I carry the books of your poetry like relics,
Read them as a pilgrim reads his own footprint.
Even now, you are taller, burlier than me,
Like a statue chiselled from peninsula flint.
Did the colours of Ballyconnell change,
Or dim in accordance with the season?
Does the wind still rampage over the rocks,
The Atlantic’s polar, colourless treason?
I carry the books of your poetry like dreams
That refuse to be forgotten or denied.
In fathoms-deep winter, or the pinnacle of spring,
I try to kneel before the swell of the tide.
Do you watch for a flock of barnacle geese,
Your winged time-keepers, and wave to them
As they soar over your cottage’s metal roof?
Does their yearly flight console, or condemn?
I carry the books of your poetry like blades
To cut through the knots of my illiteracy.
I was one of your more wretched disciples,
Untrained, untutored in your legacy.
Before all that, you were a hitcher to Dublin,
And then a veteran of London’s building sites.
There you answered the private demand of poetry,
Forfeited your shelter from arctic lights.
I carry the books of your poetry like banners,
Hold them aloft for crusades yet to come.
Outnumbered by the terse cavalry of your words,
I am the squire, apprenticed to your martyrdom.
At your readings, you wore a farmer’s overall,
Your specs at half-mast, your eyes boiling over.
Your voice was a concerto, scaly with cadence,
Flinted accent and softly-vowelled timbre.
I carry the books of your poetry like friends.
The stereo spews endless jazz into the air.
Literature is as good a hiding place as any.
I can watch the evening news without fear.
I remember you in the Hugh Lane Gallery,
Suffused with cold gusts, even in summertime.
Your voice echoed and reheated every corner,
Unblocking every ear of the deafness of rhyme,
The violin, clarinet and cello abiding your words
As waves abide a ship, while you read poetry
From your third collection, and I, eleven years old,
Heard verse make its first private demand of me.
In summertime, you drove us through your territory,
The outer darkness of Sligo where greenery reigned.
Dog hairs littered your car’s back seat,
The tyres knew the road too well to puncture.
The mountain lifted its head, watching us pass
At fifty m.p.h., a waterfall spilled in white rancour,
Dairmaid and Grainne’s Cave stayed out of reach
And the Lake of Jealousy lapped at our ankles.
A sea wall protected you from invading waves,
Safeguarding a solitude all poets must build.
And I know I’ll carry the books of your poetry
Until time makes me erudite, and skilled.
But I never extended my thanks for the advice
And warnings you gave, free of favour or charge.
I extend it now, mentor, keeper, friend: thank you
For the words, the elation still at large.