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Three Poems

Nocturne Op. 2

A sad air's best for night as you mope about
the house, closing windows, checking doors.
Slow, cumulative strokes of the violin bow,
the most ruminative notes that can be coaxed
from the cello, nocturnes unlocked by black piano keys.

Strains that are trained directly on the heart
when its resistance sinks, like temperatures,
to a day's-end low: music that tells of how
things stand in the troubled world you now have
in your hands to potter about in on your own.

Music of the kind whose fearful darkness would
unnerve you as a child, but whose darkness
seems the very point, this late night here; a slow
movement's stark conclusions ringing sadly true.

Christmas Idyll

And after a duvet-wrappered
lie-in, to find all the standard
props reliably in place: a silver pot
of hot-shot coffee miniaturising
the log fire blaze; exotic chocolates
from a son's adopted country;
mince pies; mulled wine; vintage
TV comedy; fried breakfast—
everything permitted for a day,
all dietary restrictions lifted.

There too, in the rarely-inhabited
sitting room, carols, crackers, balloons,
shimmering tinsel garlands, a card-
sprouting tree aglow with excitement,
sharing the delight of those whose
gifts it nurtures like laid eggs.
No tension in the air yet. No old
resentments flaring yet among
the children, each on best behaviour,
home with studded boyfriends, urbane,
designer-attired young wives.

How precious they must look from
the empty street, framed picture-perfect
between chintzy curtains, untouched
by suffering, immune from pain,
luxuriating in an otherworldly Thursday
that segues to a dreamy Sunday.

Only the clock-watching woman
coaxing the stove in the lonely
flagstoned kitchen—fretting over
dinner preparations, rinsing sprouts,
basting turkey, struggling to recover
a duck pâté gone wrong—
maintains a foothold in real time.

Stepping out to bin the forcemeat
waste, add roast potato peelings
to the compost heap, she is assailed
by melancholic winds, whipped
by hail, chilled by a dark killjoy air
that—refusing even a single
day's remission—threatens
to rough up this stage set,
snuff out the frivolous fairy lights,
abolish the nonsense
of a goodwill season,
pour cold water on the fire,
bring down the whole house
of glitzy greeting cards,
drown out the ethereal boy treble's
tidings of comfort and joy,
comfort and joy
, expose a raw
world incapable of betterment:
our dusty futures hanging on
the prospects of a small blue
planetary bauble in a glittering,
infinitely expanding universe.


God, I still miss you some days,
fondly recall our happier times.
You used to take me into
your confidence, while I
fessed up to my transgressions,
owned up to grievous flaws.
And, granted absolution, I would
ascend to cloud nine,
mind on higher things,
ears only for your voice that conversed,
not in our inarticulate vernacular
but through lapidary Latin,
plainchant, exultant motet.
I recall the wet cathedral evenings
when your fair-weather friends
had absented themselves,
and we settled down by the fire
of the votive candle shrine
for a heart-to-heart confab,
our conversation never flagging.

What a good listener you always were
to me, God. I so wish we had not quarrelled,
gone our separate ways, making
too big an issue of the Jesuitical
distinctions that divided us, failing
to see eye-to-eye on articles of faith.

I still watch out for news of you,
gossip column tattle, and—an obsessive
divorcee—track your movements, eager
to learn which lovers take my place,
what types you hang about with these days,
what you're up to elsewhere
as you expand your horizons,
establishing new branches of your empire,
propagating universes by the second.

And you must feel a loneliness
close to empty nest syndrome
now that so many of your
erstwhile acolytes have flown the coop,
escaped your cage, questioned
your discretion, no longer prepared
to submit to your rough justice,
remain prisoners of your conscience.

God, how much I miss the comfort food
of your home-baked communion host.
And hush. The megaphones roped
to the telegraph poles relay around
the town your May procession:
The blue-gowned Child of Mary
women join with the choir.
The petal-strewing schoolgirls,
the banner-carrying sodality men,
and the canopy-bearing deacons
—custodians of the fragile Marian shrine
buoyant on its wildflower-brimming float—
break into song, give 'full-throated' voice
to the humming fecundity of early summer.

The year, refurbished, kitted out afresh,
is soaking up warm pastel colours,
reaching perfect pitch, oozing
through rejuvenated fields
a slow sempiternal note.

Dennis O'Driscoll

Collected Poems

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