Nothing left of it now but a modest hill
with three-sixty degree views
of sewn fields, pockets turned inside out
for the seamstress needle.
The hedge-sutures are dark, and between them
that endless Irish cliché: green on green.
No one could have ambushed the Celts
with the lack of blind spots in their lookout’s
turning vision. And the stone bones of their miseries
so finely tuned, they would ache at an unfamiliar
quiver-full of desolation.
My imagination’s stuck in the domestic.
Looking down to the ghost of an ox
dragging an ordinary plough
through an arable day
in the land below.
Its viking horns etch the shape
of a begging bowl.
Its eyes are musket balls.
It seems to swim
inside its wooden yoke.
And while the entrapment’s
constant, it would only be truly painful
when the ox shakes its head
to dislodge a pesky bird.
D, standing beside me, confesses
he is restless
after thirty years of waking
to the same face on the opposite pillow.
He doesn’t think his marriage
can survive the loss of that flame.
I say nothing but wonder why
with all of its charge
the heart is too stubborn to conjure
a single spark of passion on its own.
He stares out to some invisible
hoping for a break in the impasse.
Something solid to roar against.
A beloved enemy
charging over the next hill.
But all is still. The grey air so close
holding its breath.
And no birds sing.
This site could be mistaken
for somewhere holy, but that’s just time
and the imaginary wisdom of continuance.
What is tangible is the trinity,
unchanged for millenia:
the ache of human melancholy
settled in the gap between the sky’s sinking
and the land rising up to meet it.
I’ve brought home two shards of stone the size
of a premature baby’s fists
from the other side of the world.
And something less easy to steal:
a kind of absence
that isn’t smooth
but a crazy pave of grikes
and clints and all connected
for a planet’s sharp and broken skin.
The Burren is a brain left out in the sun.
Grown tired of yearning for
its megalithic ocean
each square inch graffitied with sea-going fossils.
In 1700 Edmund Ludlow saw nothing but wasteland.
Country with no water
to drown a man in,
no trees to hang him,
no earth to bury him.
But the places that get inside us,
those that have meaning for the long haul
are always alien. Never need us.
They exist only
out of their element.
I remember the cloven hooves of cattle clattering
over the Burren’s surface like clock ticks,
the long, pink straps of their tongues
dipping for ferns that grow between fissures
under the pewter of a west country sky.
Proving nature abhors a vacuum.
Except of course, it doesn’t.
Nor the opposite of abhorring
nor anything in between.
It’s us who hate emptiness.
So here, in these two shards of stone, can you see the miracle?
The bright brave flowers of ammonites
sprung from a barren land.