live in the tune in the car-radio afternoon,
give it its shrine, with the hand taken, the satchel
safely brought home and the homework done.
Wrap nothing round you but what you’ll never own;
the winds are ready, the waves honed,
the secret in the body about to be disclosed.
Live where you can, in the clear-strained wine,
the harvest of a single breath
streaming bubbles in the yard...