Sunday, March 15, 1998

TEACHING STONES TO SPEAK, i


TEACHING STONES TO SPEAK, i

They say silence is golden but
King Midas and the alchemists
eventually learned it was leaden.

Perhaps seeking the gift of eloquence,
I climbed the grey tower to the rampart,
bent over backwards to kiss a stone
beneath an impossibly blue sky,
became the curve of an unstrung bow,
my lips brushing cold, mossy stone,
above the rusted bars dripping with dew
through which the dizzying ground
and nervous grass rushed up to meet me,
as if afraid of losing contact with the birds
and long-lost kin from across the sea.
Like the priest at mass as we kissed Jesus’s feet,
the keeper wiped the stone with a white kerchief.
Trees murmured and the stream sang of ancestors.

They say Cormac McCarty (a distant relation),
 who had a way with words, persuaded the Queen
to keep his castle lands.
She thought his blarney an Irish treasure.
They say the stone was Jacob’s Dream,
or a fragment of the Lía Fail, that screamed
when the rightful king touched it,
or the Stone of Scone beneath her throne.

For the chieftain’s son I made a cape of finest silk
wrought with rainbow hues and golden knotwork.
The bowstring, an aeolian harp on these distant shores
west of Tír na n-Óg, the land of youth,
where I tended his wounds on the battlefield,
The Golden Gate cradled us, we were rich
but barbed arrows pierced us with sharper words.

Like the Queen, I prefer the chatter of silvered tongues
to that of silence; ours’ grow tarnished with disuse.
But no matter how far I bend to break this impasse
his silence speaks more than words ever could.



Ides of March 1998


different poem, same title—not sure which came first




variant

TEACHING STONES TO SPEAK, ii
—For Neil O’Neill. 
Queen Medbh said to Cú Chullain: 
Each one of us will die naked and alone, 
on a battlefield not of our own choosing.

Seeking the end of eloquence,
I climbed the grey tower to lie on the rampart.
Canted back, I was the sinewy curve of a longbow 
hemmed by iron bars dripping with dew,
my hips arched to the sky’s sublime mouth—
The dizzying ground and nervous grasses flew 
up to greet me, as if afraid of losing contact with birds
and other long-lost kin from across the sea— 
Trees and stream murmured to cloud ascendancy
as the world spun topsy-turvy past my crown.
Five hundred years of lips brushing stone and air!
They say the McCarthy, who had his way with words,
wooed the First Elizabeth to keep his castle lands. 
She proclaimed his tongue a treasure, and wishing favor, 
others made pilgrimage to kiss the stone for luck.
They say his ancestor saved a bean sídhe from drowning.
She cast a spell of the honeyed tongue upon the stone.
They say it was a fragment of the ancient Lía Fáil, 
they say it was the very pillow of Jacob’s Dream,
they say it was the Stone of Destiny that roared with ecstasy 
when Érin’s true kings were crowned at Hy Tara.
Some say it’s the same Stone of Scone beneath her throne, 
but it fell silent, a thousand years in enemy hands.
Like an alterboy at the mass where we kissed Christ’s feet,
the footman wiped the stone as if linen could cleanse 
the rock wearied by five centuries of lips’ mute testament.

For the chieftain’s son I conceived a cloak of finest silk,
a crest wrought with golden knotwork and rainbow strands:
below three stars, the severed hand of the ancestor
who won a kingdom in a race by throwing his limb to shore. 
Not content with Érin, Niáll’s scion sent the Stone to Alba,
to crown a brother, but his tongue bested him: a cleft truce sworn 
on Patrick’s staff: trapped in a pyre, he drowned in a vat of ale.
Destiny found us on more distant shores west of Tír Eoghain,
in Tír Tairngire, the Promised Land of Brendan the Navigator, 
where the salmon of wisdom swam wild in the Golden Gate,
where I tended the Uí Niáll’s wounds on new battlefields, 
where I fed this son of Ulster champion tales of Cú Chulainn, 
claimed by both sides, who died chained to that dolmen, 
and how it wept when Tír na n-Óg took him in.
Born with a gilded tongue, my chieftain’s son 
had no need of kissing stones. He made a nest in my ear, 
charmed my soul, then flew off with the wild geese—
red-handed fear reigned inside a heart of stone—
leaving a hunger of words to hatch in my mouth.
Like the alien Queen, I prefer silvered-tongued chatter 
to tacit silence: our tongues grow tarnished, no matter 
how far back I bend to kiss that stone, his silence 
drowns more than this battlefield of words. 

