Winter With Catherine
The plover and the plover’s page
Apply their narceine to Kenmare water
In this, the earliest light of winter time.
Night lifts its bitter crystalline,
Clouds withdraw in wounded hauteur.
Sunlight tinctures sorrel and sage
With drifts of its royal orpiment
While we gaze upon a lobster-boat
As it drops a rosary-beads of pots.
Gulls attend each sinking reliquary:
Chattering classes in a frenzy of prayer –
The hour is so casually strummed upon,
It booms in opiate lanquor:
This sun is a river, the plover’s a sea.
While You Sleep
I watch the timeless candle burning at both ends.
At one end it must be my mother’s face
And her infinite correlation with my own fate.
There’s no other end that I would put in place
At this moment or at any moment in our room.
The candle burns in its circadian rhythms,
Leaving words behind it on her waxy lips:
She told stories to the dark while the world slept
And like poems she didn’t need an end
But supped off the oils of perpetual change.
I watch the warm light on your own restless face.
You are restless like a mother. The precipice
Of night threatens you, though I am here
Always to hold you. You must learn to un-drown
Yourself, to float the way light does
From a timeless candle. Your superstition grows
In the absence of day, but night has no substance
When we are together. Look at the stars
Through the bedroom window: their universe
Is nothing in this huge room, in the light from us.
At Ink Level, The Sea
Here on the writing desk of the earth
The sun goes down quickly at ink level.
Soon the stony outcrop will be a blob
Of light blue and the sky will be pale
As the tissue rises. Is it time to go in
Or is it time to go outside? Only time
Will tell me how the levels rise –
Phrases cluster on the sunlit page,
So many oyster-catchers thread the surf,
Their needlepoint becomes pale green.
Water is near, shale bursts in applause,
Gulls congregate on a drifting raft.
Am I going out or coming in with the sea?
Not everything is blessed by the promise
Of water: your book on birds
Is soaked by the wash, ink grows pale
In its buckled galleys. From the Hellespont
Of a paper-clip, Leander swims to me.
Thomas McCarthy was born at Cappoquin, Co. Waterford, in 1954. Educated at University College Cork. He worked for many years at Cork City Library. Winner of the Patrick Kavanagh Award, 1977, Alice Hunt Bartlett Prize, 1980 and O’Shaughnessy Poetry Prize, 1991. Fellow of the International Writing Programme, University of Iowa, 1978/79. A former editor of Poetry Ireland Review and guest editor of The Stony Thursday Book, he has directed writing workshops at Listowel Writers’ Week, Arvon Foundation and Molly Keane House. He is a member of Aosdana. His last collection of poems was The Last Geraldine Officer (2009). A new book, Pandemonium, is due from Anvil Poetry in May 2015.
Such a depth of givings in these poems!
What I hear: “Am I going out or coming in with the sea?” In the density & relentless language, the doubling moves & re-moves, a repetition & refinement of image into clarity (such as Oppen). Nearly every word quakes in the “infinite correlation” of the sea (mer) and the mother (mère) & of the doubling towards inexhaustible, possible: the modal.
‘This sun is a river, the plover’s a sea.’ Gorgeous. And love the development of thought in ‘At Ink Level, the Sea’ – great title too.