Patrick Deeley – Burials

The Forge at Gort Lit Fest 13Patrick Deeley is a poet and children’s author. He was born in Loughrea, County Galway, but has lived most of his life in Dublin. David Marcus published many of his early poems in New Irish Writing during the late 1970s and early 1980s. His first collected work appeared in Raven Introductions 1. Six highly praised collections of his poems have been published by Dedalus Press: ‘Intimate Strangers’ (1986), ‘Names for Love’ (1990), ‘Turane: The Hidden Village’ (1995), ‘Decoding Samara’ (2000), ‘The Bones of Creation’ (2008), and ‘Groundswell: New and Selected Poems’ (2013).
His poems have also featured in leading literary journals in Ireland and been published in the USA, UK, Canada and Australia, as well as being translated to French, Italian, Dutch, Ukranian and Moldovan, and anthologised in more than thirty compilations.
His books for children, published by O’Brien Press, include ‘The Lost Orchard’, winner of the Eilis Dillon Book of the Year Memorial Award in 2001.
He worked as a member of the Council of Poetry Ireland from 1985 to 1989. He has read at a number of festivals including Cuirt, Galway Arts, The Forge, Cork Spring Festival, Kilkenny Arts, West Cork, Shorelines, Baffle, Southbank London, Errigal and Westport. He took early retirement from his job as a primary school principal in Ballyfermot in order to devote more time to writing, and is working on a memoir.


For a while he fascinated us more than any rock star,
the man who chose to be buried alive in a coffin, a tube of air
fed down to where he lay in the compacted dark,
eating his grub, drinking, doing – we supposed – his business.
Each day we ear-cupped his drone out of our radio:

he told us how it felt – this enterprise of his, this place he
had to go so dark only a dead man could grow
used to it. He laughed, but his laugh – and his brand of guff –
soon turned wearisome, and frights he rustled up
stopped scaring us, so we switched him off. Burials

we had already seen, our neighbours huddled while the priest
in wind-licked vestments cast his ashes-to-ashes prayer,
the box lowered, thump and scrape of earth shovelled over it.
Dying people we had visited – hands clutching
at chenille coverlets, wrists contused with rainbow colours,

voices of those who would die at home falling to mutters.
Their eyes searched us as if we’d come to rob them;
their flab-skinned gullets choked on spittle or their own
sickish air. And when the curtains were pulled and the clock
stopped, we filed in by the front door, out the back,

noting how the twig of a Sitka spruce, say, stood
magnified against the moon, or how the rain slanted ‘in
heavenly approval’ of the life the deceased had led, or hearing
the ‘is, isn’t, is, isn’t’ of a bee nuzzling among wallflowers –
and we would marvel at the lightening of our hearts

before some sense of nature’s indifference even as it rose
from frost or decay, from sudden predation shaking
the bushes, from the ruin and countermand of its own creation,
brought our own mortality again to thought.
Stolid, cottage-cramped, the adults wrapped death in wreaths

and rosary beads, in ritual and alcohol. Maudlin then,
they’d beckon us to touch the cold hands joined, the head
barely denting its bolster. Less ghost than waxwork
tingled our fingers; the bed of conception and of birthing took
what it had given. We would shake our heads

at how mostly people’s dying isn’t up to them, all fuses
blown at once or lingeringly their lights put out, their last words
a gasped ‘What’s happening?’, as though aware
of onset of separation, a journey to be travelled far from faults
and foolishness, from the thing of the body, the world

and its functioning. Yet they would return, speak
to us without so much as bending our ear; they’d perpetuate
a resonance we might fine-tune, carry consoled,
less lonely for the conversation. But they would never speak
as the buried-alive man had spoken, through a tube

or a yoked-up microphone – even if, as he did, they must slip,
fade into the white noise of distance and of our growing
older, threadbare, apart. We’d sigh and whisper how – more than
ever – they mattered to us now, would joy to be given
just one moment enough to clear our throats, satisfy the hurt.


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