Simon Ó Faoláin
- Ireland -
Translated by Simon Ó Faoláin
BEDOUIN / BEDOUIN
The sod is hard with frost at dawn,
Hunkered cattle chew the cud, steam above them,
Twin mountains stand – the Géarán and the Géarán’s Point
(the names are not important, nor the words, but what is seen) –
Stand swathed in white symmetry, an abstract form
With angles straight and gentle rising on each flank
To the zenith of the two peaks, and between
There sags a narrow ridge, a perfect curve;
Saddle bow on the hard horse of the world;
Or a recurve bow in Olympian hero’s grip –
He hits the heart, the bulls-eye every time;
Or Cupid’s bow atop luxuriant lips
Which make us itch to match them to our own.
But no, those images are all wide of the mark,
For now the mind throws up a simple shape
Full of mystery and standing in the lee
Of a crescent dune deep in the desert heart,
High angles from each side to each pole-tip
– two of them – and the canvas looping down
A breathless arc between, the night had come
And next the solitary tent there winked
A small fire’s boldness in orange and gold.
It has burned clear through my mind to the far side,
How I saw it through thin purple air
At hour of star-unfolding, clear
From the window of a cruising jumbo jet,
Craning my neck forward to look back,
Wishing I need never lose the sight,
But the angle narrowed, perspective became lost
And now maybe it was just a winking fire.
PERMANENT ECLIPSE / BUANÉICLIPS
As it is a fact that the bones
Of the ancestors from
the womb of Newgrange
Are some time since evicted
To archive boxes
In the museum’s bowels,
And a fact also that
Sun shines not on them here
Any day of the year,
Not even at solstice so that
The eternal circuit should remain intact,
This winter will last forever.
HORIZONS / LÉASLÍNTE
The canary had been dead as a dodo this past while,
But somehow, as we groped around in terror in the darkness,
Our hands chanced upon the airlock’s wheel
And turned it.
When our heads broke the surface luck was with us:
A white plastic nut swam among the wreckage
And bloomed – yellow like a water lily –
Into a life raft.
Huge bubbles issue from the depths
With the collapse of each bulkhead:
Pay it no mind – we are no longer in that place –
But raise your head.
Though our provisions will not last long
And who knows what weather front approaches,
Are these waves not beautiful,
CEASEFIRE / SOS COGAIDH
Come down, dismount your piebald pony,
Leave cloud of doubt and halo of fury,
And I’ll lay aside prejudice’s helmet.
Do you know me now, dark glowering man,
Or do we all look much the same in your eyes?
On the edge of Kilmallock you pulled a knife.
And although the point was turned on me,
It was as though you could not see,
It was as though you fought with shadows.
And although your hand controlled the hilt,
I felt like a surgeon observing a reflex,
For the knife was your answer to all your ills.
I never wish to deny free will,
But who can deny conditioning
Instils salivation in dogs and men?
Yet might both of us pull out of Pavlov’s disease
And see the face behind the mask,
No cloud or halo, no helmet or knife?
UNDERWATER CONTACT / TEAGMHÁIL FOTHOINN
It was not the vision’s ultrasound
That bore your being home to me,
But deep blind sonar of the ear,
The liquid beat of a tiny heart
Exactly like a swishing prop,
And I am a diver once again
Sensing mysterious vessels glide
Upon the surface overhead.
With fate’s currents all disturbed now
An eddy of life swells deep below,
Rise, my heart, but steady, slow,
Avoiding danger of the bends
Ascend the slender bubble-thread
Through silver-sequinned clouds of fish.
BACK WEST / THIAR
This corner of the townland
Where the fields are not neat and rectangular
With parallel boundaries,
But small and irregular, speckled with boulders,
Like a cluster of cancer cells in healthy tissue
Or the absolute opposite.
Above, the zig-zag course of the green track
Back and forth across the mountain’s screen
Shows a pulse, a still-beating heart,
Or perhaps I am mistaken.
No boat nor punt stirs the harbour below,
Be there shoaling or – most often – nothing.
It is not the water only which is like a sheet,
For a sheet lies on this scene’s every part.
Perhaps the riddle could be untied,
the spell broken,
Had we the correct words
Or knowledge of the combination,
Like the chrome keyboards
On the gateposts of the empty houses,
But there is a hollow silence within
and silence has slipped the leash.