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Two Poems


The Crystalline Heaven

              The new people, the quick money
                      Dante's Inferno 16.73

I sit up here, in the crystalline heaven,
    High as Dante, looking down
On the dog-eat-dog of Florence, Dublin town,
Through the marvellous dome of glass above Dail Eireann.
Coffee is over; a quarter past eleven
And the deputies file back in. Concentric hells
Of seats are filling up, conspiratorial,
Till the banging of the gavel, the Ceann Comhairle
Shouting for order, and then the division bells.

As suddenly, the House empties, through its backstage doors.
    Charlie Haughey crosses the floor,
Engages a woman I know in conversation—
Still beautiful, still a gazelle. After how many years
Of marriage to a Dublin auctioneer?
Above, the forces that govern the universe,
Light, reason and love, a Dantean vision,
Stream through the windows. I am alone up here
In the public gallery, as mid-morning disperses

Its scattered attendance, snoozing, as if not there,
    Through the luminous room.
My minister rises. I fold my Irish Times
And watch O'Snodaigh, leprechaun and elf,
Nervously scrape the three remaining hairs
Across his bald patch—him, my immediate boss!—
The prompter through the stage door of 'Whereas ... '
A minor civil servant, like myself,
A lifer, splitting hairs till the crack of doom.

And darkly think to myself 'Inadequate
    For the business of state,
A Johnny-come-Lately ...' Afterwards, in the lobby,
Hearing him talk, relaxing over a fag,
'Let Charlie soon starting shiting golden eggs
Or the country's fucked—' I'll know myself a snob,
A shadow of Dante, the chip on my shoulder,
Disinheritance, crystallising to heaven
High and light as the dome above Dail Eireann,
Sitting in judgement on Dublin, and getting older.


The Winter Sleep of Captain Lemass

                      1923

The life of the country
Hardened against you
Like frost, and a new front

Opened—brother against brother,
Choice against choice,
Disputing the high ground. Your eyes,

Blindfolded, beheld the ideal State
As the real one steadied itself
To annihilate you.

How to survive it, the force of exclusion,
The freezing out of the soul
At the site of its own execution?

In the high cold, in the light snow
Of the Dublin mountains, a fox
Made its own tracks

And vanished ....
                            A single shot—
A hundred years of travelling echoes,
Family history, unmarked plots.

                                       1943

'Harry' she said, 'it might have been Marlborough Street—
Or was it Griffith barracks? Anyway, I had the Irish
And typed for De Valera, battering memos out

On a civil service Remington, not caring or having a clue
What any of it meant (two regulars
Guarded his office) but simply admiring the view

Of the Dublin mountains, through those wonderful high windows
We inherited from the British. The War,
As I remember, had entered its second-last winter—

Joseph gathered firewood in the Phoenix Park
And Charlie cycled to the Featherbed
To cut turf, singing arias from the D'Oyly Carte ... '

The snow is off the mountain. Griffith, McKee—
Limp tricolours, the barrack-light of Sparta,
Men and women in battle fatigues, against an invisible enemy.

' ... Joseph a suicide, Charlie without position
In the new republic ...'
                                     Go on speaking. Shed a little more light,
If anyone will, on our bitterness, our confusion.

                      2004

It's always cold up here
Even now, in summer. The Featherbed
Older, without knowing it, by a hundred years,
A book for a pillow, under my head,

A splinter of ice in the soul
Still growing. Infinite winter
Hides the fox in his den,
Obliterates the entrance

With butts and bottletops, used french letters,
The fugitive night-pleasures
Of the republic ... Elders and betters,
Charlie, Joseph, Noel Lemass—

When will you ever go to ground?
Must I lie here endlessly, wait
For the whole of the Dublin mountains
To move, and the City State

At last to stand clear, a dazzle of lights
Forever stretching westward?
Groggy with nature, history, space,
Again I kiss myself goodnight

In the name of the lost, the disinherited,
All who never came back from the dead
To tell their story, claim their place—
And sink back into the Featherbed

By a memory-stone, a fouled lair,
Bog-cotton whispering in my ears,
The sound of a car, a light somewhere
In the silences, the years.

Harry Clifton

The Winter Sleep of Captain Lemass
Wake Forest University Press


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