A collection of five books of poems by Northern Irish poet Peter McDonald, this book ranges wildly across subjects and forms and combines intense emotional perception with a historical and personal imagination. Ambitious and original, it meditates on place, belonging, loss, and love while exploring the haunting persistence of memories and the acts of remembrance that preserve and shape them. The classical world inspired many of the works herein and his lyrical narrative style has established him as one of the important writers of contemporary Northern Irish poetry.
|Publisher:||Carcanet Press, Limited|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Peter McDonald is a lecturer, a poet, and the author of several books, including The House of Clay, Pastorals, and Torchlight. He is the recipient of the Eric Gregory Award and the University of Oxford’s Newdigate Prize for Poetry.
Read an Excerpt
By Peter McDonald
Carcanet Press LtdCopyright © 2012 Peter McDonald
All rights reserved.
BITING THE WAX
The dog lay there with one leg missing,
dead apparently, right in front of the door
all morning. We came out to move it,
but a crowd from somewhere catcalled and hissed,
then a stone or two clattered past us, hit
the window, took a chunk out of the wall.
We retreated, and the dog still lay there.
Silence from outside echoed in the hall.
That night, it was dogs barking everywhere,
glass crunching on the road. The TV
spat and flickered for an hour or more
until the pictures stopped, as suddenly
as lights blacked out and the phone died.
We must have fumbled with matches and candles,
for we made out windows shaking, handles
tried on the strong doors. Then voices outside.
The troublemakers wouldn't show their faces
until the very last, so it was said.
The only time they'll look you in the eye
(patterns of plaster on the sheepskin rug)
it's then you'll know that you're as good as dead.
Still carpeted, the flat felt like a safe place
most days, although at night the noises started
and the locks got stronger. Now there was the dog.
At last, peace: dawn and a spreading silence,
fires burning out, maybe a car passing
and little else to be heard. By midday
one of us had emerged, and was standing
on a littered path, swiping the flies away.
The dog was there still, and the smell of the dog.
He called back, An accident. In the distance,
a helicopter with one blade missing.
Behind them, the radio surges
its way into the conversation.
Early evening, and the noise of Europe
is Babel's atmospherics,
the sound of dust and headaches.
Rising in the half-dark
they close a window, make coffee,
try to hold down the signal.
Florence this summer. And next
year somewhere new – down
the Rhine, Hungary maybe,
or that tour of Yugoslavia.
The birds are deafening, the radio
white noise by now, and even
the coffee is burning their tongues.
Something terrible is going to happen.
Those lovers in the attic
who scratch and cry their way
out of each other's lives
gradually the night through
until at dawn they sleep,
are becoming the soundtrack
for the worst of our bad dreams,
those separate B-movies
where the lumbering, hurt monsters
turn out to be ourselves.
I look inside your lovers' heads
to where you lie naked,
frozen blue on the soil,
and lurch away in terror
through mist and huge trees,
still hearing the first of your cries,
your moans, and gasps, and silences.
A brute, my hands fumble
from trunk to trunk, as if
the damp wood kept you there.
Kneeling at a rain pool
and about to catch the water,
I can tap your snow-dream
through fathoms of ether:
silence, but for the crack
and groan of ice
further and further north;
some creature's wounded howl
for a face that shatters
at the drop of one hand.
At last there was time to dream again,
or it seemed that way at least:
the sunset had changed only slightly
since yesterday, but it had changed.
The photograph he tried for became
a letter, and the letter became ash
in his own hearth before long,
even before the sun had set.
There was always something else to be caught,
or there would be soon, with luck;
his fire burned like the sun in Florida
where, slightly drunk by now, the last
astronaut alive was still wondering
how to make his way back to the moon.
The clouds were following one another south
and we were following the clouds, as if
that were the reasonable thing to do,
slowly for days, then slowly for a month,
feeling the ice begin to lace our breath
like men who had already come to grief
and were buried now in air and sea-snow.
But pressing on required no special skill:
the nights were full of drink, the days morose
and broody, staring down to a thick sea,
awaiting the time of arbitrary landfall,
then wading ashore in ones and twos, until
we stood, wrapped up like spacemen, close
together, in ourselves a single colony.
I think perhaps we wanted to begin again,
to have another try at that new start,
but the ice and sleet, as we huddled there together,
were making for cohesion, and the pain
involved in staying close seemed less in vain
than that of separation, being torn apart
to strike out freely, far from one another.
And so we stayed, and froze into our places
as snow-sculptures, first with faces half-defined,
then bolder, heavier forms with curious features,
and finally as abstract things, where traces
of figure or line are conjectural, and surfaces
are white and changing, leaving nothing behind
to hold us all accountable as living creatures.
Two telephones all morning giving each other hell
in the highest office between here and God,
a desk polished black so you can see your face
and a silent screen that flashes messages
across cities, oceans and thousands of miles;
a printer beside it zipping away, murmuring
at intervals all day in different inks:
nobody says much except to the telephones.
I'd start by talking about securities,
though nobody is ever safe, and things
get sticky, dangerous – you might even
pick up something nasty from the keyboard
or the one love of your life, just think of that –
and what reply is there anyway
to the fax's cruel jibing, its clever This
is the promised land calling, the poor boy on the line?
Clutching his sides at the very mention of the name,
he looks, caught there, as though he might be
preparing either to laugh or to cry his heart out.
