Staggering Ashore

Harry Clifton

Staggering ashore, on Prospero’s island,
Making a landfall, in Twelfth Night,
Illyria, or the coast of Ireland –
Caught, I would be indicted,

So, as usual, the disguise
Before striking inland.
But how will I be recognised
And who will understand

That I am brother to my sister,
Son, or rightful heir?
Malvolio, the ill-wisher,
Lurks under every stair,

And Caliban, in the marram grass
Of Booterstown sloblands
Sticks in the mud of drunkenness,
Old stay-at-home, old rainy-day friend.

Minor angels, minor demons
Whizz like irritants round my ears –
Voices, the shadows of peers,
The images of women

Coming near, unclasping hooks
In bedrooms, keeping the tragic
At bay; and the drowned books
Rising, to work hidden magic

On whatever isle this be.
I start to recognise the place –
Pigeon House, the Irish Sea,
Foghorns, an industrial haze,

And then, the mythic hinterland
Where fathers and daughters
Say goodbye, and the husband
Walks on charmed waters

To the marriage. Years before,
I had lost my home here, found a wife
Sequestered, where I swam ashore
From the old, shipwrecked life.