Three Poems

Michael Longley

Boat

What’s the Greek for boat,
You ask, old friend,
Fellow voyager
Approaching Ithaca –
Oh, flatulent sails,
Wave-winnowing oars,
Shingle-scrunching keel –
But, so close to home,
There’s a danger always
Of amnesiac storms,
Waterlogged words.

Marigolds, 1960

You are dying. Why do we fight?
You find my first published poem –
‘Not worth the paper it’s printed on,’
You say. She gave him marigolds

You are dying. ‘They’ve cut out my
Wheesht – I have to sit down
To wheesht – like a woman’ –
Marigolds the colour of autumn

I need to hitchhike to Dublin
For Trinity Term. ‘I’ll take you
Part of the way,’ you say,
‘And we can talk if you like.’

And we talk and talk as though
We know we are just in time.
‘A little bit further,’ you say
Again and again, and in pain.

A few miles from Drogheda
You turn the car. We say goodbye
And you drive away slowly
Towards Belfast and your death.

To keep in his cold room. Look
At me now on the Newry Road
Standing beside my rucksack. Och,
Daddy, look in your driving mirror.

The Stairwell

For Lucy McDiarmid

I have been thinking about the music for my funeral –
Liszt’s transcription of that Schumann song, for instance,
‘Dedication’ – inwardness meets the poetry of excess –
When you lead me out of your apartment to demonstrate
In the Halloween-decorated lobby the perfect acoustic
Of the stairwell, and stand among pumpkins, cobwebby
Skulls, dancing skeletons, and blow kisses at the ceiling,
Whistling Great War numbers – ‘Over There’, ‘It’s a Long,
Long Way’, ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ (the refrain) –
As though for my father who could also whistle them,
Trench memories, your eyes closed, your head tilted back,
Your cheeks filling up with air and melody and laughter.
I hold the banister. I touch your arm. Listen, Lucy,
There are songbirds circling high up in the stairwell.