Around him most of the others are stony faced,
fixing their gazes on a point some seven feet
from the floor on the one wall that isn't there.
Only the dark-haired girl is beginning to respond,
raising spread palms, opening her eyes wide
and training them just clear of his left shoulder.
Although there's no sign of the unexpected guest
inside the frame, he'll still be around somewhere,
keeping close to the wall, probably, just about here.
Even if she had asked him, the blue girl, what
she might say or do just at that moment
or how she could ever ask the right way of things,
even if the music had stopped, or at least
had become softer, then there might have been a chance;
as it was, the spotlights flashed over her cheeks,
over her shoulders and back, the blue of her hair,
the music dropped down on top of her like lead
and down from the ceiling a thousand lethal
bubbles came floating, then confetti and streamers
came down and burned her; everything, even
the lights and the cold were pointing to the same
conclusion, and then of course her colours changed:
even the doorman was seen to wipe a tear
away with the finger of one white glove
as if, with that gesture, he too might bring the house down.
Each night when they bring her face to face
with her torturers, when she
and the branding iron come cheek to cheek,
he's in his box, watching from behind a curtain,
and before retrieving his coat and top hat
from the headless lackey, will have closed
his eyes just as she and the hot iron
kiss, opening them in time for her screams
and the rest of the action, live on stage.
Is he quite sure she felt no pain?
Alone at night in his private chamber
of horrors, locked in with her waxwork double,
he gives his doctor's hands
the run of her body, smoothing out
blemishes and talking as a lover might do,
allowing himself one classical allusion
as he starts to unbutton Galatea's dress,
biting the wax, abject, surréaliste.
The Twilight Summit
Imagine the scene:
it's one of those places in Donegal
where the Volvos never bother to stop,
and this pub's more of a dance-hall
that's empty, near enough, all afternoon:
a cave for drinking in,
a cave of making and dreaming,
more real than O'Hagan's paper-shop
or the road from here to Bundoran.
A pair of hardened raconteurs
are busy finding the words
to measure the distance between them:
each leans and leers towards
a bar where the different ambers
of two pints dwindle, beside them
each a glowing talisman
of Bush or Jameson,
where nation speaks unto nation.
By now, those hoarse, raised voices
are echoing so much
around this blacked-out dance-floor
that neither of them really hears
what it is the other's saying:
there's one last lunge and clutch
at a glass, and here comes more,
though nobody knows who's paying.
Good man yourself, then. Cheers!
Count Dracula Entertains
Unfortunately, it was never simple,
though for years now you've been dreaming
of wonderful solutions. Did I scare you?
I have this habit of coming through
just at the wrong time, like other things,
hunger, love, sleep for example.
Forgive the accent: you will understand
what it's like to be a foreigner abroad
or, for that matter, an alien at home,
where you curse it all, to the last bomb
waiting its moment on some empty road
that stretches out into the back of beyond
– which is my country too, of course,
completely surrounded by one blank sea
we call oblivion, despair.
Maybe one day you could spend some time there:
it's just the place to write your poetry,
to go to the bad, and then to worse.
Our comforts, I'm afraid, will be few
and simple, but you'll still have your visions
– a tree of light, then nothing but light –
and I'll still have my victims every night,
for ours would be the finest of collusions:
the best dreams are of dreams coming true.
The narrow channel they call Neptune's Bellows
leads into Whaler's Bay, a lava beach
where tin cans from the fifties and big bones
are leftovers with few now to disturb them
along the dull fringes of Deception Island.
Mostly the penguins come and go, often
a conclave of fur seals makes an appearance,
and sometimes you can pick out human figures
among the oil tanks and dead furnaces,
like wanderers with nowhere left to go
who wind up here, the last place on God's earth.
They'll be scientists, perhaps, or crazy tourists
on a trip from Cape Horn to the South Shetlands,
viewing the litter and the whaling relics
in summer weather. They leave their marks, too:
soft-drink and vodka bottles, petrol cans,
or bold graffiti written out in Spanish,
signatures scattered among the other last things
where a rock by the sea reads Death To Pinochet.
Excerpted from Collected Poems by Peter McDonald. Copyright © 2012 Peter McDonald. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Biting the Wax (1989),
The Twilight Summit,
Count Dracula Entertains,
Out of Ireland,
In the Hall of Mirrors,
Grace Before Meat,
A Volume of Memoirs is Forthcoming,
The Deaf Wars,
The Hands of Juan Peron,
The Green, Grassy Slopes of the Boyne,
The Third Day,
Sunday in Great Tew,
Adan's Dream (1996),
On a Good Day,
The Brancusi Room,
A Hard Place,
From the Porch,
The Glass Harmonica,
In the Sketchbook,
In His Place,
Lines on the Demolition of the Adelphi, 1937,
At Castlereagh Church,
Air and Angels,
The Victory Weekend,
A History Channel,
The Resurrection of the Soldiers,
Two Memorials at Gilnahirk,
Words for a Poem,
At Rosses Point,
The Long Look,
The Road to Rome,
The Mild Autumn,
The Full House,
Damon the Mower,
The Way to Lose,
The Back Roads,
The House of Clay (2007),
The Other World,
Against the Fear of Death,
The Street Called Straight,
Reversing Around a Corner,
Rainbow Ribbons 1980,
A Pair of Shoes,
Sappho fr. 58,
Index of Titles,
Index of First Lines,
About the Author,
Also by Peter McDonald from Carcanet Press,