Ides of March - St. Patrick’s Day, 1998


this seems to be the final version

TEACHING STONES TO SPEAK, iii

                            —For Neil O’Neill
Queen Medbh said to Cú Chullain: 
Each one of us will die naked and alone, 
on a battlefield not of our own choosing.


Seeking the end of eloquence,
I climbed the grey tower to lie on the rampart.
Canted back, I was the sinewy curve of a longbow
hemmed by iron bars dripping with dew,
my hips arched to the sky’s sublime mouth—
The dizzying ground and nervous grasses flew
up to greet me, as if afraid of losing contact with birds
and other long-lost kin from across the sea—
Trees and stream murmured to cloud ascendancy
as the world spun topsy-turvy past my crown.
Five hundred years of lips brushing stone and air!
They say the McCarthy, who had his way with words,
wooed the First Elizabeth to keep his castle lands.
She proclaimed his tongue a treasure, and wishing favor,
others made pilgrimage to kiss the stone for luck.
They say his ancestor saved a bean sídhe from drowning.
She cast a spell of the honeyed tongue upon the stone.
They say it was a fragment of the ancient Lía Fáil,
they say it was the very pillow of Jacob’s Dream,
they say it was the Stone of Destiny that roared with ecstasy
when Érin’s true kings were crowned at Hy Tara.
Some say it’s the same Stone of Scone beneath her throne,
but it fell silent, a thousand years in enemy hands.
Like an alterboy at the mass where we kissed Christ’s feet,
the footman wiped the stone as if linen could cleanse
the rock wearied by five centuries of lips’ mute testament.

Ides of March - St. Patrick’s Day, 1998

TEACHING STONES TO SPEAK, iii



TEACHING STONES TO SPEAK

                            —For Neil O’Neill
Queen Medbh said to Cú Chullain: 
Each one of us will die naked and alone, 
on a battlefield not of our own choosing.


Seeking the end of eloquence,
I climbed the grey tower to lie on the rampart.
Canted back, I was the sinewy curve of a longbow
hemmed by iron bars dripping with dew,
my hips arched to the sky’s sublime mouth—
The dizzying ground and nervous grasses flew
up to greet me, as if afraid of losing contact with birds
and other long-lost kin from across the sea—
Trees and stream murmured to cloud ascendancy
as the world spun topsy-turvy past my crown.
Five hundred years of lips brushing stone and air!
They say the McCarthy, who had his way with words,
wooed the First Elizabeth to keep his castle lands.
She proclaimed his tongue a treasure, and wishing favor,
others made pilgrimage to kiss the stone for luck.
They say his ancestor saved a bean sídhe from drowning.
She cast a spell of the honeyed tongue upon the stone.
They say it was a fragment of the ancient Lía Fáil,
they say it was the very pillow of Jacob’s Dream,
they say it was the Stone of Destiny that roared with ecstasy
when Érin’s true kings were crowned at Hy Tara.
Some say it’s the same Stone of Scone beneath her throne,
but it fell silent, a thousand years in enemy hands.
Like an alterboy at the mass where we kissed Christ’s feet,
the footman wiped the stone as if linen could cleanse
the rock wearied by five centuries of lips’ mute testament.


Ides of March - St. Patrick’s Day, 1998



variant 1

TEACHING STONES TO SPEAK, i
—For Neil O’Neill. 
Queen Medbh said to Cú Chullain: 
Each one of us will die naked and alone, 
on a battlefield not of our own choosing.

Seeking the end of eloquence,
I climbed the grey tower to lie on the rampart.
Canted back, I was the sinewy curve of a longbow 
hemmed by iron bars dripping with dew,
my hips arched to the sky’s sublime mouth—
The dizzying ground and nervous grasses flew 
up to greet me, as if afraid of losing contact with birds
and other long-lost kin from across the sea— 
Trees and stream murmured to cloud ascendancy
as the world spun topsy-turvy past my crown.
Five hundred years of lips brushing stone and air!
They say the McCarthy, who had his way with words,
wooed the First Elizabeth to keep his castle lands. 
She proclaimed his tongue a treasure, and wishing favor, 
others made pilgrimage to kiss the stone for luck.
They say his ancestor saved a bean sídhe from drowning.
She cast a spell of the honeyed tongue upon the stone.
They say it was a fragment of the ancient Lía Fáil, 
they say it was the very pillow of Jacob’s Dream,
they say it was the Stone of Destiny that roared with ecstasy 
when Érin’s true kings were crowned at Hy Tara.
Some say it’s the same Stone of Scone beneath her throne, 
but it fell silent, a thousand years in enemy hands.
Like an alterboy at the mass where we kissed Christ’s feet,
the footman wiped the stone as if linen could cleanse 
the rock wearied by five centuries of lips’ mute testament.

