Dublin on Tuesday

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
                        sockets towards
                        the streams of sand
the grains of which are diamonds crowns and wheels
                        of silicone
                        and calcium.
Gnawing at the left-overs of themselves
                        in churchyards
                        and charnel grounds
these ladies and gentlemen of the dead are
                        white as sugar
                        bright as salt.
Their digits rustle your keyboard, your devices
                        your pages
                        your wardrobe.
They climb allegorical trees, turn up
                        as escutcheons
                        and silver rings
gurn from gallery walls, become tattoos
                        grin from clocks
                        and graffitti.
Look how they salute the generals that a president
                        puts on parade
                        then executes
how their empty pates become instructive cups
                        for dope smokers
                        and anchorites.
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.





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