Eamonn Wall is the author of six collections of poetry: Sailing Lake Mareotis (2011) A Tour of Your Country (2008), Refuge at De Soto Bend (2004), The Crosses (2000), Iron Mountain Road (1997), and Dyckman-200th Street (1994), all published by Salmon Publishing in Ireland. His next collection, New and Selected Poems, will be published by Salmon in 2014. Individual poems have been published in The Shop, Poetry Ireland Review, Cyphers, West47, TriQuarterly, Crab Orchard Review, South Dakota Review, River Styx, The Recorder, New Hibernia Review, Eire-Ireland, Nebraska Review, and other journals. Writing the Irish West: Ecologies and Traditions was published by University of Notre Dame Press in 2011.
Palms’ greeting at the kitchen door
white with flour. Next, she would
offer words of welcome, then turn
away to wash all white right out.
She dried hands, then presented
scones. I made a pot of tea,
real Wexford tea, stronger than
tarmacadam. We offered familiar
conversation, terms drawn again
from a bag of clichés as warm
as pastries. We moaned when we
heard that the Wilsons had called,
the “fragile” daughter fidgeting in her
purse for sanitizer. On wooden
forms we sat, old clock singing
out the time. Rain, this day, falling
on the fuchsia in the garden. After
the cigarettes, drawn from packets
like cold revolvers, had been lighted
up deep talk commenced. This day it
began with that Carlow “So and So”
and concluded with a fierce attack
on the latest leader of the Labour
Party, an inoffensive Dublin gurrier.
Drinking deeply, I inclined my
ears: vowel, consonant, rhythm,
seanfhocal, bean an tí, huge bursts
of laughter, blue air Silk Cut
regular and ultra, Mrs. O’Kelly
held up to ridicule for favouring
pints of Smithwicks shandy. Lord,
the cruelty of it all, how I loved
to listen in on country life, taking
my turn, lingering on for encores
played out round the kitchen sink.
By then ninety he reversed hands
so I might read a fable inscribed
on his soft washed palms. Self-
evident, he said, no bother please
with why, what, or how. He let
me run my fingers along his lines.
Closing his eyes, my father breathed
with an even calm. I smelled
onion on his breath, chapstick
richly coated to his lips. Light
of winter weak, defined, found
the curtain’s slit, crossed his
crown as it wound across the room.
The lines I followed backward,
every strand ended neatly
tied with bows: green, red, white,
pink like roses and greens that grew
once in his garden by the sea:
songlines of a father’s life yielded
up to me, two bodies joined together
winter’s afternoon, light and water
flowed. Traffic along a moving street:
he sought to pass his life along to me.
MY NEIGHBOUR DEMANDS I CRACK THE DA VINCI CODE
The Da Vinci Code brought me back to boarding school,
I replied in explanation to my neighbour’s query. Thus!
His eyebrows tightened, he stepped forward. He had one
foot dug into my property, an arm resting idly on a spade.
Let me recreate for you an ending to those dismal days. At
first, a firm rattle over cattle bars, father’s hands held rapt
to steering wheel, escape from silent monk-men starring Dad
and me. And no religion too—I caught an old refrain—
that day I flung my holy beads away, Dublin-headed bad. I
ended thus my cowardly tale of exiting Catholic education.
That’s The Da Vinci Code for you! My neighbor J. Smith,
late of Little Rock, Arkansas, recoiled, not convinced. My
magic-realist account of exit from cold hallways of monastic
indoctrination accounting poorly with recent hot news
handed down by Dan Brown. I read suspicion on his brow.
He looked at me red-faced. Surely, I concealed the scandalous.
Flagellation, he said, wryly smiling in his wispy way before
whispering at me Opus Dei. You know, he said, that kinky
Roman strut. You are an Irish Catholic after all! Surely, you
learned that score, your story hides more than it does reveal!
