Martin Burke was born in Limerick. Burke is a long term resident of Flanders where he is active as poet and playwright (and sometimes actor) and from where he has published sixteen books of his work in the USA, UK, Ireland, and Belgium -the latest work being BLAKE/LONDON/BLAKE published by the Feral Press, New York.
‘THE SPIRIT MOVED’
The spirit moved
And the thrush of my heart sang
And the sun seemed to dance as in all my childhood Easters
The spirit moved
And the world shifted, altered into another world
That would prove itself to be this world – bright as Orion
To that darkness where no stars were.
THIS MY ITHACA
Four lights (they are near)
I have pledged myself to
In a pact as strong as chiselled stone
And pledged myself against the wind
Whirling in off the river
To shake the sturdy trees and rack the roofs
That what be done be done to good ends
And ground held against the battering fates
In this season of storms
The four lights give good warning of
And show me persistence as an equal force
To counter the spring-tide flood.
And now a retinue of travellers passes before me
Like pilgrims on their way to Ithaca or Jerusalem
Or bound for some harbour beyond my sight
Holding to the ground they walk on
On their way to ground they hold above all
To which their lives are pledged
So what season and storm can matter to them
And what are the passing clouds omens of
But passing clouds
They pass under to pass on
Unguarded against the wind and rain
Except by the pledges they have made.
Yet nothing as pledged as the here and now
And I am neither weighed down nor buoyed up
But at ease in the garden
I view four lights from
To which I have given myself
By every passing and retaining rite
Making my moments here my pilgrimage
Saying that this is sacrosanct ground
As rich as any mythic city –
My Ithaca, my Jerusalem,
Held in the mind in a pact as strong
As chiselled in the hand which holds a stone.
What are my skills?
Not these, yet here am I
swaying to maintain a giddy balance
on the narrow foot walk.
Heights alarm me but is where
I dangle on exposed struts
of removed and replacing slates
and move about carefully on.
Wisdom with age? No,
just caution and necessity
in these exact dimensions where
shaped space is a signature.
I dangle, pivot, balance there-
what is my house but what I maintain.
Make it new, tell it each generation’s way said Pound, (thus this riff on the past that’s as actual as the present) –
Tain: world before the world we know but preface to modernity, primitive cadence bowed to
Ourselves in a field guarding the precious bull who is godly to the tribe
And blitzkrieg Mebh sharp as a spear, taking what she wants –‘invade, plunder, and impound’
She delighting in the pangs of Ulster –desolate province
Wounds and battered pride and ripe grass trampled
As they turn to one who might save them from the savagery for if Mebh is goodly in her powers then so is he
Like a fresh wind in April but also the culling wind of December
As perfect in his skills as a stone polished by a river
A door no one can open and pass beyond
Who, even as the armies of Ulster lie sick because a goddess works against them, is not sick
Who calls on Mebh to send her champions one by one against him
Which she does and they die, stuttering with blood-filled mouths their last words to the wind which does not even give them a passing mention in its annals
History’s origin in a terrible tableaux for the sake of a god both sides claim is theirs and theirs alone
Loud drums calling victory, loud drums calling lie down ye foolish ones lie down
But if you know the beginning you know the end and Pound’s injunction falters under the weight of blood it cannot carry
The god dies but the quarrel goes on and language does not redeem it even were it to declaim in iambic pentameter
Hope and history collide
A squawking crow land’s on the hero’s shoulder to pronounce him dead but up steps another
And the drums are beaten again.
It happened here at this simple spot where I abandon the thought I began with
In the aftermath of slaughter we are all dispossessed.
(two takes on the same theme)
Work-horse of the operative word
Joyous to a point beyond credulous belief
Malleable but resisting
Orthodox and heretic because neither of these on their own could suffice
Gone strange because strange became normal
Editor of the minute moment
Mentor and pupil in one
Working the mind’s furrows you turned up a semblance of what you later called, and transformed into, a revelation. There was credulity and disbelief but credibility won the day and the artefact shone with a cold, loving brilliance. No dissident then but one of the faithful – faithful unto the very last implication which like an echo hung on the air as a bell-tone would and did.
