Live Encounters Poetry & Writing February 2021.
Brian Kirk is a poet and writer from Dublin. His first poetry collection After The Fall was published by Salmon Poetry in 2017. His poem “Birthday” won the Listowel Writers’ Week Irish Poem of the Year at the An Post Irish Book Awards 2018. His short fiction chapbook It’s Not Me, It’s You won the Southword Fiction Chapbook competition and was published in 2019. He blogs at www.briankirkwriter.com
Note: These poems form part of a sequence of formal poems entitled Freedom in Constraint responding to life during the Covid 19 crisis. The poems focus on the themes of isolation and social distancing and the wider issues and challenges to community and family arising out of the current pandemic. The sequence is made with support from the Arts Council of Ireland / An Comhairle Éalíon’s Covid 19 Response Award.
Summer came scampering into the house
this year, uncalled for, dragging garden
smells on muddy paws and a new silence
coloured by a yellow, ever-present sun
that threatened but never delivered storms.
On humid nights you were visited in dreams
by memories of failure, the unfulfilled dreams
of your youth. You cowered while the house
held its breath in expectation of a storm
that never came. Something stirred in the garden;
Orion’s dog slept under a shade in the sun,
tongue lolling, his breath breaking the silence,
laboured, hoarse, excavating the silence
of your mind, making room for more dreams,
vague anxieties fostered under a glaring sun.
You grew accustomed to being prisoner in your house,
the known world extended to the bottom of the garden,
no further, but the TV brought you closer to the sturm
und drang of peoples tearing each other apart. Storms
in teacups to you who measured out each day in silence.
Heat spilled out the open windows into the garden,
searing the grass, choking flowers while you dozed, dreaming
of disease, death and decay consuming the house.
Outside it was worse, speared under a burning sun,
unable to pretend that everything was normal, to sun
yourself and watch the skies, wait for the storm
to pass. Your impatience could not be housed
by an absence that knew no other form but silence.
Worse than sleeping was the waking dream,
finding yourself alone and standing in the garden,
looking around, naming what you see: garden,
grass, trees, bent flowers dying under the hot sun,
knowing you haven’t been away, just in a dream,
wishing to hell that something would change, the storm
might break, the children next door might assault the silence.
After a while you give up, go back inside the house.
After this summer of silences, you are primed to storm
the garden’s barricades and reach up to pull the sun
down out of the sky, into your fever dreams, your hollow house.
Heaven and Earth
Of course, we’ve seen it all before,
how stealthily the night advances
like the tide across the shore,
but this is something new. Chances
are that body and mind are out of sync,
caused by recent circumstances.
We watch the hours of daylight shrink,
try not to dwell on darker things;
it takes a form of doublethink
to welcome the blunt grief Winter brings;
debate a season’s fundamental worth
while heart freezes and soul sings.
There are more things in heaven and earth
than are dreamt of in our recent dearth.
In May you threw good money after bad:
food, shoes, a magic pen that wipes out stains.
Too long at home, uncertain, somewhat sad,
watched days drift by through dusty window panes.
Distracted for a while by phone, iPad –
how like a battery concentration drains.
A new way has arrived and you endure
with little choice, distracted and unsure.
The summer passed and nothing seemed to change,
you formed a bond with absence, now distance
became the calculus of safety’s range.
Stumbling on the path of least resistance
when you moved at all, denying how strange
the world had grown, proceeding in a trance,
no longer able to remember when
you dreamed you had your old life back again.
September came, October following,
you opened up your eyes as from a sleep
and saw the dancing trees were fallowing;
oak, blackthorn, ash, elm, juniper and beech,
red, gold and bronze, the green leaf yellowing
to white. You knew such beauty could not keep;
the trees, despite their agitation, know
these colours are a sign they must let go.
The days roll by, the body stiff and sore,
you know you’re not old yet, but these mornings
follow endless sleepless nights, clear warnings
of one more battle lost within a war
with age that can’t be won. How can it be?
All things that live on earth succumb to time;
we grow to meet our best selves in our prime
before we bend to Nature’s tyranny.
But why should we give in without a fight,
as if foreknowledge of our death was news?
There is no knowing when that trap will spring
so let the end be always out of sight,
and faced with past or future always choose
the second one, whatever it might bring.
© Brian Kirk