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  • Filíocht Nua:New Poetry
  • Jane Clarke

when winter comes

remember what the blacksmithknows, dim light is best

at the furnace, to see the coloursgo from red to orange

to yellow, the forging heatthat tells the steel is ready

to be held in the mouthof the tongs and it’s time

to lenthen and narrowwith the ring of the hammer

on the horn of an anvil,to bend until the forgiving metal

has found its formin the sinuous curve of a scroll.

Then file the burrs, removesharp edges, smooth the surface,

polish with a grinding stoneand see it shine like silver, like gold. [End Page 34]

the pianist

I don’t know how she did it,smuggled a spinet,blanket-wrapped,

all the way from Beijing.We didn’t want trouble,neighbours said we should burn it,

but if you saw how she touched it,you’d know why we founda hiding place in a faraway shed.

Like everyone else,she spent long days in the fieldsbut come the night,

she’d be gone for hours at a time.We didn’t ask,didn’t want to know;

only sometimes we heard notescarried, as if from the heavens,by hard frost or on the wind. [End Page 35]


We sit together, the mountain and meuntil only the mountain remains.

li po, transl. david hinton

the mountains have forgottenwho gave them their names

who said this one reminds meof butter this one of hens

who saw a fox a badgeran eagle a crane

who called this one calf’s ridgethis one stooped peak

Sliabh Coimhéideach     watching mountainSliabh Lámhagáin     crawling mountain

Sliabh na nGor     mountain of the pigsSlievenagarragh     mountain of the hare

a miner     a drovera lover     a smuggler

a shepherd     a farmhanda midwife     a maid

the mountains have forgottenwho gave them their names [End Page 36]

the yellow jumper

We weren’t married long when I saw it,the turtle-necked jumper in Murray’s window—bright yellow it was, yellow as happiness,yellow as the flash on a goldfinch’s wings.

I imagined your father wearing it at the fairs,standing out from all the rest in their greensand greys. Eighteen shillings and sixpence,I paid for it on tick, thruppence a week.

For all that he smiled on his birthday,it remained on the back of the bedroom chair.One day I folded and packed it in the chestwith the spare candles, letters, photographs

and the other questions I didn’t ask.Still, I like to think of him there, among pensof breeding heifers, weanlings and hoggets,splendid in yellow. [End Page 37]

sika whistle

First it rises,a mournful call,like nothing will ever come right again,

then it descends;a whistle that shreds the evening mist,coming from high on Mullacor

where two stags standhead to head in brindled bracken,like father and son smouldering

in the cattle pen, taking each other’s measure,their antlers sharpened on tree trunks,ready for battle. [End Page 38]

the roof rack

My brother has taken to making suggestionsfor the poems I should write: the one

about the stoat we saw crossing the bridgeat the bottom of the Hill Field,

its brown summer coat and black-tipped tail,or the one about the cobwebbed roof rack

that’s hanging in the shed. Can’t you see,he says, it was painted each time

we changed the car; there’s a speck of greenfrom the Prefect we had in the 50’s, blue

from the Anglia, traces of red from the Cortinaand at least one that was white.

Do you not remember, he asks, the troubleevery summer after the hay; searching

for clasps and screws that went missingover the winter. Someone was sure

to catch their fingers or the cattlewould break out across the river

and we’d have to run down the fieldsto get them back from Mickey Ward’s …

his voice trails away, as if some other storyhas taken him in...


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