Alone but not in loneness of spirit
Adept at the disreputed skills of honing and polishing
Drafts littered the working table of two planks and an ink-pot
And that strange joy (which has no other name) like a garment about you
And joy a gift given freely
Little wonder that I come with admiration and approval –
Not that you require such things on your behalf
But that they are made in gratitude and inheritance
Mythologies grow and more stories abound about you than could ever be true. It doesn’t matter –not when the life exists free of the expectations that gather about you like believers at a shrine. The photographs exemplify but explain so little. There is the beloved field, the beloved house, the circle of acquaintances gathered about you like a second fortification about your progress. And you progressed – from the first acre to the wider field of the world, where the thrush which sang on that first page sang on every page unto the last scribbled line.
And we gather –
Shall I say in elegy or celebration?
Shall I say that we are now editors of our memories and that you are the prized possession?
Perhaps it doesn’t matter
Perhaps there are echoes we do not hear but which are more lasting than the claims we make
Dissident dreamer lie quietly where grace is given
As this is given like a circle come to full closure
Whatever the future your shadow will survive
And the dream prompt itself to acolyte minds.
Durable beyond a season’s ice
Words with a sensual warp –
How you moved among them like one with a bright intention
And how that intention was made real
It was as if they cantered out of the Greek élan
To subjugate the northern cold –
A gravity of birdsong and light
And history’s calligraphy in the cursive script of a nib
Where I bed down in the ferns of legacy
With gravity’s lift and bounce, buoyancy and light
And my shire all a-glitter and singing.
The rain barrel ‘cold to look at’
Yet light gathered itself to itself there
And a shadow gathered on the sun dial
These were the precedents
The gifts of one seasons tumbling into another
Which no Paradiso could equal
Which memory now comes suddenly alive with
As if to deal in semblance is the purest art
And to call it up is to call up the sparks
Of a bellows airing a forge-fire
So what dies if remembered?
In that memory now and hereafter
I live the spring-fed streams and summer yeast.
Striding London, fluent and flamboyant,
Breaking windows while others got away with the swag,
So that when he said il liglior fabbro I knew what he was talking about
Even as I bamboozled the others.
That a voice become the incantation of an age,
That a mind make Minotaur’s maze a plaything for unravelment
Was the tactic and goal –
I Tiresias, I Orpheus, I myself as many another
Slippery as an eel, jocular in many a persona
That I might always be and only be myself as the Argo’s prow-eye:
Fare forward voyagers?
From who do you think he learned that
Mon semblable –mon frère!
Yet now whose head shall I crown with these my withered lilies?
Caged like an animal, gawked at like an animal,
A trophy disgraced, fencing the ghosted air
That the body survive that the mind survive
That I be what I must be and not with sterile vanity;
So you there, jousters of air, semblances that once were
I am soon to come among you as few others have come
Without hope, without excuse or mitigating voice
Or Bertram’s stateliness nor sage-patience as I have written,
Dante’s now more than I have ever been
More than ever enamoured by that sweet and necessary tongue
Yet whose head shall I crown with these my withered lilies now that the hoarfrost gathers on my hand?
Deception, rage, betrayal
My rant at the world more remembered than my poems of it –
Where is the forgiveness?
The logic of quanta forgoes conclusions
What’s proved can be disproved
Merely to observe is to participate
The odds are stacked against a purely historical scan.
I betrayed and was betrayed
The splintered bones are laid out for the autopsy
I’m pronounced suitably dead but no one claims the body
So, do I fester thus in your mind?
The embarrassing corpse party-guests attempt to ignore
The reference-point who remains unnamed
The circle’s emptiness and no longer its hub?
I betrayed and was betrayed but what is that to the world?
If it’s love which makes us human I’ll call no man enemy.
Sunwards to an absence of sun
Stone eyes turn
As they would to any suggestion of light
Whose memories of time (known only to time)
Are an unblinking gaze
That could be map’s end or navel-point.
And what redemption settled here and what residue remains
In unambiguous language we might fashion into
Sensible diction and a returned gaze?
We are outlived and silence is alive.
In an absence of sun we also turn to face the sun
And welcome winter’s whiteness for its fire.