Angela Patten – A Farewell to Music

Patten LE P&W 1 Nov-Dec 2023

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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume One Nov-Dec 2023

A Farewell to Music, poems by Angela Patten.

A Farewell to Music

in memory of Turlough O’Carolan, blind Irish harper,
composer and singer, 1670–1738

Sent off with a harp, a horse, and a servant
to make his way in music, who among us
would have risen like cream to the top?

Not born in Lucca like Puccini
but in Ireland’s back-of-beyond,
between his ears a bridge of melody
pitch and measure. He listened to it all—
the clippety-clop of the mare’s hooves,
the gliss of her gallop, the churr of wrens
in roadside ditches, animal clamor,
soft spoken syllables in the Gaelic tongue.

First came the melodies, then the words
which he composed on horseback
as he journeyed to the homes
of the good and the great
Protestant squires and Catholic gentry.

Being blind he was permitted to touch
the women, those snowy-breasted pearls.
And everywhere they gave him their hands.
Madam Bermingham and Lady Blarney
gave him whiskey too when he composed
a sportive planxty for a pleasant host—
Colonel O’Hara or Lord Massereene.

They say he met Geminiani once in Dublin
and admired the music of Corelli and Vivaldi
from whom he gathered frills and furbelows
while caring nothing for harmonic rules
or the city’s modish music scene.

For forty-five years he traveled the roads
through muck and mist, the harp
like a child in its sackcloth coat
strapped to his back.

He was always wanted at wakes and weddings.
Sometimes a bride would have to wait
shivering by the church door for his arrival.
Sometimes a widow would be asked
to dampen her grief until the great man
came to sound the dead man out.

In the end he gew sick and lost the traveling,
went home to what had never been a home
but was yet a sanctuary of sorts.

He bade farewell to music
and to Mrs. MacDermott Roe,
but saved the sweetest tune for her
although some said his final composition
was fittingly directed to Flinn the butler
who fetched the harpist his parting drink.

Lingering Over It

Today all sweetness and close-up detail—
the bee abuzz on the last of the roses,
a Monarch fluttering on the milkweed.

Hope in the bright belated flower buds
dangling from scarlet spires
of the pineapple sage

although they bloomed too late to be of use
to hummingbirds, long since shimmered off
to warmer time zones.

The whirling butterfly bush refuses
to die back, intent on splaying
its delicate white flowers

out over the spent coral bells,
the ruined spring-blooming clematis.
Behind the trunk of a bare birch tree

a calico cat crouches still as a mummer,
staring into the undergrowth.
Surprise largesse of sun

on into November causes geese
to muster in gaggles on the lake,
honking their confusion—

Isn’t it supposed to be winter?
How to find our cue to flee the coming cold
in all this blinkered kindness?

Green Up Day at the Superfund Site

Someone found a black magic 8-ball
among the hypodermic needles,
plastic plates, styrofoam containers.
A robin’s nest with a hole in the bottom
bobbing on a sea of soda bottles,
scrap metal and crushed beer cans.

We picked and picked,
filling our bright green trash bags
with remnants of old blankets,
a soiled puptent, twisted spatula,
burned-out frying-pan,
rusted can-opener, paring knife,
while the seagulls circled overhead
screaming accusations in
their own indigenous languages.

Who were the successive waves
of homeless people that camped
on this poisoned land, then left,
shrugging off everything
they could not carry?

When someone found
a tattered copy of The Giving Tree
there were calls for the creation
of an altar to incongruous artifacts––
and we did that.

© Angela Patten

Angela Patten’s publications include four poetry collections, The Oriole & the Ovenbird (Kelsay Books 2021), In Praise of Usefulness (Wind Ridge Books 2014), Reliquaries (Salmon Poetry, Ireland 2007) and Still Listening (Salmon Poetry, Ireland, 1999), and a prose memoir, High Tea at a Low Table: Stories From An Irish Childhood (Wind Ridge Books 2013). Her work has appeared in many literary journals and in anthologies including The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing; The Breath of Parted Lips Volume II; Birchsong I and II: Poetry Centered in Vermont; and Roads Taken: Contemporary Vermont Poetry. Born and raised in Dublin, she maintains dual citizenship in Ireland and the United States, where she has lived since 1977. She is a Senior Lecturer Emerita in the English Department at the University of Vermont.

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