For the chieftain’s son I conceived a cloak of finest silk,
a crest wrought with golden knotwork and rainbow strands:
below three stars, the severed hand of the ancestor
who won a kingdom in a race by throwing his limb to shore. 
Not content with Érin, Niáll’s scion sent the Stone to Alba,
to crown a brother, but his tongue bested him: a cleft truce sworn 
on Patrick’s staff: trapped in a pyre, he drowned in a vat of ale.
Destiny found us on more distant shores west of Tír Eoghain,
in Tír Tairngire, the Promised Land of Brendan the Navigator, 
where the salmon of wisdom swam wild in the Golden Gate,
where I tended the Uí Niáll’s wounds on new battlefields, 
where I fed this son of Ulster champion tales of Cú Chulainn, 
claimed by both sides, who died chained to that dolmen, 
and how it wept when Tír na n-Óg took him in.
Born with a gilded tongue, my chieftain’s son 
had no need of kissing stones. He made a nest in my ear, 
charmed my soul, then flew off with the wild geese—
red-handed fear reigned inside a heart of stone—
leaving a hunger of words to hatch in my mouth.
Like the alien Queen, I prefer silvered-tongued chatter 
to tacit silence: our tongues grow tarnished, no matter 
how far back I bend to kiss that stone, his silence 
drowns more than this battlefield of words. 

Ides of March - St. Patrick’s Day, 1998



different poem, same title—not sure which came first



They say silence is golden but
King Midas and the alchemists
eventually learned it was leaden.

Perhaps seeking the gift of eloquence,
I climbed the grey tower to the rampart,
bent over backwards to kiss a stone
beneath an impossibly blue sky,
became the curve of an unstrung bow,
my lips brushing cold, mossy stone,
above the rusted bars dripping with dew
through which the dizzying ground
and nervous grass rushed up to meet me,
as if afraid of losing contact with the birds
and long-lost kin from across the sea.
Like the priest at mass as we kissed Jesus’s feet,
the keeper wiped the stone with a white kerchief.
Trees murmured and the stream sang of ancestors.

They say Cormac McCarty (a distant relation),
 who had a way with words, persuaded the Queen
to keep his castle lands.
She thought his blarney an Irish treasure.
They say the stone was Jacob’s Dream,
or a fragment of the Lía Fail, that screamed
when the rightful king touched it,
or the Stone of Scone beneath her throne.

For the chieftain’s son I made a cape of finest silk
wrought with rainbow hues and golden knotwork.
The bowstring, an aeolian harp on these distant shores
west of Tír na n-Óg, the land of youth,
where I tended his wounds on the battlefield,
The Golden Gate cradled us, we were rich
but barbed arrows pierced us with sharper words.

Like the Queen, I prefer the chatter of silvered tongues
to that of silence; ours’ grow tarnished with disuse.
But no matter how far I bend to break this impasse
his silence speaks more than words ever could.

Ides of March 1998


Monday, March 9, 1998

FOUND POEMS FROM THE IRISH:

FOUND POEMS FROM THE IRISH:
(A WOMAN’S LAMENT)

Chum mé dán ar thion na farraige:
I composed a poem on the bottom of the sea:
Níl an ach scéal scéil.
It’s only a story of a story.
Tá mé dhonaic sé bhfis é.
I saw him in a vision.
Tá cuimhne agam air ar an fhraoch bán.
I remember him in the white heather.
Sé mo laoch, mo ghile mear,
He was my hero, my lively lad,
An craiceann comh geal le sneachta.
Skin as white as snow.
An súilí, glé ghealachi
Eyes, bright moons
In uillinn a cheile ar an ghréine.
Arm in arm with the sun.
Thit ga gréine air.
A beam of sunlight fell on him.
Tá fuinneoga ag teacht ar an spéir.
Windows opening on the sky.
Ar an ngnáth—airgead beo.
Out of the ordinary—quicksilver.
Bhí idir shean agus óg, an dá sinn.
Both old and young, we were between two times.
Cad tá i ndán? Níl mí ná meala.
What’s destiny to me? Not a honeymoon.
Tá na ballaí ag eisteacht an saol eile.
The walls are listening in the otherworld.


