Bill Richardson is Emeritus Professor in Spanish at the National University of Ireland Galway. He has published numerous books and articles on Spanish and Latin American literature, Spanish culture and society, Translation and Linguistics. He is a specialist in the work of the Argentine author, Jorge Luis Borges, and has particular expertise in the area of literary spatiality. To date he has published a handful of poems in Irish newspapers.
Change of Climate
Rainy streets alive with windows,
suburban Galway’s most serene;
respectful distance, mild restraint:
observers of the West’s frontier.
Seaside city knuckles down,
flinched against another storm;
hearts are calm, nerves not pumping:
stolid burghers keeping form.
But are those waves out on the bay
creating chaos in the sky?
the vastness of a broken ocean
making fearful marks on high?
Terror now will find an outlet,
nightmares meld into a bow:
we’ll lift our heads, scream our panic,
go to where we do not know.
Fantasy and Froth
The tap: you turn it way too much.
Inside, the rubber seal is squeezed – too tight –
and shrinks accordingly,
so next time you must tighten that bit more.
For a time this works, as not a drop is lost, until
the seal’s compressed to half its normal size, and then
the closing’s not complete,
the water will emerge
and no amount of turning close the flow.
Relax, let go.
Don’t overdo the twisting of my heart:
there is a sweet point you should not exceed.
You hold me tight, and
cling in hope that this may last.
But night progresses, and, bodies disentangled,
now becalmed, we each retreat and centre on ourselves.
Dreams take us in their flow
and we revert to being what we are,
pent in a world of make-believe,
held in place by fantasy and froth.
I’d hoped your dark-eyed beauty could be mine
and let me feel how happy life could be –
your honey-smile forever drew me in –
your face the only freedom I could see
my heart alert to everything you did
I waited all these years to be your love –
I wanted not just closeness to your skin
but all the kindness I’d been dreaming of
your look now says that you are moving on –
your eyes no longer linger over me –
too late I strive to light that spark again –
there is no way ahead that I can see.
Here I lie, in the warm intelligence of my mother,
while strains of hope flood through us.
Thus begins what will be,
embodying what will fall, and rise again,
and fall and rise again,
the flux and feel of it,
anxious for existence,
the hints of future in it pointing to the north of it,
mutterings of breathy life,
stutterings of angel-dust,
longings at the heart of it,
making of cells, journey underway,
sinewy visions and this shape asking for the quick of it.
I appear, and joy is cloying,
soft greetings fly while non-existent wings make all the noise they will,
bringing the baby to the place of clocks and maps.
Rhythms of movement lead me on,
to be there where the city unfolds its latest suburb,
knocks heads with nature,
bathes all in luminescent night.
Here in these meadows the concrete floors intrude, bind us to the future.
I’ll go and be what noone has ever been,
take a place that noone has ever seen.
This body will lie where no one has ever lain
and let the tide of urban spread
populate the rural idyll.
newborn dwellings make their mark
and stake a claim on happiness.
How is this lightness here?
Where does the hope come from
that places brick upon brick,
cell mounted on cell,
built up and out and beyond,
asserting self, requesting space, denying void?
Cities and people, houses and bodies,
both are thrusting things, they state
their owners’ hopes and fears, but let not
static meanings fill the emptiness inside.
My legs mean movement, and I know
that there is more to me and my identity
than standing still the way this house stays here.
This house in which I’ve grown does not define me
even as it gives me place and time to be,
and the newness of my body and my dwelling-place
will simply fade as seconds tick away.
After the Funeral
Love is the last light spoken.
From Ballinagar the news spread like a wave,
the circle of grief expanding far and wide,
and mourners came from across the county and beyond
to fill the church and spill out in its grounds.
And they invited everyone back
to your house down the country lane,
to wake you.
And it seemed everyone came.
Many had not even been able to enter
because the church was tiny and the congregation so large.
The great and the good and the not-so-good came,
big and small farmers, the doctor and his wife,
local politicians, shopkeepers from the town,
your pals from the pub
who had warmed to the gossip you shared with them
as you bantered your way through evenings of cold beers.
Your customers came;
you had worked your farm machinery on their land,
with your skills at baling, spreading slurry, making hay.
And your colleagues came.
You had shared your expertise with them:
tractors, trailers, spreaders and loaders,
and power take-off shafts
– PTO shafts –
like the one at the back of your tractor,
the one that killed you,
that Monday morning when for a moment
your attention drifted from the task at hand
and the PTO
– a thousand revolutions a minute,
seventeen per second –
caught the sleeve of your jacket
and drew you in and made an instant mess of hand and arm.
After the funeral, community kicked in:
burly neighbouring men marshalled the frosting fields where cars were parked,
women arrived with food and set it out on tables in your home.
Someone found a torch or two
to guide the drivers in and out of fields where they could park;
someone else had hi-vis vests for those who needed them
out on the lane directing traffic,
as the January evening closed in around us.
They came in droves to the stone farmhouse out the back road,
and filled it as you would have wanted,
with their cheer, their chat,
analyses of animals and machines,
rivalries and caustic comments on the changing world,
easy jostling talk and raucous laughs,
and their wish to be together, to form a shield
raised against their isolation.
Nothing is more singular than death
and this day means confronting it.
In the teeth of your mortality,
the crowds display a common wish to face it down,
to say to death,
We have each other, you will not take us alone –
for all that we face the final fear ourselves,
while we can share a laugh and swap our tales,
sing our songs and know each other’s feelings,
this wake can ease our pain,
delete at least some terror,
make possible the lonely walk into the cold night
back to our cars,
and break the hold you’ve got on us;
so, even if we know the end-point is looming,
ineluctable, secretly defined,
the wait will be less bleak for this togetherness,
the days less bare,
the nights less terrifying
if we have these teas, the sandwiches,
the greens, reds, golds of salads, buns and biscuits,
cakes brown and yellow, crates of beer,
bottles of whiskey, gin and brandy, and also softer stuff,
all this to help us on our way.
You who are not here,
you are the heart of this.
Your presence fills this house
more fully than when you lived within its walls.
A modest man, hard-working and sincere,
you spent your time outside:
daily round of fields and road
supplied a steady rhythm to the home,
the grace of rough farm life,
keeping the family secure.
Your boys worked along with you,
more like brothers than sons,
with easy means of telling what needed to be done.
And now the darkness comes: crowds thin out,
turf-sods glow, and softer talk prevails.
The young have mostly left and, by the hearth,
the older people sit and share their tales.
The food that is left over has been wrapped:
we’ll pack the fridge with what can be preserved
and sit subdued between the hushed farewells.
Despite the stream of mourners who have called
and sympathised with stumbling words and tears,
the loss is there, the gap is still unfilled
and all the fuss will only ease the pain.
But the bonds we’ve shared today will still persist
and, reinforced, the circle will remain.