Patrick Deeley was born in Loughrea, County Galway, in 1953. He grew up on the edge of a wetland meadow or Callows, whose flora and fauna have provided an enduring theme for his work since his first poems were published in ‘New Irish Writing’ in 1978. Five collections of his poems have appeared from Dedalus Press: ‘Intimate Strangers’ (1986), ‘Names for Love’ (1990), ‘Turane: The Hidden Village’ (1996), ‘Decoding Samara’ (2000), ‘The Bones of Creation’ (2008). ‘Territoire’ (2011) was published by Alidades Books in translation to French, and many of his poems – as well as featuring in leading literary outlets here and abroad and being widely anthologised – have been translated to Italian, Dutch and Moldovan. His novel for young readers, entitled ‘The Lost Orchard’, won the Eilis Dillon Book of the Year Award in 2001. Three further works of fiction for younger readers have appeared from O’Brien Press in recent years. He served on the Council of Poetry Ireland from 1984 to 1989. His ‘Groundswell: New and Selected Poems’, is due for publication by Dedalus Press in April 2013.
Taken with Gooseberries
Over at Shiel’s old stone house, with its low roof
and the long chimney lifted from a fairytale,
a clutch of scratchety bushes. Their fruits feel solid,
resiliently pneumatic. The hispid skin
is yet translucent enough to see through to the seeds.
They burst jelly-sweet between the teeth,
roll a rusty taste around the tongue. Ever after
I dote on gooseberries, let them be red or yellow,
green or white. But there in childhood
amid lodged grass a smothered bee-buzz, the world
whispering behind my ears its ‘constant now’
of matter and scatter and breeze. I dream
nature’s ‘good deed’ – the growing of gooseberries –
as my own endeavour. I want them heavier
than any other body’s, a nurturing to be ensnared by
as I lean over net wire deep in some
slow shire. I go to sleep with berry secrets. Weep
to find the biggest berry weeping; blame
frost; blame hand-heat – my unmet wife’s or my own.
Turn nervy, act stand-offish as I watch
the scrupulous witness seal the few I’ve plumped for
in a box. And dream of prize-giving day,
a tiptoe towards where the scales balance the berries
singly up – clop of pennyweight counters –
while about me autumn conducts its slow lapse,
each side-tracked thing tangling the next, thistledown
filling an old sandpit, growth and die back
and such rag trees in mind I’m never done shaking.
Sweeping the Chimney
You work rods and brush, knacks, angles, tactics.
A tarpaulin sheet with a hole in it splits.
Granite fire-bricks peek. A wrought-iron grate
at your heel upends. Downpour of soot
commences. Twig-clatter, tumble of jackdaw eggs
won’t deter, nor yet the sweat breaking
on your brow. For you delve in a reverie
of discovering the first fire; you dream the nights
that charm, a cosy hearth to which, safe
and sound, you and yours always return. But still
the whispering soot insists there’s a limit
to the number of nights. Your children
grow away. Their shoes and books and CDs,
casually scattered as if no greater displacement’s
ever to happen, soon must be tidied for good.
And fret takes root, making you push through
to the top sunlight, the give that happens when you
least expect. So you collapse forward,
whistling softly to the thin chimney listening out.
Dead of Night Love Poem
There are sounds you make, sleeping, that keep me awake.
In the darkness I wonder if your dream will sunder you –
it seems to want to – gentle heave and great heave-ho
nestle there, or wrestle. We found we knew each other well
even at the beginning – so wed upon a Claddagh ring,
our bodies quickened to the deed’s fulfilment of pure need.
You flummox me now in this: that our goodnight kiss
gives to a laugh or a sigh, a pleasure moan or a hurt cry.
I lie rigid in my unrest for fear a move might make distress
of what may be your delight, yet here beside you uptight
I wonder if some nightmare holds you trembling in its snare.
On and on we drift till daybreak – you asleep, me awake –
but when with morning you stretch, when you reach
and rummage across the mattress for your scattered clothes
and casually wriggle into them, then I begin to dream
you a picture of health, pellucid both in meaning and in pelt,
and in that amazed space nothing can hold me helpless
or send you harm though you go out to all the waking alarm.
And if a startled bird flew up, or if a branch creaked
in the wood, was this the same as if nothing
had happened? We’ll find pleasure again on the banks
of the brown Dodder; we’ll walk next the spate
and open our minds to the thundering waterfall. Again
when the river clears, we’ll see our faces laughing
in its untarnished mirror. We’ll wear lilies
about our heads in that reflection. But not today.
Because Lydia jumped today, to stop the hurt – maybe
a silence or a fist, maybe a word – to stop
the hurt she never uttered, who now might shrug
at our notions of respect for the dead, and wonder why
we can’t more cherish the living instead.
O do you say she hovers still between the tree canopies
and the watercourse, taking time out to pity us?
Do you sense how she contests her own fading sense
of the streetlamp and the moon, two splintering
silver sickles afloat? Can you pluck from
thin air the tiny goodbye she waves to the fixture that is
a heron fishing? Or to the pair of swans,
‘the stupidest swans in Dublin’, nesting on a temporarily
dry segment of the sweeping weir? Glean
what you may, Lydia’s gone, and no heaven or earth,
no cypress wreath affixed to the iron footbridge
with her name on a card dampening above the spindrift…
Seumas O’Kelly’s bedridden old Malachi Roohan twists
or wrestles somehow up, determined to settle,
once and for all, the proper site for the weaver’s burial.
