Ciarán O’Rourke lives in Leitrim. He has won the Lena Maguire/Cúirt New Irish Writing Award, the Westport Poetry Prize, and the Fish Poetry Prize.
His first collection, The Buried Breath, is published by Irish Pages Press.
These days I decorate my desk with light
made sea-like, shimmering, by stones:
each solid heart and shifting patina
sucks in the sun and pools about its base
a scutch of shadow, small and deep,
that darkens as the hours sleep
inside my little world of one. The sun,
the sun you loved, returns
in swallow-flits and gusting spells
above my moss-lit balcony and door,
where time to time, with you in mind, I try
to smell the Leitrim meadows growing rich
with earthen heat and rain, a sour scent
my body pastel-picture-paints in green
and blue, when eyes are shut
and slowly drifting. Night by garish night
I dream of you
and tune into a voice not mine
that sobs and gargles like a grifter toad
within my kettle-drumming ribs: before you died
your dropping mouth could barely breathe
a word in speech; I stood outside
the gaunt-face-doubled glass
and watched you travel inner distances in hush,
a ghost without a language, fixed
on the river-darkness rising through the mask
departing pain had hid your sunken gaze
beneath. My nightmares keep you
out of reach, until – when leanest dread
departs at dawn – I lift
time’s spiral shell and hold it near, and hear
the ocean’s season break and roll, the skies
you painted coming true. In every photograph
I meet, your eyes shine out a summer blue.
It’s true: I’ve fled the pigeon-rich
and shining capital,
its undropped vulture heat, to pace
the green-encrusted lichen lanes
and talk to photographs of you. My view
is of a swallow-haunted swell of slates,
and risen peaks of Autumn air,
through which an engined, asphalt-river sound
will drift, or now and then a heedless bell
to raise the starlings on their round.
In daily walkabout, I tend
to meet the morning like a neighbour –
more than once, or hardly ever –
(my every poem denotes the weather)
till sky steps out and shakes its sack
of coal-grey, clatter-fisting rain
like a bog-fed lake dispersed in flecks
across the fencing fields. I turn to art
for what the stillness yields.
Today, a never posted picture-card:
a fresco of some saint at sea,
his hands tossed up like flapping sheaves,
his stencil-keen, un-god-like face
imperilled and bemused
by what the still congealing, iron frost
of elemental turbulence
might make of this, his stooping boat’s
divine egress. His wooden fate
takes on a gleaming mystery, when
dabbed and scumble-dipped in clay.
I am no saint or weatherman, and lack
the brilliance of each vanished bell that sings.
But the days we share apart reach out
their misting miracle of light
like a cup my tangled heart must lift
and drain repeatedly – to breathe and live.
I only live, and breathe,
a lumpen, murmurating thing, remembering.
The earth in flux, a riven world,
I pace with passion, nonetheless,
down Leitrim’s glowing passageways
of leaf and mossy green –
the airy poplars whispering
in rows along the road.
My indoor diaries
depict the time like this, in technicolour,
my portrait as I am –
a lean-eyed solipsist in motion – or
as I would appear
to some inhabitant
of a future
free of terror (life-derived,
or inner), a keeper of the fire –
I find myself a stranger.
Yesterday, from nowhere known,
my heart-sore, sordid gut
a soft, obliterating ritual
that took my body over:
I floated up
the sun-besmirching stairwell
like a ghost, a jar
of mud-blue wine in tow
to curtained room, to toast
my morbid health alone: soon
I felt the shaking day extend its arm
(my fingertips were nearly numb)
like a shadow breathing
on a window-pane,
dissolving in the mist. Five
hundred nights since I’ve been kissed.
The simple gist:
to give it
like it really is (whimsically serious).
Beside my desk, in black
and white, the voice
of Billie Holiday in flight,
her face a captive moon of light,
uptilted into song. Black
boys and girls were murdered then,
and beaten blue, for blinking
in the summer heat
or pocketing a cigarette. Some
histories keep ringing true.
I almost hear the singing now,
an aching, slow, collapsing sound,
as under sunken
clods of cloud, sad swallows
skirt the humming ground,
while farther out,
in spitting sun,
a mob I know begins to spew.
White noise invades the radio
and spills into the street.
You’ll find me
where the wires meet, a bedsit
silhouette released – listening
as the season sets the avenues ablaze.