The floors you knew are crumbling: Nissen huts
freaks now like huge greened-over cloches
or trellises for rampant breeching weed.
No odds of brass glint under sudden sunslant;
polythene on briars, tarry crows
measure the muted passing of a sound
marooned in the dark dooms of its memory
and we in turn abandoned to the constant
cold that sang then in our unwilling knuckles,
Christmas strangely, comfortingly bleak –
people gone to eat in one-day rooms
with walls subdued, the fire damp and smoky.
The empty square promised us New Year
ready to be written on. No more:
we never cared which way the wind was blowing
or where cold came from. It was all the same;
what was, was what was happening, that simple;
no doorway to a hidden place, no need,
no longing we could recognise as other
that a kind of mental itch long days would cure.
Words and music then were no evasion.
The nearer a place, the less inclined to visit.
So with the past, it seems; those railway coats
my closed eyes hint at already once removed,
broad-suited men who gruffly smelt of valve-oil
and stabbed out Woodbines in pre-carol chorus,
what world did they inhabit: was it gone
before their eyes, or did they ride that flux
in rough, deep, uneven silent nights?
I see their fingers awkward on the valves,
at home there, too; the rest is sound past hearing,
discomforting, a baton passed, a sense
of weight that never leaves, however free
or rhythmic-gracefully the body glides
or stops, exulting, wonderfully breathless.
No one can measure the crumbling of a house
or of the people in it; how their thoughts
slip a notch to worry, then to fear,
from irritability to futile rage;
rising damp, a thousand minor faults
dead citizens of a forgotten state;
whatever page the book falls open at
whispers the end of empire. Outside, children
made up games, were caught in strawberry nets
or split ripe pears with careless windward casts;
other walls hold them now, worldwise scattered,
one at least at any time in light
but none of them enlightened, except perhaps
by constant dark encroaching on the edge.
And always now, when I hear a brass band march
I tense my body against recollection
while the bass section brings us down to where
we are today; and wait for the change of key
that brings the trio, falsity and hope,
resolution, journey’s end and triumph
before the drop to sullied innocence.
Ted Mc Carthy is a poet and translator living in Clones, Ireland. His work has appeared in magazines in Ireland, the UK, Germany, the USA, Canada and Australia. He has had two collections published, November Wedding and Beverly Downs. His work can be found on http://tedmccarthyspoetry.weebly.com.