Poems from Thule
Shadow-lines vein the waters along the return
of bloodshot passages. Throated through waves,
a metaphor unlocks the oar; recalibrations
in the flexed acoustic of landfall.
The prowl is a rimmed moon, eclipsed
in the shoreline glaze of iron oxide and algae:
beneath, inflections of footfall, buoyant
in the clutch of recurrent light.
A knife slices through it before it is blessed.
Beneath a smoldering sun the sea
is smoked out; undercurrents of ash surface
through the offered bowl.
The space that holds their absence empties:
drawn in, shouldered to the next in the public house.
Rain skims the windows, the infinite scale
of voices and the inherited winds.
Eloquence weathers the ear.
In the breath between notes, lungs seize
the mingled air, summon the unsounded.
Silence answers the silence after the song.
Spurs of starlight flow downstream, seaward
into the boundary waters. Sprays of light
tossed, tide-lofted: an utterance
like a coming wave, transfluent and familiar.
What is left of the world narrows to the mud-track
and rises slowly above the white wash of cottage
and barn. Rootbound, the lea heaves up the mountain,
its revelation of ridgeline elevating the Coomcalle.
Scoured, stone-fetched, the River Gaddagh rims the footpath.
High-heeled, I hinge and heft my way up the Devil’s Ladder.
Clouds overgrow the sky, tuck into the jut
and chiseled creases of the corrie.
I can smell the air, the damp underside of the wind-lifted,
upland lough. I rummage foot-holds
through the edgeless fog, scuttle scree, forfeit any windfall
of the sublime in the views below. Misted, cloud-tethered,
a steel cross centers the mountain’s
dim pinnacle: the door to the dark tabernacle closes.
In shortness of breath the song of the creator begins:
sulfurous, flame-fringed. Smoke declares the occupancy of fire.
Then ash. Then black earth, seepage. Then ice.
I return in the afterhour as if I walk there now.
Darkness advances my solitude the way the wind polishes
a wing. I drift through corridors of stone, slacken their hold,
dislodge one myth of the underworld after another
as the light pours in.
My fingers auger to the depth of a seed’s tender sleep;
the ingrown moonlight awakens the mountain.
The mist enters me; pellucid globes that hold the memory
of the lough and sea. An unfinished billow of the black sky pools
on my forehead: a water bead blooms. My tongue swims
in the wind’s current. The gate of the sky-fallen fog opens.
In the dry stammer of a low wind
the North Sea pools into inflections.
The undersong of sculls waver through
the skiff’s wake: interlace of illuminations,
buoyant apparitions above boneyard
and seal plunge. Over the length
of the evening return, landfall becomes a tune
remembered and hummed.
In the harbor or offing, the islanders never think
of the sea:
the endless surround of water opens
to narrow passages, temporary maneuvers,
assemblages of the winter dead.
A dawn-lit judgment of the elements
and unraveling of rope:
the coil, loop and pass-through
attaches a life to some unsecular depth,
incremental revelations handed up from hatching grounds
or the ritual creel.
Assemblages and the pass-through.
And what might bring closure was no longer the sea,
but a song about the sea.
The New Shillin’/A Scarce of Tatties/Sweeney’s Buttermilk
As they do each Thursday, the fiddlers gather
to play the old songs in Hamnovoe Hall.
I crowd in, take a seat, leave off the Atlantic wind chill
and a weak sun and let the long day settle.
In the ramble of tunings, bowstrings strike notes
that spirit past me to stone jamb and pebbled souterrain,
the slabbed lintel always the first to ruin,
the gable of the stone wall level with the sheep’s dull eye.
Through the rusted gate-pry and yellow weeds,
the slip jig of the mind, road-weary, enters.
Bows taut to the pulled tune, the jigs round off
almost slack-shouldered and Appalachian. I feel toe-tap
and knee-slap along the wooden floor, the whole lot of us
in the hall loosening up. The youngest there, a girl,
plays each song with her eyes closed to some darkness
like the evening sky, becoming lightfall and the descending scale,
and always, her eyes opening on that final note
as if to gesture up sunrise and the morning’s straight-away.
An Irish King of Dál nAraide, Sweeney was cursed
and made to think he was a bird.
How I skimmed the battered air,
grazing Domnall’s magnificent goatee
on the battlefield of the Mag Rath.
A near miss and again
a swoop for the delicate strand of hair
from my enemy’s chin,
the hoped-for thread
that I would weave through the loom
of my nest, each circle
leveraged against the underneath
of Norwegian fir needle, Ulster-raid of fleece
and Connemara garden scrap.
I dreamt the spoil of incremental loft.
When the golden hair finally caught in my beak
fear throttled my throat:
could risk the hair unraveling into the mad air.
So I held in my silence the delicate thread
even as joy
shook my body
and I swallowed note
after note that would proclaim,