Old Books and Riverbanks
‘Though if my mother asked me,
I’d say a small bird’s nest
After the eggs have hatched
And the birds have flown.’
I asked his wife the same question.
She said, ‘Dan’s breath after
A plate of grilled kidneys –
A slight urine tinge on the tongue.’
‘Although,’ she added, ‘in summer
A pony can smell of hay,
Honey and hedgerows,
Or a crumpled featherbed
Abandoned by lovers,
Or the feather pillows
Where their heads lay.’
What they smell like?
‘Old churches,’ she said,
‘Like the creaky ‘Star of the Sea’
That faces into the wind at Omey.
Go inside,’ she said,
‘Sure it’s always open.
Close your eyes.
And it is like you’re
Standing beside a pony.
Blessed creatures. Faithful.
Sure didn’t Jesus himself
Ride one all over the Holy Land.
Do you know your Bible at all?’
When her granddaughter,
Amelia, joined us, I asked
Her what ponies smelt of.a
‘Dust,’ she said, ‘fairy dust.’
Then I asked a small boy.
He said, ‘The men’s toilet
After the big match:
Guinness, farts and wet grass.’
And me? I think ponies
Smell of old books, riverbanks,
Bogs, and wool just washed
And hung out in the wind to dry.
Tony Curtis was born in Dublin in 1955, he studied literature at the University of Essex and Trinity College, Dublin. As well as being available for readings at Irish and International festivals. Tony Curtis is an experienced facilitator of poetry and creative writing workshops with both adults and children and is a regular contributor at the Clifden Arts Festival. In 1993, his poem The Dowser and the Child won the Poetry Ireland/Friends Provident National Poetry Competition, while These Hills won the Book Stop Poetry Prize. He also edited As the Poet Said (1997), a selection of quotations from Dennis O’Driscoll’s regular column in Poetry Ireland Review. In 2003 he was awarded the Varuna House Exchange Fellowship to Australia.
Rain in West Clare
It is raining in West Clare.
Heavy clouds are blowing in over the Atlantic Ocean,
breaking over the Burren, pooling on the dolmen
at Poulnabrone, dripping down to the bleached bones below.
Floodwater is filling fields with turloughs,
creeping up the bark of skewed sceachs.
Rain is rushing across the ridged roofs of a thousand calf sheds,
soaking their mothers who low mournfully in lush meadows.
Swans are swooping and landing where rain dances on lakes.
Rain is pattering on peat in brown bogs as pensioners push
radio dials, craning their necks for news of the latest local deaths.
Rain mists over the muted tracks of the forgotten railway.
The storm is swelling the Shannon, stroking silver backs
of swimming salmon. Rain is sliding down chimneys,
sizzling into the glow of turf fires. The breeze is blowing sheets
of rain all along the rutted road through rural towns,
pooling in potholes, puttering on petrol pumps,
as oily rainbows radiate on the slick surface of puddles.
It’s raining in the gardens, lashing on clotheslines
of forgotten washing, while it pours on the convent
of the Poor Clares, echoing the patter of the nuns’ prayers.
Rain is hammering a hurricane in abandoned cement mixers
and splashing in shadows of crumbling walls on the
remains of ghost estates. Rain is unheard in the day-gloom
of a hundred pubs, where grey men nod over newspapers.
It’s raining on roadside statues; transparent tears roll
from empty eyes. On rail platforms, drops are dribbling
into commuters’ coffees. Rain is soaking through sensible shoes
and squelching in soggy socks. In schools, students are sighing,
staring at rain racing down windowpanes. It’s raining down the spire
of the cathedral, where mothers light candles for faraway children.
The bridge’s eye wells up with river water.
It’s raining rowdily on the rooftop of the bookshop,
where a stranger’s finger runs down the line of a spine.
Rain is rippling through every conversation,
with rolled eyes and rolling sighs.
Rain is blooming like blight on bushes,
gurgling through graveyard gravel,
sluicing through sewers, dripping down drainpipes.
It’s raining on all of us, on rivers, roofs,
tractors, trains and trucks. It’s raining here,
a chroí, as it’s snowing on you in North Jersey.
I place my palm
on the fogged mirror
in the land of my mother.
Beyond my reflection,
startled starlings explode
from the branch of a tree
like feathered shrapnel
soaring towards me.
The past is a cloud
from which my soul rained.
Who might I be now, if here
they had stayed?
Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s poems have appeared in literary journals in Ireland and internationally. Her Irish language collections Résheoid and Dúlasair are both published by Coiscéim. The Arts Council of Ireland has twice awarded her literature bursaries (2011 and 2013). In 2012, she was a winner of Wigtown Gaelic poetry contest— the Scottish National Poetry Prize. Her short collection of poems in English
In our house
our mother’s countenance
was the family barometer
foretelling our days.