Poetry by Patrick Deeley


A blaze; a breath.  At falling dark 

we meet.

She lips my hand for oats.  

I touch fingers against her nose, 

inhale her shock of mane.  

She lunges, 

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.  

We flicker, 

momentary apparitions 

fringing each other’s vision.  

Our dance runs 

season to season, almost whimsical, 

now distant, now close.  

Quietly she grazes 

behind hill or cloud, 

or drifts, 

seeming to merge with the lost land 

of never-never – 

only to rear up, shake 

the set 

and sensible tenets of existence 

out of their standing,

frenzying me

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 

either elbow, 

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.


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.

About the contributor

Patrick Deeley
Patrick Deeley is a poet, memoirist and children’s writer from Loughrea, County Galway. His most recent collections published by Dedalus Press are Groundswell: New and Selected Poems and The End of the World. He is the 2019 recipient of the Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Poetry Award.

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