Three Poems

Matthew Sweeney

A Picnic on Ice

For Tom Lynch

Let’s go back to Mullett Lake in March
and have a picnic on the ice.
Let’s wrap up like Inuits, and meet
three miles north of Indian River,
where the jetty stands in summer
front of 577 Grandview Beach.
We’ll cram in Lynch’s vintage hearse
and motor slowly out onto the ice,
where I’ll spread my blue tablecloth
and as it darkens I’ll line up bottles –
wine, Zubrovka, poteen if I can get it –
and onion bhajees, chili beans, tortilla,
goats’ cheese and five kinds of bread.
I’ll bring a tape of Irish music
to charm the ghosts beneath the ice.
Some of you may act like Michiganders
and cut holes to fish through,
or slip through and swim underwater
like the mad Finns of Minnesota –
or maybe just make needle-holes of piss.
And we might just find time for stories,
the one about the team of horses
that fell through the ice in March –
the current changed, a seam opened,
the ice quaked, a foot became an inch –
and they’re down there, skeletons in harness
to a sleigh of logs, past the sunken island’s
northern shore, seen a couple times
by the seaplane pilot who told me
over steaks in the Hack-ma-Tack –
and if the ice should suddenly crack
we’ll be tipsy, replete, comforted
to be sinking all together with a hearse
down to join the horse-bones on the bottom.

An End

I want to end up on Inishtrahull,
in the small graveyard there
on the high side of the island,
carried there in a helicopter sling
with twenty speedboats following.
And I want my favourite Thai chef
flown there, a day before,
and brought to the local fishermen
so he can serve a chili feast
before we head off up the hill.
A bar, too, it goes without saying,
free to all, the beer icy,
all the whiskey Irish, and loud
through speakers high on poles
the gruff voice of Tom Waits
causing the gulls to congregate.
Get Tom himself there, if you can.
And in the box with me I want
a hipflask filled with Black Bush,
a pen and a blank notebook,
all the vitamins in one bottle,
my address book and ten pound coins.
Also, a Cantonese primer.
I want no flowers, only cacti
and my headstone must be glass.

Chinese Opera

She lit the sky with her own fireworks show
at 4 a.m. Up there on her roof garden,
in her moon & stars dressing-gown
she drained the last of the champagne
then struck the first match. Downstairs,
in the living room, Chinese opera was playing –
the last gift he’d given her with a grin.
She’d played that tape non-stop since then.

He’d laughed until she’d started joining in
with thin quivery vowels stretched and bent,
sobs and cymbal-bashes, and dialogue
spoken in English – her own translations
which varied every time but always
had broken or sacrificed men – and laments
sung in her improvised Chinese, like now
on the roof as she sent the rockets high.