for Medbh McGuckian
An artificial lung is achieved through small nails,
the jigsaw puzzle in the hospital cafeteria.
Everything that was not myself restored
by the taste of a cup of tea. The stranger me,
its dark dipthong, sails its marble picnic boat
through the entrances of strange houses.
I understand something of her obsessive
material instinct: every apple is a
feather-room, and every man who calls a woman
kiddo is a hundred and eight ruled pages.
And she looks well in it, a grace half-queenly,
half-untamed in her supple movements,
her glimmering with hidden meanings.
Language stakes claims. It is as if
she puts a thermometer back in its holder
without shaking it, snatches a lit cigarette
from my lips like a breath, the way she puts
her finger on the rest, and we are disconnected.
They shipped Donegal workers into Dundrum
in 2001. I worked in the Dundrum House all summer,
lumping sods of peaty scurf from there to here.
Those lads ordered with a nod or lifted star
of dark-skinned feelers, not a nay, not an aye.
“They must talk among themselves, they
must,” a Cantonese colleague of mine
hissed as we swiped the ashtrays to wipe.
We vied between us to be the first to kiss
one of those black Northern men. I got
closest when, once, a man stood and took
a too-heavy tray from my arms and moved
ahead of me to the bar. He leaned in
to empty his hod to the barman, turned
and let drop his chin to raise a remark.
What emerged then was a bubble as large
as a brick, slick with aurora borealis,
viscous and globular, spinning slowly forth
over the tables of drinkers, the Norners
in their nighted corner, blinking cigarette machines,
locals blinking at that unidentified word.
Overheard at Knocksink
The word for foxglove here
in the dark beneath ferns
is the same as the word for thimble,
and the word for owl
is the word for a cat’s head,
and the word for toadstools
has a pooka in it.
Count our four breasts
a brief miracle, consider
our backs long leaning
shafts of light spied
under an awning strolling.
Our coat of hair stroked
by many fingers, rapture
of sighs or cries or funny ha-ha.
Is that me or you? Is that
making us happy? Look
how this part fits this part,
this part this part,
this part this part,
this this this this.
I rented a trainee doctor with that Ranelagh flat.
In either language his words floated, dingbats,
on paper. Each fridge memo, prescription, autographed
lease a private monogram. Face close as a cat,
he’d lean in to lap at his bowl, small-tongued,
soapstone- or bone-toned. No whiskers though.
He must, of course, have come here through
another world, and never mentioned it. Talked
of patients instead, cases, the work-riddled surgeon
from an American TV soap. Awake alone
late at night, against the wall, I listened in
to his word-thicketty bulletin, a wartiming
missive scrawled two ways to save page, de-gap-
ped to spare phone bill, or scrambled
by my interference, to a time zoned distant.
It’s not that I didn’t like him, you know?
Still – that evening he pushed me the dish, sticks,
purred, “try it” – picture my puss. The gruel glossy
with wingdings, space invaders, tramp stamps
culled squiggly from the grimoire and slow-
simmered, a surface-sonogram, interrobang, where
are my edges?! The bottle of wine the one sure
thing between us, I lobbed it down, shared
my purply-stained teeth with him, burbled.
Look at this couple scooting round the grass;
you can see that he has spoken the rain
so they can hold the umbrella together.
It’s not an umbrella, it’s a silken manifestation
of something they’ve talked over and over.
That’s why they parade it before guided tours,
the man with two croissants, the official lovers.
In their slipstream sunshine floats across
blind brick faces, puddles where I stop to cross
the road. It’s a creature they’re minding, a parallel
Later they’ll shelve its sinuous objections
and carry the umbrella upstairs to its aquarium.
Kiss it, wish it goodnight, godspeed, slán abhaile.
I love how it moves, so queerly eely through
that briny otherworld in which we can only splash.