Museum

Paula Meehan
            Invocation
 
As old houses harbour ghosts, so do words.
Take museum which comes down from the Greek,
a place to put things that please the Muses,
 
a shrine or seat of the old goddesses.
What you find here might not be what you seek.
Rich, poor, citizen, commoner, lady, lord:
 
mortal trace made immortal by design.
Surrender as you enter through their door;
know all are equal here: in Time’s brute trust
 
we are held – the quick, the dead, the blest, the curst.
Open heart and mind to those who’ve gone before,
to honour the Muses – virgin, mother, crone,
 
and hope to glimpse them ninefold in this house,
daughters of Memory, oracles of grace.
 
 
         Of Natal Charts and End Games
            to Urania – Muse of Astronomy 
 
Not the clock to measure time and tide, but the moon,
her waxings, her wanings, her track across the star-
spangled heavens, trining and sextiling planets
to net and land another whole incarnate soul,
to earth this karma in the shelter of the house.
Cellular mirrors celestial, the spinning globe
slows to rest with the mother’s cries, the child’s first breath;
 
while elsewhere in the house, a different room, a death,
a last glimpse of ceiling as the light fails lobe by lobe.
Upstairs someone dreams of walnuts, a new blouse,
someone makes coddle, snuffs a candle, humps coal,
sips Vartry water, tastes trace of phyllite, quartzite,
greywacke, shale, slate – bedrock lithographies from far-
off Wicklow – while Angelus bells ring out the noon.
 
 
          Her Dignity: A Restoration
              to Clio – Muse of History
 
Once it was simple and clear: the world a dreamspace
when we were children and wrote in our copybooks
an old penny, an old hat, an old watch, an old boot,
an old house tells its story. An old woman tells hers
now, walking backwards into the future, her eyes
wide open, peering through the air so thick with trauma,
to the girl she once was, skipping the shadowy world
 
into being with each thump of the rope, or curled
to a foetal crouch under the bed, adult drama
raging overhead. You, who write the histories,
write her in, write her up, write her down, before she blurs,
an image disturbed in a scrying bowl, that the brute
erosions of a State helmed by liars, helmed by crooks,
might not yet rob memory of her abiding grace.
 
 
             Children Of The Wind
                    to Euterpe – Muse of Song and Elegiac Poetry
 
Where are they now, the children of the house, who flocked
like rooks at dusk, or gulls come in from stormy seas,
raucous through the rooms, from area up to attic
to nest in cribs, to huddle in beds, to dream in cots,
to rise again in the morning, to make the whole 
world up, over and over, their voices piping,
puling, shrilling, in glorious cacophony?
 
They had no fear of time. Their ancient cartographies
still scribed in the walls, their seeking, their hiding,
their yo-yos, their piggy beds, their ludo, their … goals!
“I’m coming, ready or not, keep your place or you’ll be caught”.
Their rhyming chants echo even yet. O my erratic 
stars, that wandered the face of the heavens,
blown hither, blown thither, on cosmic currents rocked.
 
 
            The Acoustic
                  to Erato – Muse of Lyric Poetry
 
As slowly as a tortoise, time moves through these rooms:
light eternal nuzzling up to windows and under doors,
ethereal music – a voice broken with desire
that plucks at the heartstrings. It sings of love, love lost
and hope abandoned. It sings of an empty bed,
of roses and myrtle withering in a glass jar,
of turtle doves, of snow falling to the garden.
 
They were much like us: they lived, they died on the margin.
The archive opens, a glimpse of who they were, star-
crossed lovers. Then slams shut again on the silenced dead. 
We fare no better now than they once did – the cost
of love for some frail souls is a funeral pyre.
We’ll keep on making songs, we’ll sing through peace, through war,
our songs of lovers lonely in their vaulted tombs.
 
 
                ‘Step We Gaily, On We Go’
                        to Terpsichore – Muse of Dance
 
Some nights when the moon is full the ghosts come out to dance:
they reel and they jig and they jitter across the boards.
They clasp each other’s spectral hands throughout the ages,
Republican shimmies with Ascendancy lady,
Militia Captain toe to toe with scullery maid.
They swing their partners while spirit music blares;
sage, fool, rich, poor, made equal in this Danse Macabre.
 
A rustle of silk, a rattle of tarnished sabre,
their shadowy shindig teeming up the backstairs
to trip the light fandango, beau and jade,
skeletal revenants grieving the loss of body,
remembering strong hearts pounding in rib cages,
blood rising, pulsing with the music’s major chords
to possess the frenzied dancers in ecstatic trance.
 
