Three Poems

Michael Longley

Two Skunks

Why, my dear octogenarian Jewish friend,
Does the menagerie of minuscule glass animals
On top of your TV set not include a skunk?
I have been travelling around in America,
Sleeping in wooden houses with squeaky floors,
Landings hung with pictures of lost relatives,
Professors, station-masters, wise embroiderers.
Driving along the Delaware my poet-host
Stops to let two wild turkeys cross the road.
Is that a third one dithering behind us?
We wind the car windows up – a freshly
Flattened skunk so pongily alive in death
Even the magpies in the dogwood hesitate.
Later we laugh as a three-legged dachshund
Raises its non-existent limb to piddle
At the only set of traffic-lights in town.
Laid out in its cotton-wool-lined golden box
A skunk in the Novelty Store beguiles me.
Dawnlight and birdsong kindle my fourposter.
I swaddle your present in my underclothes
For it is time to pack and leave America.
A cardinal flusters at the bedroom window
Like the soul of a little girl who hands over
All of the red things her short life recalls.
Here, my dear octogenarian Jewish friend,
Is my gift for you, a skunk spun out of glass
And so small as to be almost unbreakable.

Three Butterflies

For Fleur Adcock

Your sister in New Zealand held the telephone
Above your mother in her open coffin
For you to communicate. How many times
Did silence encircle the globe before
The peacock butterfly arrived in your room?
We all know what the butterfly represents.
I granted my own mother a cabbage-white.
On the Dooaghtry cairn which commemorates
God knows whom a tortoiseshell alighted
To sun itself. It had been wintering
In memory’s outhouse and escaped the wren.

Petalwort

For Michael Viney

You want your ashes to swirl along the strand
At Thallabaun – amongst clockwork, approachable,
Circumambulatory sanderlings, crab shells,
Bladderwrack, phosphorescence at spring tide –

Around the burial mound’s wind-and-wave-inspired
Vanishing act – through dowel-holes in the wreck –
Into bottles but without a message, only
Self-effacement in sand, additional eddies.

There’s no such place as heaven, so let it be
The Carricknashinnagh shoal or Cahir
Island where you honeymooned in a tent
Amid the pilgrim-fishermen’s stations,

Your spillet disentangling and trailing off
Into the night, a ghost on every hook – dab
And flounder, thorny skate – at ebb tide you
Kneeling on watery sand to haul them in.

Let us choose for the wreath a flower so small
Even you haven’t spotted on the dune-slack
Between Claggan and Lackakeely its rosette –
Petalwort: snail snack, angel’s nosegay.