William Ruleman is Professor of English at Tennessee Wesleyan College, where he teaches a wide range of courses, including creative writing and literature, with a specialization in modern poetry in English, including that of Yeats, whose hometown of Sligo he will be visiting on May 2013. His poems have appeared most recently in Open Writing and Poetry Salzburg Review, but also in many other journals, while his first two books of poetry were published by Feather Books of Shrewsbury, England, and his translations of Stefan Zweig’s early novellas and stories appeared in 2011 from Ariadne Press. Currently he has several other books of poems and translations in progress.
FINTAN OF CLONEENAGH
Some monks from abbeys nearby:
We felt he was overdoing it
So censured that handsome old head,
Yet far from misconstruing it,
He just smiled at what we said:
“For me, just bread and water,
Yes, muddy water and bread.
For I’m a sinful old rotter
Who’d be better off dead.”
But bread and muddy water?
Muddy water and bread?
“Good Lord, have mercy on me
By the wounds where our Lord Christ bled.
I’m steeped in iniquity
And all too richly fed.”
Still, bread and muddy water?
Just muddy water and bread?
“The Lord God has a daughter
Christ alone could wed;
But I, poor sod, have sought her
To serve till I’m good and dead.”
We gaped at his shining eyes
And his cheeks so ruddy red
And thought: “The devil lies,”
For we couldn’t fathom him dead.
COLMAN OF LINDISFARNE
I have little say in the sway of things,
When Easter should be kept and such.
So I made my retreat away from the world,
There where the sea winds raved and hurled
The waves at the rocks and the mermaid sings
Of sinners who sank after winning much.
The English monks bickered with my men
(Griped they’d twice their share of the work—
That hard, grim toil we’d never shirk),
So I gave them their own little separate pen,
And we lived in frugal simplicity
In Lindisfarne, by the surging sea.
JOYCE’S “THE DEAD”
At table, Gabriel carves the goose
And longs to be alone, outside,
Away from the falseness of being nice
And knowing all evening long he has lied.
We watch him carve each guest a slice,
And “Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide?”
His starched white collar is like a noose,
His life like the horse he’ll later describe
As circling King Billy’s monument
Again and again, without progression,
An act echoing enslavement to Britain
He only recounts in a “mocking jibe,”
Not till the story of Michael Furey,
Of whom Gretta said: “He died for me,”
Does he think of his part in the comedy
And all those “beaten into the clay”
For dear Cathleen ni Houlihan
And stands at the window as flurry on flurry
Sinks to the street, down to the “brown
Imperturbable” buildings, the ground, the sea:
On all the living and the dead.
AN ANCESTOR’S VISIT, IT SEEMS
I dream of an English or Irish village lad
Compelled by want to go and serve a lord
Who haunts some grand old gloomy castle clad
In vanity of ancient shield and sword
And tables laden with every sort of dish—
Especially platters glaring with rare red meat,
Though only the slivers of plain yet succulent fish
Seem fare that’s halfway fit for him to eat.
Back home for a day, he tells the lass he loves
To stay right there, for nature alone is good.
“Never leave this place, with all its meadows and groves
And every pleasure of pond and stream and wood.”
His eyes shrink from her puzzled look. He cannot think.
And what he longs for now is the Lethe of drink.
A LATE SUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM . . .
Of mountain flower beside the beltway rim,
Laurel in bloom we simply zoomed on past,
And as we circled the city on a whim,
I thought of how, in my mind, those blooms would last
Long after we’d razed the last mountain all our grim
And giddy greed for more coal to fuel our desires
For every more flowering cities with towering spires
Whose glare shocks senseless the soothing gloom of night,
Whose sodium lights fill in for actual stars
So we, as stars, and seized by a sick delight,
Can soar all night if we like in our separate cars
And race past any bush still left in sight,
The glittering city with us in its spell
As round and round we lap it, lovers in hell.
AN EVASIVE ONE
A tender one was out of touch with the time
So much that people thought him a loser;
He’d fiddle for hours over a rhyme
(Some even rumored that he was a boozer).
Yet none could fix on him firm blame;
He always seemed to slip from the grip
Of those who sought a simple name
For virtue and fired theirs from the hip.