Matt Mooney. Born in Kilchreest, Co. Galway in 1943, he has lived in Listowel since 1966. His four collections of poems are: Droving(2003), Falling Apples (2010),
Earth to Earth (2015) and The Singing Woods (2017). Some of his poems have been included in: The Galway Review,Feasta, First Cut, West 47, Duilleoga, Striking a Cord, The Applicant, Poetry Breakfast, Poems on the Edge, Focus Education UK Ltd. and in the Amaravati Poetic Prism Anthology 2018.
In the annals of Cúchulainn’s sons
appear the names of our ancestors;
time of Land League, landlords and evictions:
when our Gaelic Games were spawned
while we waited for the dawn of freedom;
floating on a tide of national pride
from the nineteenth to the twentieth century.
Barefoot players on pitches improvised,
tournaments and marching bands
of brass and reed and fife and drum:
the baronies hurling the troubled years away
with camáns shaped like camógs;
the flying sliotar, a harbinger of peace,
sending shivers down the spine of time,
raising up our ancient race
to feel again our rightful nationhood;
running on – this fever in the blood,
leaving to posterity dexterity and style-
present on the field of play today
in the genes of great grand children:
as accurate in every game
in their aim from centre field or side line cut,
and we cheer them from the stands
for they are Cúchulainn’s youngest sons.
*(Cúchulainn (Culainn’s hound) or Setanta was a legendary hurling hero in Irish mythology. Hurling is one of our Gaelic games, over 2000 years old but revived by the Gaelic Athletic Association founded in 1884. It is played with hurleys and a small ball or sliotar in a match of 15 a side lasting 70 minutes. The ball can be struck in the air or on the ground. One goal is equal to three points. Points are scored over the crossbar. The hurley or camán is made from the ash tree and is shaped like a camóg (rough walking stick) or hockey stick but with a wider striking area. The ball is made from cork covered with ridged leather. Croke Park is the HQ of the GAA and the Hurling Final is always played there on the first Sunday in September.)
Note this that if and when ever I die –
(the word ‘ever’ I use reservedly
for we are regularly reminded
by reverend fathers at funerals
that death is one of a few certainties),
think of something funny to slip in
if you are saying farewell to me
in case they’d think I was too serious
or worse still to have been a bore
for you see I’m quite sure
it’s the way to go – from what I know,
is to play the joker
if you have him up your sleeve
for I believe from what I remember
he could play his part and pay his way
better than any king or queen
welted down on a wooden table
with a sudden shout of victory
playing for geese or turkeys
just before the Feast of Christmas
on a winter’s night in a country pub
giving off a sound like ash on ash
in an over heated local hurling match.
In poker jokers can be wild
and under his cloak of mirth and fun
can take the place of anyone
among the elite of playing cards –
though countless games they’ve won.
Burning Potato Stalks
Deep green barely seen
potato shoots coming up
in little firm bunches
thrilling from the clay
promising good times
in stepped out rows
headland to headland.
Growing up before me
in the land of summer,
the straight stalks flower
in daisy white blossoms
tinged with purple.
Time to spray they say
for blight, a deadly enemy.
Digging time is looming
sometime in October
then the picking, carting
and pitting for the winter.
Lying along erased drills
the stalks wilt, fit to burn
in Indian summer time.
We gather them with forks,
my father and myself,
on a hillside tillage field
tilted towards the light
from the sun sinking low
on its way to Galway Bay.
We used it as our timepiece
and weather vane as well
when we raised our heads
days ‘down in the garden’.
Piled up lit and burned off,
leaving an undying flame
within me in his memory,
bonfires of withered stalks.
Smoke like incense spirals
for a healthy crop given,
crackling and consuming.
Smells that rock the senses.