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Poetry

150 years ago Isola Wilde died in Edgeworthstown, in Co. Longford. She was the younger sister of Oscar Wilde. She was 9 years old; he was 12. He was devastated. They were in Edgeworthstown with their aunt and uncle, where he was Rector in St. John’s, which was the family church of Maria Edgeworth. The children’s parents were in Dublin, going through a divorce.  When Oscar was 19, he wrote Requiescat, a poem for his dead sister; he was in Avignon at the time, where the popes were in exile in the 13th century. The tragedy haunted him all his life. The original poem, Requiescat, says, “She cannot hear Lyre or Sonnet.” This is for them both:

Isola’s gone: Effusions of the Brain,

In restless rest, an exile in this grave.

My soul bereft that you I could not save,

In grief convulsed by Edgeworth’s church demesne.

And when effusions spread their frightening fare

I was the older, left to share your pain,

That guilt of loss that no one can explain,

That ray of light that faded on your hair.

 

December chills still swept about the stone

Where others wept their kindred, and were gone,

A faithful heart returns to grieve alone

Remembering still your exiled Avignon.

 

Requiescat, my heartfelt verse of care,

Sleep, sleep my love, forever in this prayer.


I

It was a time when,

Hand in hand, we danced

With chaos and her children.

Day and night:

Both soon became androgynous.

Ever silent, the mountains stood and watched.

Their office was to amplify

The echoes of our feverish tarantella.

It was a time when

We danced with chaos.

 

II

The frontier: now it was within.

Expansion could offer nothing more.

I built a glass coffin

And in it placed a clock:

The sun emerged to witness

The transparent beauty of an enigma.

We dug

Our spades shone and glistened

And you smiled again.

 

III

Two decades soon passed.

A millennium was hatching.

Quick to rise from the egg:

The shadow of a vulture.

Still:

The race continued.

 

IV

Every day a millennium began.

Every moment.

Began, and ended.

Ours acknowledged the cross.

Other deaths were unrecorded.

 

V

A millennium had ended.

With it too, reason's brief cameo.

Moss grew on our books,

And, under an ocean of satellites,

The old demons stirred.

We, the dethroned, remained omniscient,

But now were helpless.

 

VI

Of glass and steel

We built new temples

To house the loud cravings

That had replaced the gods.

None who entered there found appeasement.

Utopia, as Nero learned,

Had been confused with decadence.

 

VII

As the fields burned and blackened

Our idols became fluent

In the doggerel of the semi-literate.

Empowerment and dis-empowerment--

Antonyms became synonyms;

Semanticide became banal.

 

VIII

As ever, as before,

All things were clear.

But clarity, a rusty old boat,

Was at anchor on a bed of rhetoric

And lay waiting for the tide.

And come though the waters might

The boat, old and leaking, refused to rise.

 

IX

The millennium had begun.

It was to be our last.

Of all the things we once devised

Which had once enjoyed the greater glory -

The wheel, the keel, the plow?

Perhaps the one, perhaps the other,

But the answer lay in the tree

Whose roots delved ever deeper

Into the hungry earth.

 

X

A gate, a cloud, a fist -

All things shall open.

And the mind?

The mind too perhaps,

Bu not without the alpine silence

In which, once more, we become aware

Of our own diluvial breathing.

 

XI

Even now we can know

Moments beyond apocalypse,

The eternity of a wing-beat

Above the water where

A humble willow dances

In the breeze. Soon,

Louder than a heaving continent,

A child laughs: and now

The world is tall again,

Taller than the deepest coal-mine

Whose bed is skyless.

 

XII

The millennium had begun

Science refined its glory and its rhetoric

The bombs grew louder

And the plastic eye informed the plastic brain.

We knew, but ignored the knowing,

We knew but were content to feast.

We knew:

We were not its victims

 But rather the bed that had bred the plague.


In Boston the air tastes like carrot soup

When it doesn’t smell of fried clams

 

In Maine the air tastes like honey

When it does not taste like briny salt

 

In Manhattan the air tastes like crushed dandelions

When its doesn’t taste like burnt gasoline

 

In Washington DC the air tastes like stewed propaganda

When it doesn’t taste of freshly minted bills

 

In Las Vegas the air tastes like sautéed pinecones

When it doesn’t taste like volcanic dust

 

In San Francisco the air smells like spearmint

When it doesn’t taste like seared fog

 

In London the air smells of crushed barley

When it doesn’t smell of flat beer

 

In Paris the air smells of lingering chamomile

When it doesn’t smell of freshly baked bread

 

In Vienna the air smells of stale history

When it doesn’t smell of wilted roses

 

In Moscow the air smells of squeezed beets

When it doesn’t smell of perfumed whispers


Sitting by my iron woodstove in winter

with pipes clanking as they warm,

I ponder how fire has played

a pivotal role in forming humankind.

 

With fire we could barbeque,

eat more safely, keep warm,

even turn forests into grasslands

enabling more animals to graze.

 

Fire says “I’ve inspired imagination

to transform your life

in more productive directions

by contemplating flickering flames.”

 

Is not fire the standing metaphor

for the blind excitement of intemperate youth?

Is not fire the image of young love?

To live in the moment like the point

of a flickering flame remains

a quest, a youthful fantasy.

 

Fire says: “I am transcendence,

the flame of truth in the moment,

consuming the past and birthing

the new in metamorphic moments.”

 

The fire in my brain puts words to paper,

consuming paper, and from its ash

a re-birth of identity for you and me

in a world that runs on fire.

 

Fire says: You will be destroyed by me

for you cannot control me.

I will eat you in the end.”

 

“Even so,” I reply,

“we will become

winking embers of wisdom

before our glow expires in darkness.”


As for composing poems, I pen my part

whether early with dawn birdsong singing

or midnight wine accompanying the art

of bringing common sense to my scribbling

lyrics, sonnets, odd political rant,

sequences, reminiscences, rural

bucolic scene, religious supplication.

 

All in an effort to be congenial

with topics who resemble wild children

demanding absolute close attention

to unconscious, needy motivations

that ambulate numerous distractions.

Abstraction in lyrics is the devil

who avoids allure in a waterfall.


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