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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Special Australian Edition August 2023
About Solitude and Silence, poems by Terry McDonagh.
About Solitude and Silence
As a solitary person among many,
I can’t help thinking
about fields of silver as I swim
in granaries of helpless ideas
that stick to me. I fight them off,
try to avoid slippery banana skins
when trading at markets
that few attend and, afterwards,
dragging weary bones
back to rooms lining up to be lit
as children hiss and dance on spray and air
in a jungle of high seas.
How simple and complex our world is.
It keeps us happy and grave
in formality and fate – we’re
tossed from root to horizon
until age and caution take over
at crossings and kerbs – no longer
strutting at large or searching
for secrets in bewildering shapes,
and if there are nasty noises about,
rain and wind will hush them
because it’s about fields of silver
and growing into solitude and silence.
I was only four or five when school started to insist
on tribute to a life without dreams. Tone down child.
I, who had shared lanes with butterflies and slithered
along hedgerows with blackbirds to arrive on time
in shoes bulging with squelch and sucking sound.
Behave started on page one. I was a solitary fighter
with a pocket full of stones, being trimmed to fill
a front-pew suit as well as any saint or neighbour.
I learned page after page by heart and grew out
of jumping about on cloud nine extravaganza.
Against a shroud of statues and epics, I became
unprepared for the hacks and chips of what to do
when bewildered and happy. I learned rules. A lady
couldn’t be asked to strip during singing lessons
and I convinced myself that slurping and slobbering
when licking a plate, should be frowned upon and
as I didn’t know which smile suited, I’d fling my feet
on the table to be funny and walk about naked to shock.
I’d wanted to be good craic, a bit of a lad – misbehave
but I’d usually revert to type, and nod to the dictum:
never get above yourself
or speak out of turn in gatherings.
Behave. Atone. Conform. Keep taking the tablets
and smile at other Sunday-morning dog-walkers.
I’d always wanted my fill of magic stones, shenanigans
and skipping like an itinerant antelope among trees. I did.
Thankfully, the west wind came to my rescue
dropping droplet-potions on me and
I rejoiced keeping them secret to float my feet
to horizons where oceans grew – to where
longboats appeared out of nowhere whistling
and singing of places where colours learned to fly.
I’d sifted through tests, crawled on beds of nails
and missed magic along hedgerows – except
those shadows in threatening holy attire
and demons under heavenly influence.
I became honourable, bursting with self-denial,
believing, conforming and atoning for a time – only.
These days, I close my eyes to see horses galloping
on the wild sea or rolling in flat on white foam
while I wriggle happily with carefree fish.
My learning had to be learned later.
© Terry McDonagh
Terry McDonagh, Irish poet and dramatist has worked in Europe, Asia and Australia. He’s taught creative writing at Hamburg University and was Drama Director at Hamburg International School. Published eleven poetry collections, letters, drama, prose and poetry for young people. In March 2022, he was poet in residence and Grand Marshal as part of the Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations in Brussels. His work has been translated into German and Indonesian. His poem, ‘UCG by Degrees’ is included in the Galway Poetry Trail on Galway University campus. In 2020, Two Notes for Home – a two-part radio documentary, compiled and presented by Werner Lewon, on The Life and Work of Terry McDonagh, The Modern Bard of Cill Aodáin. His latest poetry collection, ‘Two Notes for Home’ – published by Arlen House – September 2022. He returned to live in County Mayo in 2019. www.terry-mcdonagh.com