He grasps the rope tied to the bed’s end rail, heaves
himself half-vertical in order to pronounce
on communal connectedness, on memory and source,
but more, on the dream nature of everything.
The task of location, which will prove beyond him,
is resolved finally in a comic quarrel involving two other
ancients, a nailer and a stone-breaker, only to stand
redundant next the budding love between
the weaver’s youthful widow and a young grave-digger.
I sit, aged thirteen, turning the pages of my father’s
far-out relative’s magnum opus, and weeds
spring to mind, blood-barked yew trees and crooked
trellises of ivy. A pluck of dust happens where
herbs are tugged loose, and rhizomes that rip a sequence
of thin disturbances off the loamy graveyard ground.
A lone bush materialises, by which to lift
the grassy scalp of the ring-fort mound. I struggle down
to the subterranean, struggle and suffer
and snuggle into this dank and dismal yet strangely safe
reverse, this last recourse, bowels of the earth.
I smell humus and musk, sense something stirring – a wan
tendril or a rat’s tail – while about my stultified head
clay molecules collude, mouldering the bones
of my placid bedfellows, the dead. Here, the stokers
of fires, the shapers of farms and folktales.
Here, the famine priest’s vestments, which a mechanical
digger is destined – years from now – to raise
in pristine preservation, to set as hastily back,
after we rumple with our fingers a thing made marvellous
in the village mind. And here, unsullied
in its delft pot, the butter that was churned more than
a century ago, which the girl next door will
declare edible, touching it with a finger onto her tongue.
A Man from Derrybrien
He had the shoulders of a horse, and the long face
of a horse, and the belly of a horse.
He clomped in his wet-concrete boots as might a horse.
He whinnied for a laugh. Threw the head
at this notion or that, flighty, suspicious as a horse.
Hired himself out in the name of a horse.
And shouted, if you were a mate of his, “Hello, horse.”
Hauled a horse-load hour after hour,
and drank by night as became a thirsty horse.
Put his money on a losing horse. Shod
and groomed himself to make ‘the odd gallop back across’.
Otherwise ‘lived horse and got grass’, cantering
memories of hills he’d never settle. Lost,
it took forty years, his wind and limb – a broken horse.
In Camden Town. Forgotten as a matter of course.
Aughrim of the Slaughter
Though bits and pieces of battle can still be found, brass
or iron from musket or cannon ploughed up,
mostly nature spreads and deepens over everything. Thickens,
daubs, the way blood did then, blood in spurts
and squelches where the wounded lay with swords upright –
not in defiance any more but pleading to be put
out of their misery. And corpses everywhere scattered
were dragged about to serve as makeshift seats
or as beds beside the many fires the victors set near to night,
fires that eerily reddened the brow of Kilcommodan.
Local people assert they’ve seen the ghostly armies
materialise – as though each man’s been spirited, at start
of battle, through a hole in time – and seen
through fire and smoke cannonballs flying across the gentle
dips and climbs. But these ghosts, if they could
speak, what would they say to notions of God or country,
to avarice of kings, to ‘A la Memoire’ and ‘Died
on the Field of Honour’ chiselled into a cross? Maybe say
the sentiments of peacetime or of our day are easy,
and wonder if we – pushed – would make a stand, in the cause
of liberty or land, on grassy Urraghry Hill or where furze
blooms round Attibrassil Bridge. No answer now,
no telling, and vanished the stratagems and counter-strokes
ordered by the Generals, quelled the cavalries
charging where Tristaun Stream and Melehan River are apt,
still, in simple misstep to take both man and beast
off-guard. Hushed the ‘Bloody Hollow’, where foot-soldiers
in their untold thousands fell, all of them turned to mud,
with only strands of rusted wire rambling the low,
lichen-spangled walls to care for what was so fiercely contested.
Not deep, this digging of a space for a bus shelter,
no big rupture, the effect of an eggshell
breaking under the drill, shards of footpath, soft
subsoil, pebbles and grit. You find resemblances –
a rib, a femur, a skull – bits and pieces
you suspect won’t remember us after we are done
with waiting, with articulating heaven
as a sunny day, a win at the races, a lover’s kiss.
Cars whizz the N6, everything looking easy-peasy,
the slick, mesmeric roll of Esker Riada
west to Galway, east to Dublin, so all-fired seamless.
But what’s left is the stone axe the last man
dropped who knows how many centuries ago, maybe
on a grub-break or by his children or his
enemy called away – take it, natural as a handshake.
Sub-fossil Tree Shore
Incongruous, of course, to find trees with their roots in the sea,
but then these are dead and branchless
whom only the barnacles take to and the salt sprays foliate.
Soft soap ebb slop slides among them;
the clay-stinting rocks won’t grow them back. If I press
for metaphor, they leave me slack. And if
my mind goes worrying the lost woods of Connemara and Clare,
I’m still slipped by pine-stump remnants
of primeval forest all buttoned and coated with bladder-wrack.