Samples from Achill Sounds
The wind a gale out of the West.
The mist spitting pellets.
A real boisterous howler
To lacerate my face.
My ears bleeding
For the stinging
Hat strap stapled to my chin
For the squall.
Yer man up the road
Listing perpendicular, athwart it,
Spewy with the water sluicing, runneling.
Beautiful day, says he.
The bole of it hummocked in the turf,
The knuckles of it deep like a tangled hand
Mummified, clasping the quag.
And the burl of it drowned there
Soaked to a fare-thee-well.
Impervious, hard as a cherry stone.
Death’s implacable fixedness
In the cold bog entombed.
Rock root to the world.
The rust in the black iron,
The pits in the tired mortar
Sloppy in the joints
Blasted by the rain, wind, and salt,
Nudged and scraped by the thistle and thorn
And the nettles, thick to the stone wall,
Thorny and nettlesome nettles stinging.
The tidy cottage
Whitewashed onto the hill
Too tight to the road,
So close it scares you,
Just there behind the iron gate,
Arust on its crumbling flanges.
Even at night,
When I am far away
From the pool in the Nephin Begs,
Even when I am not there stooped,
Peering through sedge at its silken stillness,
Or waiting in a blind of thorns
For some sudden wonder there to appear -
For which my life is the idiot quest -
The water ever sluices in, withal.
The surface shimmers
In the weird watery glow
Of a sickle moon drifting,
A bright star hung on its horn.
Sometimes, then, the water kelpie,
Become again a glimmering girl,
Rolls languidly to the still top
And slippery, shoulders it over
Into slow concentric rings
That splinter the moon into wrinkled rippling winks
And rock the grasses browing the banks.
They rock me too while away I nod
Not asleep, nor yet awake,
But floating, cradled,
Above yawning water vaults.
Gently jostled in the soft twilight,
Lullabied by her water song
Whose beauty steals my breath,
Troubled by vague huge visions
Just beyond my sleepy sight.
The floating stars then fall
And with them, I with her,
Like sugar melting in lemon water
Tracing crystal trails weirdly down,
Fractured, prismed, and bending,
Like the paths to fading memories
Darkly to repose at the bottom of the pool,
Where all the secrets in sometimes slumber dwell.
Winning the Turf
I swept out the ashes, cold on the stones,
Bent to the task in the dawn gloom.
The wind skirled laments in the too skinny flue
And out the window, the threat of more rain.
There on the stones, fumbling for cold
I stacked and balanced the turves
Built there a redoubt sturdy and heaped
As Brigid Moran had once shown me.
The Morans have turbary rights in the bog
She’d said, as she struck the match smartly
It’s Moran turf, surely, we’re burning this morning,
As her yellow flame danced and grew bold.
She’d bent to the task, all business it seemed,
And mid-wived the flickering flame.
Blew on it once, then twice, like a bellows
Brought it forth in the forge of the hearth.
* * *
I’d seen all the boghollows hewn in the heather
As I’d ambled the brambled boreens
Seen turves helter-skelter, heaped up from these rents
Slane marks etching the faces.
I imagined her da at the face of a bogbank
Where the bog water rilled at his heels
Inelegant, red-faced, in blue overall
His Wellingtons thick with muck spatter.
Slaning it deftly, six bars deep,
And heaving sods high to the spreader
Who barrowed them heavily by donkey and creel
And footed the turf stacks in clamps.
Sputtering, puffing, like a kettle at gallop
Delving and heaping the sods
As the slow day turned down and a blanket of mist
Tucked them into a distant soft weather.
* * *
My match flared up hugely in the grey morning cold
And I touched it to paper and shavings
Watched it there kindle, smoulder, and smoke,
Hesitate, catch, and then take.
My turf fire blossomed all orange and bright blue
Putting chase to the slate day’s cold weight
This light, heat, and life, all up from the mud -
The mud of fair young Brigid’s home.
Copyright© 2012, Thomas Phalen, All rights reserved.