for Patrick Slattery
And with the clashing of their sword-blades make A rapturous music, till the morning break... --W.B. Yeats We’re a nation of all talk, recording The story of our blood, registering Our complaints against Land, Lord and Love According to the latest government, Counting past grudges and future graces On our beads and in our pews as from the isles. Tonight, though, in celebrating a grief, We put all that squaring-off aside, Gathering for the bequest of Glory’s praise At the behest of a grace not to be denied. The house fills quickly with aunties, old maids And mothers who can peel onions with their tongues . . . They all speak the strange language of time past, A different century, though clear and fluent. And the men take refuge: kitchen-bound for Lack of space--always a living plight, never The dead’s who have a generous landlord . . . But sweet poverty makes do--like soda In the bread, as it were, to give us rise In the world. Heaven-bound for gain, we talk The great talk with life’s water as we race To track down years, scores and days, the dogma And lore of old heroes, punters and saints. We bask beside private puddles of black beer That harden into cake-rings on the table And watch the dying come and give compass To the new life of the old dead. Later, Late at night, our own compasses lead off Into a wilderness business of things, A renewal of things to square off on-- And talk’s gravity is unable to break off Till long after porter-colored darkness Fills the sky. So late night becomes early Morning just as the brakes are applied. We argue down yet another old point As joy will sing down another last pint. We dismiss with our laughter, truant tears, And disabuse our words for the coming Parting with the rightness of these words And the rightness of this hour for words. --The eastern sky foams yeasty white: Tongues heave With a heavy hilarity, knowing Another year will bring new subjects to life By the dying days of many. We hail At the doorjamb as it fills up with dawn’s light. Hands fly off from a final bracing hold; A quick eye, quicker smile and parting ways, All swallowed in the first speech of morning (Always so apt to have the final word). ‘Twas a night, you might say later on, Worth a blist’ring tongue, mine with talk and-- (You wink)--late as’m coming home--my wife’s. So relatives and others advocate And nominate, ruminate and reminisce-- Oh, now there’s the one true memorial For the dearly departed: sudsy flecks Of talk in a slow slide down the side Of empty glasses and generous tongues Irrigating friendships with gob and gab. Yes, this rapturous music remembers well, This clashing blade-work, this--well, our nation’s art.
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