Poem by John W Sexton
John W. Sexton’s sixth poetry collection, Futures Pass, was published by Salmon Poetry in 2018. A chapbook of surrealist poetry, Inverted Night, came out from SurVision in 2019. His poem The Green Owl was awarded the Listowel Poetry Prize 2007 for best single poem. His poem In and Out of Their Heads, from The Offspring of the Moon, was selected for The Forward Book of Poetry 2014. His poem The Snails was shortlisted for the 2018 An Post / Listowel Writers’ Week Poem of the Year Award. In 2007 he was awarded a Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry.
from Visions at Templeglantine
You snip the string on the brown parcel.
As you begin to peel back the brittle brown
covering, you realise from its veined surface
that this isn’t parcel paper. It’s a single
insect wing. You carefully spread the wing
across the floor. It’s as big as the sail
from a small boat. You return to the table
where a large box sits with a loose lid.
Inside the box is a bundle of brittle wing;
the matching wing you reasonably guess. Care-
fully once more you spread this wing across
the floor, next to its other half. Wrapped
inside this wing – a pair of shoes. The shoes
are made of red wax. You place the shoes
upon your feet. They are wonderfully flexible
and squeak at every step. A red spot is left
after each footfall. The wings lie expectantly, await-
ing the moment when you will ask your mother
to sew them to your naked back. Your back awaits.
A noise of violet has been in your head all morning.
Your neighbour has sent you out to the meadow,
to capture the golden horse. He has given you a halter
made of twisted straw. You do not believe
in the golden horse. You believe the halter
to be useless. The noise in your head stops. Violet
is no longer colouring your mind. In the meadow
a golden horse is standing in the sunlight. You believe.
On seeing you the horse steps away, away into
the shadow of the trees. It is no longer golden, you see
now, but covered all over in mud. The horse
evades you continually, trotting away at each approach.
You throw the halter at it in exasperation. The noise
in your head starts up. Violet is mind. The horse
bends down and eats the straw halter. Violet wells up,
overflowing. The horse’s whinny sounds sarcastic,
sounds triumphant as it trots away. In exasperation
this time you shout. Stop! The word is violet. The horse
stops. You realise that the halter is in the horse now,
because violet is certain in all matters. The horse
must obey. Come, you say to the horse. Once upon
the horse you take hold of its mane, take hold of its mane
as fierce as you can. Carry me to the Sky Woman,
you say to the horse, for I wish to present you to her.
The horse gallops with certainty, for violet commands it.
At great speed it crosses the meadow, at great speed
its hooves gain purchase in the air. You are astride it
amongst the clouds. The noise in your head stops.
You lose your sense of certainty, you falter. Your grip
becomes faithless and the horse senses it and shakes you.
You fall through the sky. Another certainty becomes manifest.
You think you know the colour of grass. You think
you know the colour green. But on this morning
that you walk through the knotted tresses of it,
you do not recognise the colour you tread upon.
The sky leaks a dark pain it has never bled.
In the night a wave has passed up through the river,
you can only guess that that is it, for the lower fields
are littered with eels. At your treadfall the eels revive;
they begin to squirm all about you. They catch
each other by the tail until they are all a squamous rope.
You take one end of this tarnished cord and flick it
in the air. The rope of eels stands upright, and you
climb. You climb up into the sickening sky.
The sky is imbued with familiarity. You have
been here before. A hand grabs you by the nose
and pulls you free of the eels. A long thumbnail
and a long forefingernail pierce your face.
Suddenly you are in your house, but it is no dream
that placed you in your chair. You arise unsteadily,
stumble to the mirror. On either side of your snout
is a puncture wound, a trickle of blood from each.
But here is a red you have never before beheld;
a blood you have never expressed, have never bled.
Weeks pass before you enter those fields again.
In the distance the river is solid metal, a necklace.
As you descend, the ground is yielding, sodden.
Yellow irises are in flower, their ragged petals
vulnerable in the sunlight. But you understand
at last that you cannot own colour. Colour
is a thing outside of you. You know now
that the irises and their yellow are owned by water.
At the riverbank a kingfisher is electric
in the momentary sighting of it. You do not
own it nor wish to. You barely look. Just
as you barely looked at the irises or the grass,
or the sky or now the river. A woman of liquid
metal looks up out at you, her flesh like mercury.
You do not covet her. You are beginning
to understand not to desire her. The she is beyond
you. You must love her, but without condition.
You turn your back and walk away to your house.
The river leaves itself and sits up on the sodden grass.
The river combs its hair of river, then shakes itself
back fully into itself. You did not see this. Not
seeing this is a test you have just passed.
In the wood you pass an old woman going
the opposite way. You stop and look back
at her. Blackthorn is growing through the top
of her head. White blossom crowns her.
A small bird, a wren, enters through
the thicket of the blackthorn. You decide
to follow her. You can see the wren
flitting in and out of her skull. You can
hear chicks cheeping in there. The wren
has brought maggots in its craw. The chicks
are the old woman’s mind, born again
from the wren. A chick falls out
and to the ground. The old woman seems
oblivious. You stop and gently gather
the chick into the joined cup of your hands.
You are filled with bird thought; of the multiples
that crowd the skies, that crowd the hedges.
© John W Sexton