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  • Filíocht Nua: New Poetry
  • Ben Howard

The Empty Mirror

Tell me, if you can, why mere desireVanishes when circumstances alter,As though it were a portion left uneatenAnd later fed to dogs or washed away.The plate is clean again, the table empty.

Tell me why deceptions come and goAs quickly as the vapor on a mirror,Revealing what was present all along.How vacant, now, that unassuming glassIn which you see your features as they are. [End Page 39]

The Little Drummer Boy Considers a Sabbatical

Don't kid yourself. I know what you're thinking."Here he comes again. He and his drum."I know it's all predictable—the tinselDraped like spiders' webs on drooping branches,The costly cards and breakable displays,The incandescent camels on the lawns,And, as if to usher in the lotOr keep it moving to a steady beat,The unrelenting rhythm of my drum.I know you'd like it if I took my drumAnd did the thing that's better left unmentionedOr failing that, packed up my drum and drumsticksAnd beat a path to Spain or Yucatan.Don't think I haven't fathomed your disdain."Give it a rest!" I've almost heard you sayAnd truth to tell, I've more than once consideredTaking a well-earned leave in some warm spotWhere I could drink tequila or champagneAnd, if luck should favor me again,Compose another sentimental song.But those are dreams, unlikely to come true,And for the nonce, whatever you may think,I have a duty and a job to do.Look at this way, folks: not everyoneIs quite as old or cynical as you,And though I know that endless repetitionHas put a certain tarnish on my charm,If there is still a single open soulWith what the Zen-folks call beginner's mind,Be sure that I'll be there to bring delightAs once I did to you, when you were youngerAnd heard without dismissal or dislikeThe light and gentle tapping of my drum. [End Page 40]


The plotted course, the step-by-step deployment,will ever be at odds with circumstanceand subject to the ructions of the moment.So it was with innocent Tobei,who left his farm to be a samuraiand Genjuro, the potter who exchangedhis wife and home for dreams of wealth and stature.

No real surprise, their brutal, sad reversals.But what should you and I, so far removedfrom feudal wars, infer from their misfortunes?Here in mid-September, rinsed by rain,the pink impatiens bloom among the sedum,and nesting geese, whatever our intentions,look out above the grass, unmoved, unfrightened. [End Page 41]

from The Glad Creators

"What is this?" asks the Zen contemplative,Divining that the undistinguished streetHe's seen a thousand times is not banalBut like Traherne's an oriental marvel."What was that?" I might ask of Dublin City,Where words were not imperial adornmentsNot yet the currency of politiciansBut were, it seems, the very nutrimentsOn which a culture aching for releaseFed its heart and fortified its mind."May your son become a bishop," Behan saidTo the kind nun attending at his deathbed.Outrageous, yes, but in its way humane.What finer way to offer gratitudeOr fend off fear, than by the spoken word,Flavored to be sure by ironyBut none the worse for that. And afterward,The solemn pageantry of hearse and drum,Wherein the State that had imprisoned himAnd banned his books saluted his cortege.And all for doing nothing much of noteBut writing well and speaking from the heart.* * * [End Page 42]

Imagine, if you will, the well-stocked shelvesOf Parsons Bookshop and the well-worn stoolWhere Kavanagh, who seldom cracked a book,Studied racing forms or read his paperOr flirted with the girl behind the counter.Imagine him in tweeds, avoiding Behan,Or turning to exchange a salutationWith Clarke or Montague or Mervyn Wall.And if you're of a mind to offer...


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