Neighbour, it is exactly as Dan Brown invents it in The Da
Vinci Code. That’s how it was for me in boarding school:
switches, ropes, chains, nails, two-by-fours, drills, and boiling
tar. Not to mention the mighty wrack turned by long-limbed
thin men of royal Co. Meath. We smoked fags four to cubicle
down the corridor from the common room. It was such a blast,
I had to add. Did I neglect to instance altar wine? And, under
our idolatrous chapel downward: downward, downward, deep
along narrowing corridors to secret rooms al a Dan Brown’s
The Da Vinci Code. A little of Indiana Jones will help you
understand. Agitated and red, my neighbor took a harsh step
forward from his Bible Belt into my personal cushion of space.
Unkindly, I inquired about the Ku Klux Klan. He retreated,
turning right, quickly homeward to 311 Lincoln Boulevard.
O Brother Where Art Thou, often running on late-night TV,
the missing nugget of info I had not wit to proffer. Next time, I
thought, facing the stony path and fancy steps to my own abode:
inside, blinds down, my wife, all naked under her dressing gown.
WHEN THE TRAIN BEGINS TO MOVE I DESIRE
Leaning forward I peer into old brown carriages:
a conductor used smoke at the row nearest
to the lavatory. Once, I read The Hawkline Monster
returning from Easter break. Habits differed then.
Then, the world was ahead of me though
what comprised it the darkness along the line disallowed.
My soles have cracked from walking, my face lifted
upward to the sun is gauged unpredictably.
There is a whiteness grafted to this train. Chilled,
I recline in near-empty carriage dross
of signage: separated sheets of newspapers, cups,
three Q Tips at my feet. The exterior is deep as winter life.
Now, the white train has begun to move. Havarti, olives,
some cuts of bread. A glass of beer to wash it down. Here!
THE GUERRA DE LA PAZ EXHIBIT: A REVERIE
(Craft Alliance Gallery, St. Louis, Jan. 2012)
They had seen the error of their ways,
the Jesuit fathers. With great wrecking
balls the Pevely dairy was raised up
high to rubble down. My lovely daughter
once walked the black robes’ airy marble
halls, crossed quadrangles winter
nights to seek among Humphrey’s
droll denizens, over nightcaps, stones
of wisdom—sneakered, hooded,
Levis-jeaned, one of many young
lady Billikens. Miraculously, or not
so, dust settled, brick down south
sold and stones to landfill carted,
pastures re-emerged at Pevely farm:
cows and sheep showing-up wet
one St. Patrick’s Day to graze. Today,
ponies emerge from mercy’s shadow
breaking to a trot. On a pasture
a young shepherd entertains a flock
of visitors from the skies: tea and cake
is allotted all on our hallowed earth.
For many years, I had called a halt.
No one listened. All my walls came
tumbling down our breaking city sighed.
The black robe headman favoured,
push coming to shove, demolition
over sweet and homely preservation.
He came to see the error of his ways.
Beneath an awning to the east,
between the dairy and the barn,
Alain Guerra and Neraldo de la Paz
sort through piles of textiles: they
are planning to show another work of art.
Cuban-born, schooled in Chicago
and De Kalb, honour these refugee’s
most tender hands, America. A large
black cat they hired to help them
is fast asleep atop a pile of polka-dot
dresses—white, black, hectic red
and dusty lavender. His name is Doc.
Wielding hoes instead of missals,
black robes bear the brunt of dread
afternoon while my daughter, some
years graduated, has placed her arm
across my shoulder to steady my spirit
for the curved road that lies ahead
of us. If you think this conga line
of dancers, entitled Guerra De La Paz:
Follow the Leader, terminated here,
near the door of the Craft Alliance
Gallery on Grand Blvd., St. Louis,
MO, where women and girls
discarded boots and clothes, you are
quite mistaken. Briefly, they traveled
underground from here, emerging
from a manhole at the still-center
of Pevely Farm. Some wore patterned
dresses, others faded dungarees.
All wore farm-appropriate footwear.
Had I read of this in the Post-Dispatch?
How, viewing the rubble strewn
on Grand, the Jesuit fathers had seen
the error of their ways and planted
seed instead of concrete, calling
for cows instead of couches, sheep
as antidote to sheetrock? How we
walked one day—daughter, father,
Doc—and observed two men from across
the Mississippi sorting cloth into works
of art? All the while, the black robes
tended to the fields while chanting Bach
and Handel to their flock? We sat
together in a corner booth in Humphrey’s—
you and Doc and I—remember?