james mcgonigal
Poet  •  Critic

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         Passage North   to Armagh

Deciding after years to take the deep road to the narrow north
I soon passed a lake that seemed ornamental among trees
with one moorhen veering from its reeds at sunset
Nearby horses in a cropped bare muddy paddock
harried and bit       The shoulder of a grey mare
was raked raw     I recalled a poem translated
years ago      now simplified by age

          Night peeps at day

          through a horse’s eyes

Night was falling indeed across rolling fields
upon leaves and berries dying in the hedges

Harvest was gathered all safely in to trim barns
so that one observed with pleasure the last bird

          Dew-fall      with a key
          in her beak the blackbird swoops
          past      locking today

But why did horses bite each other      sectarian
hunger (was it) like flags on every lampost here
fibrillating in a southwind      Darkness grew solid
so that all detail was lost       For hours those flags
would flutter in the dark brave as dogs running
out to barred gates to curse at strangers walking
down their road      so that I remembered

          Dogs bark at the risen moon

          she just climbs higher out of reach

and I went only half a mile more      finding at last
a room and some food for the night
Next morning came meditation upon peat smoke
rising from a valley      on the spume of waves bent
back by gusts along the shore      Signs that resemble
us when we go aboard ferries to set small lives at risk
We are like sparrows entering a hedge just as proudly
as if they alone have knitted its scarf from generations
of feathers      their whistling takes a roll call of the air
their landings are bright and mercenary      Yet hawks
or slingshot soon cut the stitching where birdies
bind themselves with threads of green      Better
to be decorative as

          Three swallows on that telephone wire

          a brooch on the afternoon’s lapel

Such birds arrayed like notes upon the stave strung
between telegraph poles have been thought by poets
to express what the sky would have to say for itself
could we interview it for local radio      could we peer
over the hedge into its long grey garden      Indeed
it too seemed today as if it wanted to be expressed
as kindly and useful      as milk from a veined breast
On other days of course

          Thunder comes bouncing
          like a ball down the wooden
          staircase of heaven

and we find ourselves staring into a garden where
bones or guns are buried

Next morning above mist I saw the city on a hill
where our shrine was founded      dark in the mirk
then lost from sight in downpours      In a teashop
the seemingly autistic woman served us diligently
and definitely      we saw how far we were from
the light behind her forehead      Laddies in pairs
were sent on easy errands

          This garrison town
          grey under autumn’s drizzle
          slow boys serve us tea

Sixteen prisoners went by cart from here to Dublin
stared at in towns they passed      shackled at night
with beasts      One swung at the outset from the arch
of the garrison gate (sedition)      One fled on the road
The rest weighed freedom after years of transportation
over seas      Their songs      rainy dreams      broth pots
Children of their children’s children return with tales
of corrugated roofs and lyrics featuring green


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