Copyist and other poems by Noel Duffy
Noel Duffy’s debut collection In the Library of Lost Objects was published by Ward Wood Publishing, London, in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Shine/Strong Award for best first collection by an Irish poet. His second collection On Light & Carbon followed in autumn 2013. His poetry has appeared widely, including in The Irish Times, The Financial Times and Poetry Ireland Review, and has been broadcast on RTE Radio 1 and BBC Radio 4. His latest collection, Summer Rain, appeared in 2016, again with Ward Wood.
after R.S Thomas
I removed myself from the shared residence
to a room in the old granite farmhouse,
the burden of grace there too much to carry
surrounded by the company of others.
The room had been occupied by a monk from Dublin
who had left for a season of solitary reflection
in a cottage high up above the valleys. I found a copy
of British Poetry Since 1945 on his shelf
and spent each long evening copying the poems
into a black notebook like some Medieval monk
in the scriptorium transcribing the Gospel,
to try stave off the fear that had closed around me.
At night when I was finished I walked out
into the fields, the lambs shivering and baying
in the biting, late cold of April, the stars
more visible but somehow more distant in the dark
skies above me. They brought me no nearer
than the words I’d transcribed on paper
to the God who had become more absent
in my every attempt to bring him closer.
What did they find that morning
when they climbed to the deck on their ropes
and walked across the timbers
of the transom, the sails still partially set
and flapping casually in the weak westerly,
no signs of sudden exit or distress?
Inside, the sun shone through the portholes,
dust motes lazily rising in the eerie quiet.
There were no empty tankards on the table,
the galley equipment gathered and neatly stowed,
the cargo of alcohol lying undisturbed below.
In the captain’s quarters, a map remained
spread out across the desk charting a course,
the compass needle beside it quivering to north;
no word of discontent or disorder among the men
in the final log – and beside it the Bible
he would recite from after meals, well-thumbed
In the Shadow of the Patriot
The old quarter at dusk. The rain starts again.
A fire engine passes by to a rising and falling pulse,
echoing down cobbled streets and alleyways
rebounding against tall windows and soot-grimed
red-brick buildings, the bars where the ghosts
of the drunk linger, haunting the granite flagstones
with their long-lost footfalls… The late evening buses
pull away from pavements in turn, raindrops marking
fleeting circles in the puddled water of the drains –
and the young couple who stand by the statue
of the old Patriot, his hands and face weathered
to history and forgetfulness as they pull each other
closer still, their lips meeting to warm touch.
Street Light Amber
Yet memories return when you least expect them,
those moments in which the mind
can no longer suspend anger or desire,
however briefly: an image of you
standing by the window looking out
as the rain fell in amber street light,
a fragment of Ella’s deep falsetto falling
to stillness as the song ends to a circling silence…
These, the most casual things, are what
ambush the mind yet are still too close to hold,
just as the hand pulls back instinctively
from burning coal.
Figure in Sunlight
Earlier I sat in the park. The towering
trees swayed in the wind, high up above.
An old woman walked beneath
and I sensed the scale the way
my camera lens would’ve sensed it:
the vast tree and the figure below it
walking slowly; the sky hanging above
like a blue sheet stretched out against the day:
The sky above the trees. A figure below.
The day telescoped and still…
And for a moment I was happy
as though I had forgotten you,
this scene a photograph I can hold still,
compose a new future within.
A breeze picks up and the tree shudders;
the old woman who doesn’t notice
passing out of focus into the morning sunlight.
© Noel Duffy