The Fear of Being, poems by Maurice Devitt
Selected for Poetry Ireland Introductions in 2016, Maurice Devitt’s poems have featured in a significant number of journals, both in Ireland and internationally. He was a featured poet at the Poets in Transylvania Festival in 2015 and a guest speaker at the John Berryman Centenary Conference in both Dublin and Minneapolis. His poems have been nominated for Pushcart, Forward and Best of the Net prizes and his Pushcart-nominated poem, ‘The Lion Tamer Dreams of Office Work’, was the title poem of an anthology published by Hibernian Writers in 2015. He is curator of the Irish Centre for Poetry Studies site and has recently published his debut collection, ‘Growing Up in Colour’, with Doire Press.
The Fear of Being
A burglar called to my house last night
but I wasn’t home, so he slipped the latch
with his ATM card and let himself in.
He hovered in the innocent dark,
adjusting his eyes to the light,
the alarm triggered like a starter pistol
and he was off, swooping through the house,
eyes peaked, gloved hands flapping
and ears tuned for surprising sounds
in the chaos. When I returned,
my world was laid out for anybody to see,
but not as I remembered it, and a stranger
had walked in to my life, never to leave.
In Principle, Peter was right
after Laurence J. Peter 1919-1990
My boss called me to his office,
that plush, chrome cavern on the ninth,
remarked how my performance had surpassed
all expectation and outlined a position
he would like me to consider. At first I feigned
disinterest, my gaze apparently distracted
by the precipitous view to the river, but,
not for the first time, the black tongue of ambition
quickly sold me the deal. A corner office on the seventh,
an oak desk the size of a small house, Chesterfield suite
in stressed leather and a green banker’s lamp.
I was accompanied by boxes of management books,
bought but never read, and, waiting to crowd the bare walls,
a tower of framed certs, impressive to look at
but not to examine. I called my mother, she called
her friends, and I settled in quickly, my team rapt
and responsive, their lunch breaks spent googling
my career. Deal after deal stacked up, board members
whispered my name, for months I could do no wrong.
Until one day, I’m not sure when, my numbers became
a fraction of themselves, presentations appeared
in invisible ink and every sales pitch
sounded poached and scrambled. I tried harder
and the target moved further away. Friends trawled
my past for torn blankets of comfort, but they covered little
of the gloom. I had grown to believe that failure
was a distant cousin of success, mentioned in passing
at family parties but never seen, yet, when it arrived,
I could hardly tell the difference, and recognition
brought such a glorious release.
The Office Bully
lives on your street
and every morning
he kisses his wife and kids
goodbye, heads for the train.
He might engage a friend
in conversation about the football
the night before or simply stand
in a packed carriage
thinking about the day ahead.
In the evening he re-traces his steps,
is delighted to be home
and, when his wife asks rhetorically
about his day, he smiles
and wonders what’s for tea.
Still Dreaming of Livorno
When I was seven I acquired my first chicken,
a Black Italian Leghorn, stolen under cover of darkness
from the coop at the end of a neighbour’s garden
and secreted in a wicker basket under the bed.
As I slipped its first egg into the fridge, I remarked
to my mother how I had been woken by a noisy skiffle
from the hen-house next door, followed by the plaintive cry
of a fox, taking care to quickly dismiss an errant feather
from my school jumper. Some days later, when I felt the coast
was clear, I decided to introduce the chicken to my family,
explaining how I had found her wandering in the woods
behind the house and how she had followed me home.
She settled in quickly, sitting beside me on the couch
while I watched cartoons and Aardman re-runs,
scratching industriously around the school-yard
and, even nestling on a window-sill, listening intently,
as the teacher discussed questions of causality,
origin and sequence. And every day a single white egg
until, three weeks in, I found her watching an episode
of Countryfile on the pros and cons of battery farming
and her rhythm stumbled. Her eyes grew cold, she skipped
her daily dust-bath and passed the time staring at the sky.
One morning I woke to find her bed empty,
save for one last egg, sad face emoji etched on the shell.
The Wages of Fear
For years you worked in the shadow
of a man who knew your honesty
was a weakness, who would fleer
at your words, turn certainty
into doubt and scar every weekend
with a cast-off quip,
as he passed laughing through the office
on a Friday evening.
To us a father was all-powerful,
there to entertain on a Sunday night,
read us to sleep, but now I know
how your stomach churned,
as a parallel story
played out in your mind.
A Walk in Winter
It was a day like any other,
aimless and blue.
No crushing commitments,
no burning eye on the calendar,
yet, by evening, he had decided
to step out into the dark.
He must have looked anonymous
in the black air, striding
as though he had some purpose,
some destination in mind.
If it helps, I will describe
again what he was wearing
bulked up against the cold,
perhaps it wasn’t clear on the CCTV.
© Maurice Devitt