A ghrá mo chroí,
Oh love of my heart,
An bhfuil ní guth agat an saol seo?
Can you not sing of this life?
O dubh go dubh,
From darkness to darkness,
Dheánfadh sé nead i do chulas.
He’d make a nest in your ear.
Bhí sruth is gaoth línn,
We had the current and wind with us,
Bhí grian is gealach línn,
We had the sun and moon with us,
Ní duirt sé drucht ná baisteach.
But he said not dew nor rain.
Bhí muid ag fanacht leis an earrach
We were waiting for spring
Ní thit an thoin as an speir.
But the bottom fell out of the sky.
Bhí chuir snaidhm línn dteanga
We made a knot with our tongues
Bhí nach scaoifidh línn gcár.
We couldn’t untie with our teeth.

A chuisle mo chroí.
Grá. Oh pulse of my heart. Love.
D’fhág mé an focal sin an lar.
I dropped that word on the ground.
Bhain sé ceol as an saol.
He’s taken the music from the world.
Nior fagadh focal agam.
There wasn’t a word left for me.
Tá ceol na greine an muir is ar tír—
The music of the sun on sea and land—
Tá na hein ag seinm
The birds are singing
Cíall an fhocail
The daftness of words
Ag rith éadan an gaothe.
In the face of the wind.

Tri bainne cetmuintire:
The three drops of a wife:
bainne fola,
the drop of blood,
bainne dér
the milk of tears
bainne aillse.
the milk of sweat.
Níl fath agam le fanacht.
I have no cause to stay.
Tá sé carraig de dhuine, chomh
He’s a rock of a man, hard
agus bodhar crua le cloch,
and deaf as stones.
Níl cíos ná cás ná cathú air.
He has not rent, nor concern nor sorrow.
Tá sé an craiceann agus loach uaidh.
He wants both the hide and its price.

Ad rud nach binn le duine ni chluineann sé é.
A man hears only what he wants to hear.
Níl mo cheol thú.
Not You’re my music.
Níl tá grá agam duit.
Not I love you.
Ní féidir an dá lá a fhreastal.
It’s not possible to serve two shores.
Bión adharca fada ar na buaibh thar lear.
There are always longer horns on the cattle overseas.
Glan as mo líon.
Clear out of my net.
Tá mo shaith le deanamh agam.
I have plenty else to do.


Bhí an fharraige garbh inniu.
The sea was rough today.
Níl an béal bán.
No fair mouthings (sweet talk).
Níl éan ceoil—
No bird of music—
Labhair mé go garbh leis.
I spoke harshly to him.
Shearg an teas an bláthanna.
The heat wilted the flowers.
Tá mo ghairdín ima fhashach aris.
My garden’s a wilderness again.
Níl luibh na leigheas an aghaidh an bhias.
No herbs nor healing against death.
Mhún an púca ar na caora.
The puca’s pissed on the berries.
Ná cluinim focal eile uait!
Don’t let me hear another word!
Tá deora Dé ar an líon damháin alla.
God’s tears in the web of the little wild ox (spider)
Agus méarcha mo mháthar ag slogadh
And my mother’s fingers gulping rosary beads.
clocha paidrín.
Tá sé ag trá.
The tide is ebbing.
Tá na ghrian ag dul faol.
The sun’s slipping under.
Tá na colg ar an ngaoth.
There’s always a bitter blade of wind.
Níl d’fagh sé slán agam.
He never said goodbye to me.
Ní fiu dom fanacht anois
It’s not worth the wait now
Áit ar chul éaga.
(for) a place beyond death.
Tá an saol seo ag teacht cúng orm.
This world’s closing in on me.
Guigh ar mo shon.
Pray on my sake.



