Up on top of Divis on a freezing Saturday
we pass the singing gates: five five-barred silver yokes
across from the café (closed for renovation),
penning nothing in but their own frustration.
They keen like washerwomen into the billowing sky.
You’re talking Batman, Two-Face, Robin; you lope
ahead and circle and run back, ready to walk
for hours if we have time, free at last of school
and all the worksheets you never manage to finish
on your own. I can no longer ask my grandad
exactly how his release was managed back in April
’45: five years of his young man’s life wiped out
for being a so-called enemy of the State in wartime
(that other bout of internment no one ever mentions)
and then what? Tipped out onto the pavement like a sack
of damaged apples as the gates of Crumlin Road Gaol
clanged shut behind him? My father says he walked
to this summit the very next morning, walked
to work every day thereafter, walked to think,
walked for pleasure, walked to stretch each inch of his cell
by laying it down, over and over, on the floor
of the borderless world, so that its chipped-tile cast-iron
rectangle could disappear... We opt for the Ridge Trail,
a heathery zigzag that wraps the whole side of the hill
in its ribbon while The Joker secedes to mummification
and the death rites of Ancient Egypt. You’re a dark-haired
flurry in a hailstorm, running on sugar and bliss,
who can’t tell
b from d because any letter might just flick
its Fred Astaire hat and dance backwards across the page
if it felt like it, yet starving all the same for knowledge –
imbibing the French Revolution or species of cacti
like brawn and remembering everything.
My grandad brought his own son here from the age of four
on crippling, all-day hikes on Saturdays
(long before, as the Jesuits saw it, my father had the capacity
for resistance to anything) and told him brilliant stories:
the Battle of Stalingrad, the Defence of the Luding Bridge,
The Great Only Appear Great Because We Are On Our Knees,
Let Us Rise – until the two of them fell asleep
in Hatchet Field, clouds passing over their faces like zeppelins.
The oil rigs you fell in love with
a year ago are still moored at the shipyard’s glittering edge.
Storms of gunmetal grey touch down precisely in far-off
tinkertoy villages though for now we’re walking in sunshine,
welcome as any downpour after a drought, as you list
the typical contents of a sarcophagus and detail the risk
of double jeopardy in the Hall of Two Truths –
Did you bring joy? Did you find joy? –
Horus skulking hawk-eyed in the background.
For most of my father’s childhood, my grandad must have looked
like the man in the black-and-white photograph I keep sequestered
in a notebook: a Guest of Honour in the Soviet Union, turned Italian
in the Black Sea sunshine, his hallmark Donegal suit
dramatically cut, skinny like you and even more electric,
a honey magnet (and he knew it) for secretaries, receptionists,
stray passing female fellow revolutionaries
in that dim hermetic time lock called Transport House
with its tea trolleys, telephone exchanges,
ash trays standing guard along corridors
like Russian Babushkas in apartment blocks.
We can pick out its derelict white-black-and-turquoise
(Belfast’s only example of Socialist Realist architecture)
from the rest of the city centre’s humdrum colours.
Do you want to ask me a question, Mummy?
(by far your favourite question) as we come up at last
by our circuitous route to the granite triangulation point
where, three months earlier, my grandad’s children
and their children and their children took turns with a kitchen scoop
to launch what was left of him into the air.
He’d made himself so small in the previous months,
perhaps out of courtesy, it hadn’t been hard
and I want to ask you about the gates
we’re on our way back to – what wind caught where?
In what cavity? Why this particular calibre of sound
unravelling only here? Are they in harmony? Are they a choir?
Are they, in fact, the singing ticket to the afterlife
and how might we post ourselves into it, limb by limb?
What scarab? What amulet? What feather? What scale? What spell?
Poetry Ireland Review Issue 120