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Poetry Magnum Opus

Ireland last October


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Fierce rain
lashes hard against the windows
and so we pull across the curtains,
letting the evening draw in,
add a few more sods of turf
to the warming fire, nurse
our generous drams of single malt.
Then we listen to, for no human soul can ignore
the half-human shrieks
of the wild Atlantic winds.

I stand there silent, pensive, a visitor.
How I loathe this godawful place!
And I don't really know, says Uncle Liam,
how much of it you understand.

Upstairs, follow me,
here in this whitewashed cottage,
planted, perversely,
on the edge of nearly nowhere,
sits a four-poster bed
with sagging springs
in a room no longer used
nor visited, occupied now
by dust and sepia photographs,
wherein the procreative urge
unleashed five generations.

The pounding rain, the heartless wind,
now as in all times past
and in all the coming times to be,
derides aspirations,
mocks any faltering
sense of connection.

On the bedroom wall
housed in an ancient frame
is a faded stitching sampler:
"God Bless Our Happy Home",
piously, and it would seem, uncertainly
accomplished, but by her own hand,
by Emily May MacCarthy
on October 20, 1843.
She was the fifth of eleven children
and one of the six
who starved.

In later photographs, dapper
gentlemen with large moustaches
stare into the unforgiving lens
with set expressions
of puzzled defiance; they pose
quite stiffly, among rather tasteful studio
backdrops: a small side table,
a pillar or two, some potted palms.
James Boyle Roche. Photographer.
15 Bridge Street. Ennis
is stamped within an oval
in the corner: the building
still exists, the ground floor
is now a fast-food restaurant.

Wedding couples,
equally unrelaxed, stare
sightlessly from the past;
their eyes view mine across a canyon
of mutual incomprehension:
I could not even begin
to understand these people.
He sits, she stands,
and she places a tentative
pleading hand
upon his rigid manly shoulder.

There is another
strangely out-of-place picture
of my great-great-uncle Marteen,
shot dead in the civil war.
A cocky 24-year-old
with a cheeky grin:
he is brandishing
an enormous revolver
and smoking a jaunty cigarette.
I can tell from the look of him
we could have had a drink,
could have easily cut through
the damp lace-curtain piety,
the respectability, the fear.

But the rain will have none of it:
it comes down in buckets, cascades:
you will never never
never be free, it says:
not in this country, you will
never be free.

Liam is uncharacteristically
subdued, even embarrassed:
he shifts from foot to foot, in front
of the warm and blazing fire.

Upstairs. no need to return,
there are so many old photographs
here and there on the dresser,
even more on the sideboards:
cloche hats on smiling elegant women,
baggy suits on the gents, all caps and hats;
they grin and squint into the harsh sunlight
of long forgotten days, sporting
fashionable, very shortened neckties:
my unknown, my all but unknowable
dead ancestors.

A flicker of sympathy
if not recognition, slips through:
a slim threnody of regret.

Listen, I think I'm going to bed,
it's been a really long day, I say.
Liam frowns. An awkward
silence ensues: Emmmm ...
Listen to me. There's something
I really need to tell you.
It's about the family ....


It will keep for another hundred years

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Spellbinding and atmospheric. The composition is subtle and references are historically meaningful. Last stanza works well for me.B

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"lace-curtain piety"


Oh, man! And all the personification (heartless, half shrieking) of the weather. The brown-toned sepia photos can be easily imagined, seen in the mind. Agree with B., last stanza is perfect. Great flow to this poem.....

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Well, Bren, you got me totally with this, sending me to study again the photos of my ancestors, their lives branded in memory, still living. Beautiful work, evocative and, to me, the best I've read of yours. Images and word choice so apt for the time and place. I will make this my own, to revisit each time the cold rains come and I sit near the fire, maybe even with a wee tot of Dewars.


"a slim threnody of regret." Only perfect.

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WOW! There is not a word of this I don't love. 'They' always say "show, don't tell" and this piece explains that perfectly. It presents a side of you, I don't believe I've seen before, in your work. Just excellent.



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Agree with all of the above (except the 'side of you' since I always see this best side hiding nearby ;-) The last line, the just loamy descriptions, a full meal and reminded me very much of Joyce's 'The Dead.' Not the occasionally skippable prose, but the complete immersion in the world, with that sudden awning of depth, as if a hole had opened to an ancient tomb filled equally with treasure and curse.


Ab-Sol-Lute genius.


Well played Bren!



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