FOUND POEMS FROM THE IRISH:
(A WOMAN’S LAMENT)

I composed a poem on the bottom of the sea:
It’s only a story of a story.
I saw him in a vision.
I remember him in the white heather.
He was my hero, my lively lad,
Skin as white as snow.
Eyes, bright moons
Arm in arm with the sun.
A beam of sunlight fell on him.
Windows opening on the sky.
Out of the ordinary—quicksilver.
Both old and young, we were between two times.
What’s destiny to me? Not a honeymoon.
The walls are listening in the otherworld.



Oh love of my heart,
Can you not sing of this life?
From darkness to darkness,
He’d make a nest in your ear.
We had the current and wind with us,
We had the sun and moon with us,
But he said not dew nor rain.
We were waiting for spring
But the bottom fell out of the sky.
We made a knot with our tongues
We couldn’t untie with our teeth.

Grá. Oh pulse of my heart. Love.
I dropped that word on the ground.
He’s taken the music from the world.
There wasn’t a word left for me.
The music of the sun on sea and land—
The birds are singing
The daftness of words
In the face of the wind.

The three drops of a wife:
the drop of blood,
the milk of tears
the milk of sweat.
I have no cause to stay.
He’s a rock of a man, hard
and deaf as stone.
He has not rent, nor concern nor sorrow.
He wants both the hide and its price.

A man hears only what he wants to hear.
Not You’re my music.
Not I love you.
It’s not possible to serve two shores.
There are always longer horns on the cattle overseas.
Clear out of my net.
I have plenty else to do.

The sea was rough today.
No fair mouthings (sweet talk).
No bird music—
I spoke harshly to him.
The heat wilted the flowers.
My garden’s a wilderness again.
No herbs nor healing against death.
The puca’s pissed on the berries.
Don’t let me hear another word!
God’s tears in the web of the little wild ox (spider)
And my mother’s fingers gulping rosary beads.
clocha paidrín.
The tide is ebbing.
The sun’s slipping under.
There’s always a bitter blade of wind.
He never said goodbye to me.
It’s not worth the wait now
(for) a place beyond death.
This world’s closing in on me.
Pray on my sake.



3/9/98

(Lines were taken from Heather’ Garvy’s Focal an Lae and other online Irish grammar sources. As I was studying the root origins of Irish words, I heard an ancient melody and a hidden story in the examples of the literal word-for-word translations—just like my grandmother’s convoluted sayings. The poetry, still alive within the old metaphor buried inside the modern cliché. And so I unwrapped them. Rearranged them in fits of fancy on the page to create found poems.

A found poem is a collage, a pastiche, but I tinkered with tenses, combined phrases, etc. I’ve tried to amend the grammar wherever necessary, but my Irish is at best, scantily clad in the thinnest línéadach, all mistakes are mine alone. Mea culpa. The smattering of Irish I learned at my grandmother’s knee was fin de cícle Gaelic League.

In modern (revised) Irish, there is an avalanche of “haiches" to contend with, and I don’t know where to put them all, let alone conjugate the complexities of Irish grammar. Sometimes it looks as if my keyboard has taken to automatic writing solely with consonants. However, Is fearr Gaeilge bhriste ná Béarla cliste!)

3/9/98
© 1998 Maureen Hurley

Tuesday, March 3, 1998

LEAVING CASABLANCA


LEAVING CASABLANCA
                 With thanks to W.C.W. & to Bogey, of course.
                For Neil. The play’s the thing!

1. This is just to say that on leaving
Casablanca with bags and baggage packed—
everything in black and white—I was
a wounded child: an angry rain of bullets
tracking me, words gunning me down
the runway; I was too ashamed to open-
ly bleed beneath the lights. Fearing
the sniper, exile and abandonment,
I sought asylum in the shadowlands
because at Casablanca, I couldn’t see
to speak in a foreign tongue, nor sink
my eyeteeth into equivocal languages.

I mistook the lover for the sniper;
couldn’t see the hostage within.

2.  Now, the woman is ready to bite
the bullet, board the next plane,
soulcage in hand, but needs a visa,
permission to land, for another chance
to round up the usual samskaras,
hoping Bogey’ll recite the right lines.
But she’s never been to the City of Light.
How’ll she play a part she doesn’t know?
A requiem of gray stones in her mouth.
As time goes by, she finds she, too,
doesn’t know the words to the song.
Instead of tickling ivories, they play it solo:

Forgive me. They were so sweet,
so silent, so cold…


3/3/98
in self-imposed exile in Forestville