Sunday, June 05, 2016

Inisheer - 1975

Above the half door, a beach;
above that again, the sea.
The morning ferry from Galway
anchors in the doorway
and waits offshore in the sun.

Aran sweaters are navy blue
and such, not many white.
The ferrymen, hard as the sea,
are readying their currachs,
which are also fishing boats.

This island has no police,
no cars, no roads, no harbour.
The people speak Irish
and the tiny stonewalled fields
have rabbits and a donkey or two.

This side faces the mainland.
There's a pub. That's it.
They close when you finish drinking.
We never knew and kept them awake,
then staggered out under the stars.

One of them was zig-zagging.
Who knew we couldn't fix it,
on the rocky path we walked,
stopping, sitting, starting again,
mystified and drunk with life.

A little sandy beach,
sheltered by rocks,
we sunbathed but never swam.
The cove was full of jellyfish
blown in by last night's gale.

I ate something like wild garlic
stupidly, luckily not poisoned.
Walking where skuas swooped
to threaten our heads, we found
a ruin half-buried in the sand.

It was a church from the age
of saints and scholars, hungry,
not tall or else they stooped
to pass under the low lintel
into their pious stone hall.

Our blasé plaster living rooms
might be bigger now than this
place where monks huddled
and chanted in Latin, fearful,
euphoric and awestruck.

Another mile to the final cliffs
where sheered walls of tawny rock
face the edge of the world.
Did they venture in twos, singly,
or all together to this western shore?

They prayed to God of the Atlantic
for their feeble, perilous lives.
They prayed for the flat world, finite
under a dome of sky, waiting
for the terrible Judgment Day.

Next stop America, we know now.
But for them the ineluctible fury
of the Atlantic was proof
that they were small, very small,
and so are we, the same.

The wavelets turn rollercoaster
only halfway to the ferry, leaving.
It's too late then to set the price
when they ask. Whatever it is,
we have to pay the currach men.

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