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: (A WOMAN’S LAMENT)


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. An old one, at that.
You know how it ends.
I saw him once in a vision.
And it was then I knew.
I remember him standing 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 shaft of sunlight fell on him.
Like windows opening on the sky.
Out of the ordinary—that quicksilver moment.
Both old and young, we were caught between two times.
What’s destiny to me? Not a honeymoon.
The walls of the otherworld are listening.



Oh love of my heart,
Can you not sing of this life?
From sunset to sun up,
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 naught of dew nor rain.
We were waiting for spring
But the bottom fell out of the sky.
When 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.
And it shattered like a vessel.
He’s taken the music from the world.
There wasn’t a word left for me.
The music of the sun on the sea and land—
The birds are singing
The daftness of our 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 had spoken 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 for my sake.

3/9/98

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