How’s it going, Da? An will tú ann?
Still down the well in the Cork Arms?
Do you remember our day out in the Fiat?
We burnt rubber, wheeling it pronto to Bweeng.
You were County Cycling Champ again
on those war-rationed wheels of cane.
In Ainm Dé, it’s tough to talk with you
in a language you haven’t got
and, Da, that’s between us
ever since I gathered the shavings,
those gold locks, welling round my ankles.
I stared up at you.
I can still smell them, fresh
as new leaves – there must be forests
of deciduous shaving-trees in carpenter’s paradise.
I’m ráiméising on, or more like claw-hammering
on the ivories of the piano’s stairs.
I’m ghost-playing, shadow-fingering
on the mockeyah keyboard of the kitchen table
that was made in your very own workshop.
The dying notes of Irish reverberating;
hitting home that morning the word Bweeng,
issuing from the radio, stopped me in my tracks.
It reminded me of John Coltraine’s sax gyring
and gyving a note on The Blue Train, wedging
my heart fast with a tenon-joint.
I hammer out notes on the black and white mortise keys
of your rock-steady table, each leg hewn in metric feet.
The table is a sound quatrain
that even Blind Taigh, an file,
would have stood over.
You could gut a pig on it, you said,
the way those farmers used to, when you, a journeyman,
footed it from house to house along the Blackwater.
There are days I feel the blood of a squalling pig,
throat slit, darkening the grain of southern pine.
The knell of Cork bells rings out
in me under the current of everything.
I wade in and go with the flow, vamping
it again along the river from the sawdoctor
on the South Gate with your saw stuck under me oxter.
I swim home, a sawfish,
along Sully’s Quay, and his question:
“Your Jim Hurley’s son, so?”
is proof positive that I’m cut from a line
of surnames engraved on a saw handle;
sawyers: Riordan, Hurley, Boyce . . .
still reverberating inside my head.
“There’s a smell of dead men from that”
you enjoindered, men
tenon-wedged with black humour,
grasping pints that solved nothing;
the hungry ghosts from the sword side of Carraig
on their own walking time up
and down the stairs,
polishing the stone steps
till you can see you own shade in them.
I must follow them now through Castle,
or else they’ll be the death of me.
They keep harassing me to listen to their calling,
but I blocked them out.
I suppose I wasn’t ready for them.
Mind you, I couldn’t quite shut out
their muttering, always dogging me,
crowding my doorstep, the ancient
and the lately dead jostling each other.
God, give me the strength to open the door
and allow them in to drink from the pool
of blood darkening our table.
Then let them be off and leave me in peace.
The Irish I learned on Sully’s Quay muzzled English.
I can’t ignore that trap growling up at me any longer.
Once I’d have called this walking time: Tráth Siúil.
Now it’s clear my way’s wedged between the two.
I feel a bit like the sawdoctor
honing a new edge on the blade’s snarl,
every second tooth of English is turned one way, the incisor
of Irish, in the centre, is turned the other.
You must have felt the same on your walking time
when you moved from Bweeng into the big city.
You were given walking money for the time
it took to vamp it from bus to work site.
It dawned on you
that the green country pup
was a fully grown man with his carpenter’s card.
Despite all your wandering you never left
the Castle of your Bweeng youth.
I understood that as we scorched the road,
those cane wheels still sparking the cinder path.
I often think of the haymaker you made farmers,
the larch’s tumbling butt –
that name springs from my mouth
like the shafts of a cart rising into the air
when the horse is untackled and steps from the trap.
I’m knackered now, Da, hammering home words
as you were beat hammering home nails.
All poets and carpenters can give is their all.
Take it easy, Da. Don’t be too rough on yourself.
Mind you, be tough with the things that matter.
The crime is
we don’t know in good time
what’s precisely in our best interest.
By the time we do we feel unworthy
of it all – the cruellest cut of all.
We try every other way of walking
the walk till we can neither walk or stand.
At times, when I visit you,
I have to learn myself
how to plant my feet squarely on the ground.
I watch you walking on this foreign planet
of a world, a tight grip on your walking stick.
Your air soles shuffle for a level on the bed
of the floor, your sharp carpenter’s eyes
still read the angles of a theodolite upside
down, searching for level ground.
Christ, Da, life’s at odds with intelligence.
The crooked curves of love
tripped me up, despite my gratitude to you
for Euclid’s plain, Pythagoras’s theorem.
The muse sees the windmills in the hypotenuse.
I know, Dad, I’ve always been a bit of a shaper.
When we struck out for Bweeng that day
you recalled your prize for the race on cane wheels;
a brace of porcelain dogs you gave your mother.
They got lost among your sisters till we gathered
in the lonesome, pale white house after Nellie’s funeral.
We doggedly ripped letters into pieces, packed plastic bags
with scribbled conversations between Dunmanway,
Chicago, Malla, Melbourne, Birmingham, Sutton –
bags full of remote confabs: “I hope these lines find you well”,
“Jim’s must be big now”, “Are you coming down Nell?”.
I, a tearer, furtively read, listening to snippets
between glances at the letters and the rest of you.
I had to get out. You found a pair of porcelain spaniels
in the wardrobe and another pair, the exact same, in the loft:
a household of fully reared porcelain spaniels.
The pair on your mantelpiece stares down the other
in your window for the prize at Bweeng, your porcelain eyes
and mine finally levelled with one another.