 
            This Bed, This Raft On Stormy Seas
                    to Melpomene – Muse of Tragedy
 
The start of her lying-in was the end of mornings
at the pier glass, mouse-skin eyebrows, eyes outlined in jet,
cheeks rouged, got from recipes in The Art of Beauty;
gall-nuts, black lead, mercury, carmine, liquid pitch,
her glued on beauty spots of taffeta and silk,
her drapery, her napery, her blue, blue, walls.
Birth the leveller pays no heed to class, to kind –
 
our crossing fraught with peril to body and to mind.
In every generation there are stars that fall;
a lost galaxy of nurture with our mother’s milk;
a miracle we make it here without a hitch.
This buzzing hive of life, this golden bounty,
honey of survival in our ancestors’ sweat,
salt tears for those who don’t survive the quickening.
 
 
             Of Odysseys and Other Rambles
                     to Calliope – Muse of Epic Poetry
 
Yap yap! Ráiméis and rigmarole! If these walls could speak:
Hentown blather clucked from threshold to attic room,
fabrications, downright lies, home truths and lullabies.
Story snagged from time, spun into the yarn of the house,
the ghostly racket of the carriers of tales
who lug their water buckets up and down the stairs,
all gossip, all frittery bustle, their epic.
 
If musing on the ornamental frieze of oak,
an iridescent bird through a canopy of air
lets drop a feather to your hand, then use it as a quill
to enumerate such fates, damned or auspicious;
the census of this shelter might immortalize 
such vestige of lives endured through crash, through boom,
flitting like some magpie, stolen trinket in her beak.
 
 
               Funny Ha Ha And Funny Peculiar
                        to Thalia – Muse of Comedy
 
Laughter, they say, is nature’s best medicine:
through thick and thin, through paucity and plenty,
with your glass half empty, with your glass half full,
if you have a glass, a pot to piss in, a jam jar,
a fork when it’s raining soup, when god slams one door
in your face, then locks the other door and bars the window –
you’d have to laugh, or else you’d break down and cry.
 
It’s hard to take the cosmic joke when kids are hungry,
when the cupboard is bare and the fuel’s running low;
sniggers, guffaws, snorts, pratfalls and gallows humour.
Is it funny ha ha or funny peculiar
when one by one neighbours take ill, are listless, eyes dull?
Words like typhoid, diphtheria, rickets and dysentery
wipe the smile off your face, invite terror creep in.
 
 
            Our Lady Of The Apocalypse
                    to Polyhymnia – Muse of Sacred Poetry
 
Our Lady of the apocalypse who never
closed your heart to the dissolute, pray for us
who gave shelter in broken down Georgian tenements,
who kept the doors open to the demented ones,
those who came in rags and miasmas of foul odour,
in delirium tremens, the worn out old spunkers,
the displaced relicts of imperial trauma.
 
O sweet daughter of Memory, veiled in enigma,
who brought longed for oblivion to the meths drinkers,
the dipsos, the alcos, the put down no hopers,
those who came in from chaos, from cold, from winds, from rains,
to sleep it all off in hallways, in stairwells, who rent
the long night with sobs, who cried out to you in the throes
of their last agony, grant them eternal succour.
 
 
            Envoi

The Daughters of Memory

They’re hanging out the sheets on the lines
to catch a spring wind. The children dream
of schooners under a cloud of sail
and the ghosts are packing up their satchels.

They know it’s time to leave, with the tide 
of history ebbing through the house.

Go you too, mortal, your fated road.
May fixed stars guide you, until you reach
safe harbour, a place you can call home.


– Therma, Ikaria, Greece, 22.5.2017

Page 23, Poetry Ireland Review Issue 124
Issue 124

Poetry Ireland Review Issue 124:

Edited by Eavan Boland

Poetry Ireland Review 124 contains new poems from Paula Meehan, Ciarán O'Rourke, Lizzy Nichols, Mark Ward, Gabriel Rosenstock, Özgecan Kesici, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, and many other compelling voices. Also included is Eilean Ni Chuilleanáin's remembrance of her Cork childhood, excerpted from The Vibrant House: Irish Writing and Domestic Space, a book of essays reviewed in issue 124 by Caitríona O'Reilly. Other books considered in this issue include collections from Annemarie Ní Churreáin, Mark Granier, Tara Bergin, The Cambridge Companion to Irish Poets, and the Collected Poems of the late Dennis O'Driscoll, and there's also a short interview with Thomas Kinsella along with an essay on Kinsella as poet and civil servant. Another Kinsella is this issue’s Featured Poet, Alice Kinsella, and all artwork for the issue is supplied by artists associated with the Olivier Cornet Gallery on Great Denmark Street, around the corner from Poetry Ireland.

Available now to purchase online or in all good bookstores.