A blaze; a breath. At falling dark
She lips my hand for oats.
I touch fingers against her nose,
inhale her shock of mane.
nipping my shoulder deep.
I fling a bucket of water in her face.
She spins away to wilderness
beyond the river,
throws her head at my least approach.
fringing each other’s vision.
Our dance runs
season to season, almost whimsical,
now distant, now close.
Quietly she grazes
behind hill or cloud,
seeming to merge with the lost land
of never-never –
only to rear up, shake
and sensible tenets of existence
out of their standing,
through sparks and flashes of wonder
into my own original spook.
Strauss was here. So were Skoz and Estrelle,
busy scratching their itch.
Look how they make a spectacle
of looking, a headspin, a tumbling tub
of tag lettering.
Trash, surely, no ‘plainchant
for the damned’,
no ‘counter to derelict concrete geometrics’,
no ‘dark poetry
of addiction or malediction’,
no ‘worthwhile antidote to the ad-maker’s
smooth, consumptive sell’?
Oh, even if they are classed by some
as ‘idle wasters’,
their works dismissed as trifling or slipshod
in comparison, say,
with exalted animal images
that spellbind the walls
of Altamira and Lascaux, I suspect Strauss
was there, too, picking a way
through the continuum,
with Estrelle and Skoz gabbing at his
trying to shock the world,
or their own existence, out of tediousness
by using such pigments
as they could clap hands on,
such slogans as occurred to them, with what
passed for the moment’s
equivalent of a cause or a spray-can.
LOVERS IN PESARO
In the Museo, Adoration of the Shepherds,
Coronation of the Virgin, Flagellation
of Christ, the Eternal Father presiding
amid cloak and cloud. Medieval –
still fresh, vigorous, intriguing, they glow
in our imaginations as we pass
through the hotel lobby where Mr. Putin
on a muted television descends
the red steps to his fourth coronation.
This the hottest May on record.
Trees lining the Viale exhale incense
of crumbling catkins. The Adriatic
rolling alongside murmurs sweet nothings.
Fellow guests tell us they are old.
Dare we say the same about ourselves?
All the years we’ve lived together,
the spending spree we make
of love, penury and leisure, the spell
that lifts us from heavy-footed routine
to light-headed wonder; a blister
on the heel or a shoulder crimsoned
with sunburn are trivial beside such proofs
of resilience. In our room
we pull the shutters against midnight
birdsong and full moon. The world
of greenhouse impacts and power-grabs,
even of cherished works of art,
slips from us who live, as we might hope
to die, by sigh and caress playing
on towards morning or towards eternity.
We have pulled our horns in, absorbed them,
so to speak, one at either side of the brain,
but though they were at best only ever vestigial,
they still do their work of stirring fear,
anger, affection – our necessary emotions.
Then there are the horns we transplant
or transpose in the course of our age-old argument
with each other and with the earth –
of Pan the goat god, putting the hearts
crossways in us as we travel through lonely places;
of Thor and Odin as we dream them
rowing upstream to make Blood Eagles
of our forebears; of God the Ram, ‘exalted one’;
of ‘shining’ or ‘horn-headed’ Moses
as sculpted by Michelangelo. Go back far enough,
the devil’s to pay, the devil sprouts horns.
Maybe even as Lucifer is depicted hurtling
towards the abyss – beatific, piteous
in that fall from grace – our fevered imaginations
grappling with him begin the process
of demonisation. Or does it start with the portrait
of a small, innocent-looking blue angel,
his horns barely budded – who sits at God’s
left hand, helping him to count the souls, separate
the goats from sheep in a 6th century mosaic
in the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo
in Ravenna? If the arch-fiend bodies our need
to catch the nature of evil, deflect
the blame, still the blame rebounds; he, amenable
to any name or manifestation, plays us
as we play the hate-fleshed, hard to quell
fire-starter, the horned, hoofed heartbeat of hell.
There it was, Cloud Ireland, sailing
the otherwise clear blue sky, a ghost creature
wavering overhead, holding
itself together long enough to transport me
back to the little terrier propped
on hind quarters the Master told us
to picture it as, the gently curving spine
its eastern coast, the raggy brow
that stood for Donegal, the whole island
conjured even to the oblong ‘eye’
that could be imagined as Lough Neagh.
We learned it by heart, lilt of town
and townland, mountain and river, bay
and peninsula, fought the battles
with the patriots, prayed to saints who gave
their names to holy wells –
for things weren’t to be found
fault with, but loved even in the way they
made us grieve. We prayed for the poor,
the lonely, the misunderstood,
sang behind tall school windows
exaltations to our country blessed by God
though we were often cold,
caught each in this enduring penumbra;
yet sometimes sunlight would touch
our faces, our minds envision mansions
of happiness promised eternally –
Cantet nunc io, chorus angelorum; Cantet nunc
aula cælestium – and we survived,
most of us, our Cloud Ireland childhoods.