A Particular Friendship


Medbh McGuckian was born in Belfast in 1950. She studied at Queen’s University, earning a BA and MA, and was later appointed the institution’s first female writer-in-residence. She has won the National Poetry Competition, The Cheltenham Award, The Rooney Prize, the Bass Ireland Award for Literature, the Denis Devlin Award, the Alice Hunt Bartlett Prize and The Forward Prize for Best Poem. Her latest collection, Blaris Moor, was published by Gallery Press in 2015, the same year Wake Forest brought out a collection of new selected poems, entitled The Unfixed Horizon.



 

A PARTICULAR FRIENDSHIP

 

Milkfish, sunbear, clouded leopard,

Seawasp — his English was always at its worst

In the mornings or when he was at pains

To shed his Englishness:

 

You have some subtle thought and it

Comes out as a piece of broken bottle.

Beginning to hear the words as voices,

Though they spoke then without voices,

 

He began to dream he was back in London

During the Blitz, had arrived without an overcoat

As though it were a recent hurt,

In Image-town, the beautiful,

 

Where they rang the bells backwards.

He had been looking for the perfect city,

Maybe it begins with W

In his first made-up language.

 

To be fair to his younger self,

It is something to do with the rain the day

Before, when you rekiss kisses,

White road without cars, written

 

In Joyce Esperanto or macaronic

With the pencil the hospital allowed.

He told the headmaster he didn’t care

For Plato, and read books few others

 

Had heard of (most of his favourites were

On the Index). He wore a navy-blue turtle-

Neck sweater, spent money on silk ties

He wondered if he would ever wear—

 

They were after all in the best of taste.

He wore a soft felt hat which he threw

Like a Frisbee, a gold watch chain

On which he had no watch.

 

****************************

 

Lone operator, she suspected him

Of being a spy for the other side,

That he took up spying for sport—

She prayed for him when nobody else did.

 

One movie he saw through four times,

Smoking his Craven A or players Number Three,

Downing a concoction called Vimto

Or Harvey’s Shooting Sherry.

 

He kept his lips tight shut when others

Were praying in the chapel, but hung about

Thinking of the white monks in the novel:

There were times when he wondered

 

If only names made sense— the stations

On the railway, a catalogue of advertising

Slogans, the names of the ships that sailed

To Troy— the name of every girl

 

He had thought himself in love with.

He would have liked the shared silence

And protection of an older woman

(His Aunt Maud died that November).

 

*********************************

 

Cold but passionate, he spent his evenings

In one pub or another, as if he were doubled-

Up over an oar the whole time, enjoying

The craziness of the place, though he says

 

Nothing about the huge Peace March, or Hunger

March, he talked of Reds in an ill-defined way.

He would sign a petition and probably picketed,

Sold some pamphlets and made some kind of speech

 

In the big classroom during the strike.

Editor of the yearbook, he was good

At drawing footballers, and could do imitations

Of Baby Face Nelson. First and last,

 

A literary youth, he walked explosively

With verse as in a trance both merry and sober;

Poet of the rain, he wrote of the inkpot

And of the pen he was using for whatever warm

 

Book, fingers together in a pear shape.

A cartoonist’s picture of an Irishman,

Moonfaced, caustic, and witty,

He had young eyes, one of the best glances

 

Upwards waiting in the dismal bus station.

Like something of a dream-return

Of torn theatre tickets, he came in and out

Of view at times of his own choosing,

Mouth still burning from the night before.

 

For him the Mass was a ballet, still

Its sermon made him sore, two flushes

Of new leaves on the daylilies in the spartan

Parlour could find his leaving

Believable, very believing unbeliever.

 


Medbh McGuckian

About

Medbh McGuckian was born in Belfast in 1950. She studied at Queen’s University, earning a BA and MA, and was later appointed the institution’s first female writer-in-residence. She has won the National Poetry Competition, The Cheltenham Award, The Rooney Prize, the Bass Ireland Award for Literature, the Denis Devlin Award, the Alice Hunt Bartlett Prize and The Forward Prize for Best Poem. Her latest collection, Blaris Moor, was published by Gallery Press in 2015, the same year Wake Forest brought out a collection of new selected poems, entitled The Unfixed Horizon.