Painting by Moonlight

- 1950-
It was a bright inviting, freely formed, 
though I suppose it was I who brightened,
with an internal scattering of light,
as though weather maps were more real
than the breath of autumn. 

The low colourfulness
of the broken and dying leaves
was no embrittlement
to every decided colour on the sunlighted grass
and the warm-hued wood of his door. 

But with the dust descending
in the glaring white gap
my backbone pulped and I closed up
like a concertina. 

His tongue was hushed as Christ's lips
or once-red grapes permitting
each touch to spread only
when the turn of the violet comes.

More by Medbh McGuckian

Love Affair with Firearms

From behind the moon boys' graves
bleed endlessly; from photograph
to browning photograph they blacken
headlines, stranded outside of time
at the story's frigid edge.

Though they are long buried 
in French soil, we are still speaking
of trenches, of who rose, who fell,
who merely hung on. The morning drills
secretly, like an element that absorbs.

We are right back where we were
before the world turned over,
the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone
are all that Sunday means. Their North
was not 'The North that never was'.

Artemis, protector of virgins, shovels up
fresh pain with the newly-wed
long-stemmed roses, pressing two worlds
like a wedding kiss upon another Margaret:
lip-Irish and an old family ring.

It's like asking for grey
when that colour is not recognised,
or changes colour from friend to friend.
I track the muse through subwoods, curse
the roads, but cannot write the kiss.

Garden Homage

Three windows are at work here, sophisticated
spaces against the day, against the light.
The sky looks as if it has been added later
to a glimpsed world as nobody saw it.

Small gaps of awkwardness between overlapping leaves
bring their time to us, as we our time
to them. The hand alone is amazing,
the skull and the owner’s hand holding it,

together on a page for fifty years,
with the earliest smile. A rope vase
of flowers returns the angels
to the ground, that still beautiful brown.

Related Poems

Crannog

Where an ash bush grows in the lake 
a ring of stones has broken cover 
in this summer's drought. 
Not high enough to be an island, 
it holds a disc of stiller water 
in the riffled lake. 

Trees have reclaimed the railway line behind us; 
behind that, the road goes east—
as two lines parallel in space and time run away from us 
this discovered circle draws us in. 
In drowned towns 
bells toll only for sailors and for the credulous 
but this necklace of wet stones, 
remnant of a wattle Atlantis, 
catches us all by the throat. 

We don't know what beads or blades 
are held in the bog lake's wet amber 
but much of us longs to live in water 
and we recognise this surfacing 
of old homes of love and hurt. 

A troubled bit of us is kin 
to people who drew a circle in water, 
loaded boats with stone, 
and raised a dry island and a fort 
with a whole lake for a moat.