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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing January 2023
Hayfield, poems by Patrick Deeley.
On a sweat-stinging day in childhood,
a tornado rose as if from nowhere
to excite the hay we were saving,
a whirligig that brought the whole field
to stop and stare. But even as it lifted
and lassoed – it soon would collapse,
all out of blow – I planted my foot
on the swathe’s burnished, slipping tail.
An old man shouted at me to yield
to changeling or elemental, let the hay
be taken as bedding by the fairies.
His piseogs weren’t part of my credo,
so I just stood and looked, and summer
happened to approve me there, ghost
to my ghost, no blink or budge,
lit through with the shimmer of creation.
They rise out of thin pickings, thistles
and rushes – a thorn-toothed host,
thousands deep, nipping my skin.
Instead of running, I take the plague on,
take it in. Itch and sting, the twitch
of a living thing. A goitre swells
at my throat. I peel off the shirt, marbled
with sweat, hayseed and burr.
Soon my torso is a seething sackcloth
of ants, its own bristling animal.
Cool air carries the sudden mercy
of rain, scattering the ants, washing me
clean. Bites and rashes linger,
and, buried deep behind them – atavistic,
unfurling from the very bone –
a text I didn’t write that still is my own.
Take Tuam – from the Latin tumulus, a heap,
a burial mound – unmarked grave
of the dumped bodies of a lost swaddle
of infants, the huge septic tank that served
as their coffin. Take the sufferings
trespassed on Paddy Doyle at Saint Michael’s
Industrial School, and then take the gift
of his forgiveness. Take the death
of Margaret Bullen, provoked by “an insult
to the blood”, Goodpasture syndrome,
contracted during thirty-five years
of exposure to hydrocarbon solvents – she
was never paid, barely fed, next to invisible
where she stooped all day every day,
steeping the getups of the privileged
and the trusted uniforms of our proud nation
behind the Magdalene Laundry’s
solid walls and red-lidded windows
in Gloucester Street, Dublin. Take our pious,
purblind place, where perversion
posed as care, and corruption hid behind
a charitable face. Take the cries
of the vulnerable – labelled “unfortunates
touched by God”, “home babies”,
“fallen women”. Hear them beseech us,
who allowed ourselves to be muffled
in word and deed, or who connived
in smothering their lives behind the platitudes
of politicians and the pieties of prelates.
This altar to Apollo, located at Pompeii
and topped with laval stones,
was a place of animal sacrifice, but what
grabs me is the red-leafed weed
at its base – as if the earth had sprung
an offering to coax the god’s return.
Body and blood, wafer and wine –
the Station Masses of my childhood
saw our kitchen table raised
by its stretcher onto chairs and overlaid
with linen. I served, nudged
by neighbours to ring the bell, fetch
the cruet, hold the paten horizontal
below the communicant’s chin.
The marble altar in the church was cold,
grey-veined. The priest’s hands
would part the tent-veils of the bronze,
dinky-doored tabernacle. Our God
is a God of love, he intoned.
Still I wondered at what was, what could
or could not be – God the forest,
God the ring-fort hill, God
the barn door laid sideways on which pigs
were killed? God worshipped
in a crucifix kissed, a stone thrown
on a cairn of stones, votive rags
tied to a hawthorn tree? But long before
I had twigged how a distorted
or mouth-pieced God could tilt the world
towards fear or an excuse to suppress
and conquer, my feet dabbled
in muddy rivers full of delicious shivers,
source and spawn from which
everything after might take its bearings,
the land dipped, not elevated –
alive with many a flower, many a creature.
© Patrick Deeley
Patrick Deeley was born in Loughrea, Co. Galway, but has lived for many years in Dublin, where he worked previously as administrative principal of a primary school. Seven collections of his poems were published by Dedalus Press, and other works have appeared in translation to French, Italian and Spanish. He has also written four works of fiction for children, published by O’Brien Press. His bestselling, critically acclaimed memoir, The Hurley Maker’s Son, appeared from Transworld in 2016. His poems have been widely anthologised and he is the recipient of a number of awards for writing, including The Eilis Dillon Book of the Year Award, The Dermot Healy International Poetry Prize, and 2019 Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award. His most recent collection, The End of the World, was shortlisted for the 2020 Farmgate Café National Poetry Award.