Dermot Healy 1947 – 2014
a rugadh i bhFiodh an Átha, Co. na hIarmhí
When Peggy was dying
Her son leaned over to whisper
The Our Father into her ear.
She opened her eyes,
‘Things must be bad,’ she said,
‘that you’ve started praying.’
They fly over like flagships of the devil
with messages between the dead.
Fighting to keep a straight line
they bring news to Ulysses,
then back again to Lethe
with his letters for the boatman.
Only the cormorant is allowed into hell.
That’s why he stands with his wings out
on an unsheltered rock
imploring the heavens
to forgive him for all
that he’s seen and heard.
Sometimes the moon
gets caught in the high branches
of the No-tree,
and you have to shake
and shake the No-tree
to set it free.
Even this may never be enough.
The Hares on Oyster Island
Praise be the hares on Oyster
As they curl on the stone beach
And look across at Rosses!
Do they take that shape to look good-
A soul looking toward heaven
But not ready to go yet?
When I take the binoculars and see the blur of the hare
Seperating itself from the blur of the stones
The disturbance eases.
The hare that always turns back a moment
To look steadfastly into the sights
Of the rifle that will kill him
Bounces forward, looks back into my eyes,
Bounces forward, looks into my daughter’s eyes,
And settles comfortable,
Comforting me in my turn.
Praise be the hares on Oyster Island!
Put there by huntsmen. Loved by poets.
And gone at last beyond the reach of dogs.
They eat with the sheep and the guinea hens,
And run short distances between bouts of contemplation.
May they have long lives,
The hares that afford us a break
From the language that would explain them.
May they be shot straight through the heart
By a woman in a boat, and then wake to hear
The bells of the halyards.
That nature allowed me
A moment to look back the way I’ve come
And feel, this time, I’m safe for a while.
To be like the hares that sit out there beyond smell,
Beyond touch, secure on their pads as they sit
Up and remember!
May the hares increase! The inspiration
They give me prosper. That I learn to make of isolation
And fear a grand thing.
Let the hare sit! Let the hare sit on the moon!
And may we all be shot straight through the heart
By a woman in a boat.
The sea is on nights.
The horizon is an empty factory floor,
If you step outside
You’ll see the day shift.
Pass the night shift
On the second shore,
The lights from the airport
Stream across the bed of the ocean
But someone has missed the bend for home.
They kept going
Till they could go
No longer. Stand at Annie-Come-Ashore
You’ll see the ship grounded
Like a Casino at Ballincar,
Love, with all its lights on.
And in the third house from the left
I’m stuck high and dry
In a fiction that won’t end
And a love affair that ended.
Like the stranded Poles I’m waiting
For the high waters of late September
To make me buoyant again,
To fill each side of me,
Till then I’m here
Unable to carry on.
Mark me on the second beach
Waiting for the pilot
Or on prom at night,
Watching the silent gulls in a gale,
Hundreds, falling in one behind the other,
Just above the water, for hours,
The moon above Sligo
The moon above Mayo.
The Armada at Streedagh
Out to sea
there is the snap of a castanet,
Boats are going down
to the tune of the bolero.
Sovereigns are sifted
by old storms.
A bull, bleeding profusely,
makes for Grange.
The Old Chiefs
Not till I’d seen
the old chiefs
trying to land their boats
out of the world of myth
did I hear the wheatear
and the finch.
As many have walked this beach
As sat on Thomas Hardy’s seat,
And if they were counted maybe more,
A doctor from London, a priest from Ecuador;
Yeats himself who was ten foot tall
To see all he saw,
Sydney Bernard, in the late afternoon,
Just out from the word-processor in his room.
We’d pass without a word
Nursing a hurt,
In the horrors of sobriety,
The discontent of solitude.
Austie himself who spent his life on ship
Travels the land on his new hip.
A dead ass which came in in a storm
Is buried three times and is three times reborn.
What would the living do
If they had not the dead to see to?
Mountbatten, Jack B., Norwegian sailors.
Annie-Come-Ashore, the Bruens, Sligo jailors.
Each walks to the edge of the surf.
One life for them was not enough.
Towards evening come nurses from Cregg,
On the first beach a Christian mission is fed.
Sometimes a golfer will stand on a sand dune,
A bishop appears, or two nuns, or no one.
The dead have a certain momentum.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with them.
I fall into step with some other
Who came up for the day with his mother?
In a different century,
A sprightly lad, malevolent, pernickety.
The three beaches are crowded though you can’t see a soul.
The practical, the comfortable, the vulnerable.
And what do they see when they turn to come back?
The living out swimming or the solitude they lack?
How will I be when I have not the second or the third
To walk at night looking for the right word.