Ó Riada’s Farewell

Roving, unsatisfied ghost,
old friend, lean closer;
leave us your skills:
lie still in the quiet
of your chosen earth.

Woodtown Manor, Again
We vigil by the dying fire,
talk stilled for once,
foil clash of rivalry,
fierce Samouri pretence.

Outside a rustle of bramble,
jack fox around the framing
elegance of a friend’s house
we both choose to love:

two natives warming themselves
at the revived fire
in a high ceiling room
worthy of Carolan –

clatter of harpsichord
the music leaping
like a long candle flame
to light ancestral faces

pride of music
pride of race

Abruptly, closer to self-revelation
than I have ever seen, you speak;
bubbles of unhappiness breaking
the bright surface of Till Eulenspiegel.

I am in great danger, you whisper,
as much to the failing fire
as to you friend & listener;
though, you have great luck.

Our roles reversed, myself cast
as the light-fingered master,
the lucky dancer on thin ice,
rope walker on the precipice.

Magisterial, ruddy moustached,
smiling, I sense the strain
behind your jay’s life,
your sharp player’s mask.

Instinct wrung and run
awry all day, powers idled
to self-defeat, the vaccum
behind the catalyst’s gift.

Beyond the flourish
of personality, peacock
pride of music or language:
a constant, piercing torment!

Signs earlier, a stranger
made to stumble at a bar door,
fatal confusion of the powers
of the upper and lower air.

A playing with fire, leading
you, finally, tempting you
to the unforgivable, the
calling of death for another.

A door opens,
and she steps into the room,
smothered in a black gown,
harsh black hair falling to her knees,
a pale tearstained face.

How pretty you look,
Miss Death!

Sing a song
for the mistress
of the bones

the player
on the black keys
the darker harmonies

light jig
of shoe buckles
on a coffin lid


pale glint
of a wrecker’s lantern
on a jagged cliff

across the ceaseless
glitter of the spume:
a seagull’s creak.

the damp haired
seaweed stained sorceress
marshlight of defeat


chill of winter
a slowly failing fire
faltering desire

Darkness of Darkness
we meet on our way
in loneliness

Blind Carolan
Blind Raftery
Blind Tadhg

Hell Fire Club
Around the house all night
dark music of the underworld,
hyena howl of the unsatisfied,
latch creak, shutter sigh,
the groan and lash of trees,
a cloud upon the moon.

Released demons moan.
A monstrous black tom
crouches on the roofbeam.
The widowed peacock screams
knowing the fox’s tooth:
a cry, like rending silk

& a smell of carrion where
baulked of their prey,
from pane to tall window
pane, they flit, howling
to where he lies, who has
called them from defeat.

Now, their luckless meat,
turning a white pillowed room,
smooth as a bridal suite
into a hospital bed where
a lucid beast fights against
a blithely summoned doom.

At the eye of the storm
a central calm, where
tearstained, a girl child
sleeps cradled in my arms
till the morning points
and you are gone.

The Two Gifts
And a nation mourns:
The blind horseman with his harp carrying servant,
Hurrying through darkness to a great house
Where a lordly welcome waits, as here:
Fingernail spikes in candlelight recall
A ripple & rush of upland streams,
The slant of rain on void eye sockets,
The shrill of snipe over mountains
Where a few stragglers nest in bracken –
After Kinsale, after Limerick, after Aughrim,
After another defeat, to be redeemed
By the curlew sorrow of an aislin.

The little Black Rose
(To be sprinkled with tears)
The Silk of the Kine
(To be shipped as dead meat)

‘They tore out my tongue
So I grew another one’,
I heard a severed head
Sing down a bloddy stream.

But a lonelier lady mourns,
the muse of a man’s particular gift,
Mozart’s impossible marriage of fire & ice,
skull sweetness of the last quartets,
Mahler’s horn wakening the autumn forest,
the harsh blood pulse of Stravinsky,
the hammer of Boulez
which you will never lift.
Never to be named with your peers,
I am in great danger, he said;
firecastles of flame,
a name extinguished.

With no family
& no country

a voice rises
out of the threatened beat
of the heart & the brain cells

(not for the broken people
nor for the blood soaked earth)

a voice like an animal howling
to itself on a hillside
in the empty church of the world

a scream
an imprecation
a yelp
a cry

a lament so total
it mourns no one
but the globe itself
turning in the endless halls
of space, populated
with passionless stars

and that always raised voice

Macedonia 1972 – Cork 1974


The Lure (for Seán Ó Riada)

John Montague

Again, that note! A weaving
melancholy, like a bird crossing

pale ice on a corrie
opening inward, soundless harp-
strings of rain:

the pathos
of letters in the 1916 Room
‘Mother, I thank …’

a podgy landmine,
Pearse’s swordstick leading to a care-
fully profiled picture.

That point
where folk and art meet murmurs
Herr Doctor as

the wail of tin
whistle climbs against fiddle, and
the bodhrán begins –

lost cry
of the yellow bittern!