In Dublin On Tuesday, at the Irish Writers Centre, 6.30 – 8.30, The Blue Nib are launching Anne Walsh Donnelly’s collection of short stories Demise of the Undertaker’s Wife, The Blue Nib Literary Magazine number 39, and my collection The Ladies and Gentlemen of the Dead. So if you’re in Dublin come along, join the party, and … ahem … buy the books.
I’m slightly overwhelmed just at the reasons I’m so pleased to be doing it. That The Blue Nib took my collection not quite a year ago has been exciting enough, and I’m enormously grateful for the validation and their confidence and support. Then Dublin is a city associated with so many truly great poets. For instance, last time I was there I sat rooted to my seat in the theatre founded by Yeats at a performance of Burial at Thebes, Seamus Heaney’s translation of Sophocles’ Antigone. One line in particular from that play has stayed with me ever since, and has been some comfort: ‘Those who overbear shall be brought to grief.’ Boris Johnson is more a buffoon than a King Creon, but I entertain some hope that the fates are weaving his downfall too. Perhaps he’ll end up patrolling the border all by himself. I picture him up a tree trying to get his drone back.
There will be nervousness too though. It’s a bit of a cheek in more ways than one to be British reading poems in Dublin, especially as the aforementioned was there only a few days before me. But there’s another reason I’m pleased I’ll be reading there.
One day in 1926 Mary Brigid O’Callaghan travelled from Claremorris to Dublin with her parents to marry Angus Maitland, my maternal grandfather. The couple sailed from there for England on the same day as their wedding. As far as I can tell my grandmother didn’t return, and I never knew her as she died of cancer aged only 46. So there may be ghosts at the party. But there always are, and they’ll have a laugh and a good time too. I’ll certainly be reading them this one, which first appeared in Magma 67.
The ladies and gentlemen of the dead
Sometimes these skeletons are down on their kneecaps
praying for wings
to a bone moon
although there is only shadow, night air
and no breath
between their ribs.
Through the holes on either side above their jaws they hear
or do not hear
the roaring void.
They frown at black-winged hourglasses, turn
the streams of sand
the grains of which are diamonds crowns and wheels
Gnawing at the left-overs of themselves
and charnel grounds
these ladies and gentlemen of the dead are
white as sugar
bright as salt.
Their digits rustle your keyboard, your devices
They climb allegorical trees, turn up
and silver rings
gurn from gallery walls, become tattoos
grin from clocks
Look how they salute the generals that a president
puts on parade
how their empty pates become instructive cups
for dope smokers
Yet in the end these puppets are brittle and hollow
with one cracked tune
one febrile dance
as they batter at side-drums, grip flat bag-pipes
or thigh-bone flutes
between their teeth.
So then at the first bird or bell, or when one star
burns on the hills
in a green dawn
the rattling stops and the boxes cupboards and coffins
are closed again.