Noel Duffy – Story

Noel Duffy LEP&W V2 Dec 2022

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Two December 2022.

Story, poems by Noel Duffy.


One morning, out of boredom,
God took an axe to the World Tree
and carved two simple figures
from it: Man, Woman.

To complete his morning’s work
he gave them stones for eyes,
and about the holes that were their mouths,
he gave them figs for lips.

And so, they stood before him,
mute like two guilty children,
the expression on their wooden faces
fixed, by his axe, in animal puzzlement.

God observed them for a time,
toy-like, almost beautiful –
imitations of life, but not life –
and he was dissatisfied.

So, he cut out his tongue
and gave each a piece for their mouths,
pulled out his hair in clumps
so that their heads would not be bare,

hacked off his ears and nose,
ripped out his own two eyes
with his bloodied hands,
cut his wrist with a knife

so that they too would have blood,
and veins for blood, and arteries
and fibres and muscles for blood,
and the history of all Creation in blood.

And there, lying in the sawdust
of the World Tree, deaf, mute,
blind and dying, God knew his work
was done.

The Pattern of Rain

The rain comes at last, the storm clouds
that had gathered on the horizon all afternoon
arriving finally and swelling to a downpour,
the smell of dampened earth and the dulled light
calming her spirits somewhat after
the endless heat of June, its long days
and humid nights that made her listless
in her sleep. It reassures her current state,
these patterns of rain on the window-glass
that form and hesitate then streak
in sudden, fleeting cascades before her –
like the pattern of her own thoughts, still
in one moment and in the next a rush,
the momentary, branching tributaries of it
like the veins on her pale blue wrists.
She sits and listens in the darkening room,
the rain softening now to a dulled metronome,
she thankful that her fretful thoughts
had been escaped and forestalled, if even
just for the length of a summer rainstorm.

The Ouroboros

She lays out her paper, her inks and pens,
tries to prepare herself for the work ahead
but finds instead a blank place in her mind
as blank as the off-white sheet of parchment
on the table laid out before her. She is distracted,
she thinks, not quite ready for the task. A fly
lands by her hand. She observes it absently,
the cantilever of its two tiny back legs working
to clean some invisible stuff from its wings,
before it takes to flight again to perform its
urgent errands, plotting the room and the kitchen’s
alcoves. She returns to her mission: to draw
for Mr Lovegrove, the apothecary, a fabled creature
of the primordial deep, a snake circling
back upon itself and biting its own tail, an image,
he said, of chaos and time’s beginning,
this snake that must in turn be sundered
and scattered to the four corners of the world
just as Tiamat, the ancient god had done,
so that life might be restored and grow
and multiply again across all the lands and seas,
the forests and streams…
She eyes the old man’s crudely drawn sketch
begins with a simple pen-stroke for the eyes,
then to the split tongue and scales,
it a great O unto itself, complete at once –
hungrily so. She warms to her endeavour,
the ink flowing easily now on paper
rendering an intricate vision of the monster
that seems now to awaken and recoil at her touch,
a muscle tensing beneath the water’s surface.

© Noel Duffy

Noel Duffy was born in Dublin. He has published four collections of poetry to date, most recent Street Light Amber, a narrative sequence of love poems located in his native city. His work has appeared widely in Ireland and beyond (including in The Irish Times, Poetry Ireland Review and The Financial Times) and has been broadcast on RTE Radio 1 and BBC Radio 4. ‘The Pattern of Rain’ and ‘The Ouroboros’ are taken from The Harvest Sorrow, a novel in progress.

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