james mcgonigal
Poet  •  Critic

Contact  James McGonigal

   Passage West to Glencolmcille

Another Stormont

Stormont was Kirkpatrick Dobie’s house,
the oldest poet that I ever knew.
He was buried with an ancient Remington
balanced on his chest.
Its solid frame and rimmed metallic keys
are keeping the poet’s heart compressed.

‘Stormont’ came with the title deeds.
The rock and stronghold of Psalm 62
flew to mind, that craggy villa
last on the ridge above Dalbeattie Road.
To walk the dogs, the golf course at his gate
and Galloway skies adrift, opaque
where stars or verses congregate.

Poems came at the kitchen window, late.
He’d hoodwink his own wariness of words
with a whisky neat
then moonlit oaks took x-rays of applause
for ghosts of golfers on the 16th green.
Storms blethering at backdoor and gable
would hear an old man with a typewriter
rattle back from his scullery table.

Protestant and Catholic, we both looked
to the resurrection of the dead
and hoped to see each other surface, grinning,
typewriters easy in remuscled arms,
blank verse already coursing in the head.



Patches of January snow that lie
in corners of our garden
where the sun reaches rarely

are like white memories catching the eye
at inappropriate moments
during a day of busyness and pressure.

          ’S e th’ annta cuimhneachain gheala
          ’S iad a glacadh na súla
          Aig amannan gun a bhith freagarrach
          Ri linn driop is cabhaige.

As we grow older in corners of our heads
snow rags lie longer. They distract us
as when a snooker player of great experience

can still find his best aim confounded
by a lifetime’s trajectories
running at the merest of tangents

to the business in hand.


The Beds of Ulster

A sharp word from Scotland
          agitates ash trees and gorse

in the snowbirds’ glen I’m listening
          like a cat to their chorus

just two miles off on a runkled cloth
          the sea has laid its crockery of skerries.

These afternoons the simple sound
          of her concentration is what I miss

I take the car and drive on after
          whatever the sky inhaled of us

peat reek on the lip of Glenshesk,
          eggshells, whiskey, dulse.

We fell asleep in Ulster and woke
          somewhere else—from rafter

to floor board each nail marked a parish
          we passed on the road here.

Thin end of the wedge
          of the moon in the skylight.

Waves tummle like clouds—
          catch the glance of their salt

on the bay’s shoulder blade.
          Ullans the noise our breathing made.



At close of play, as senior civil servants have it,
in the gloaming when clouds come to a point
where separate leaves disappear and birdsong
is muffled by twilight the colour of oxhide,
with the big belly of Mount –––––
flattened against it, touching and no more

that was when a man of my age with two dogs
stooped out of his farmhouse door and passed
through the glare from a workshop where his son
was still focused by arclight, holding the gun
up for appraisal, the stare from its single black eye
that ends in a blink—

‘Don’t be working too late now’—and on he goes
with dogs down the darkening roads,
not pinning his hopes on that red globe of sky
not expecting a stained glass sky
not burning sky bridges behind him
nor stopping to watch how far back the clouds

have begun to manoeuvre for final possession—
but aware of his own mind reacting as slowly
as the sky itself does tonight,
so long on the field it can’t even be bothered
to stretch for the incurving
ball of the dark


Regarding Water

I want to die looking at water
I want to die having regard to water
whose wrinkled face is supple for its age
I want to die smiling kindly on water

I want to die listening to water
to its slap on the shore’s boney wrist to its sly
remarks on present-day pebbles and boulders
I want to die with an ear to the water

I want to slip away like the water
with no shape but this lough’s elastic band of water
on which you could plunk out a tune for dear life
till a knife edge of ice cuts the water

For what is stranger than the world? The world in water
and ourselves the only eyes peering into the water
where Donegal hills as rough as your grandfather’s jaw
turn smooth as white breasts in the water

I want to swim away out on the water
to buy a paper from the towncentre of the water
where the latest news of each drop of rain in 100 years
can be read in black and white on the water

oh I want to die reading the latest news of water
sitting here reading the latest news beside water
as the waves turn over broad and slow as pages
with more news on the other side—still water
with more news on the other side of still water

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