St. Patrick’s Day
By Derek Mahon
No wise man ever wished to be younger.
Down the long library each marble bust
shines unregarded through a shower of dust
where a grim ghost paces for exercise
in wet weather: nausea, gout, ‘some days
I hardly think it worth my time to rise’.
Not even the love of friends can quite appease
the vertigo, sore ears and inner voices;
deep-draughted rain clouds, a rock lost in space,
yahoos triumphant in the marketplace,
the isle is full of intolerable noises.
Go with the flow; no, going against the grain
he sits in his rocking chair with a migraine,
a light in the church all day till evensong,
the sort of day in which a man might hang.
No riding out to bubbling stream and weir,
to the moist meadow and white belvedere;
on tattling club and coffee house a pox,
a confederacy of dunces and mohocks —
scholars and saints be d-mn’d, slaves to a hard
reign and our own miniature self-regard.
We emerge from hibernation to ghetto-blasters
much better than our old Sony transistors,
consensual media, permanent celebration,
share options, electronic animation,
wave motion of site-specific daffodils,
closed-circuit video in the new hotels;
for Niamh and Oisín have come to earth once more
with blinding breastplate and tempestuous hair,
new festive orthodoxy and ironic icon,
their faces lit up like the Book of Kells.
Defrosting the goose-skin on Bridget’s daughters
spring sunlight sparkles among parking meters,
wizards on stilts, witches on circus bikes,
jokers and jugglers, twitching plastic snakes,
pop music of what happens, throbbing skies,
star wars, designer genes, sword sorceries.
We’ve no nostalgia for the patristic croziers,
fridges and tumble-dryers of former years,
rain-spattered cameras in O’Connell St.,
the sound mikes buffeted by wind and sleet —
but this is your birthday and I want to recall
a first-floor balcony under a shower of hail
where our own rowdy crowd stood to review
post-Christian gays cavorting up Fifth Avenue,
wise-cracking dialogue as quick and dry
as that in The Big Sleep or The Long Goodbye;
for we too had our season in Tír na nÓg,
a Sacred Heart girl and a Protestant rogue,
chill sunshine warming us to the very bone,
our whole existence one erogenous zone.
I could resign these structures and devices,
these fancy flourishes and funny voices
to a post-literate, audio-visual realm
of uncial fluorescence, song and film,
as curious symptoms of a weird transition
before we opted to be slaves of fashion —
for now, whatever the ancestral dream,
we give ourselves to a vast corporate scheme
where our true wit is devalued once again,
our solitude known only to the rain.
The one reality is the perpetual flow,
chaos of complex systems. Each generation
does what it must; middle age and misanthropy,
like famine and religion, make poor copy,
and even the present vanishes like snow
off a rope, frost off a ditch, ice in the sun —
so back to the desktop and the drawing board,
prismatic natural light, slow-moving cloud,
the waves far-thundering in a life of their own,
a young woman hitching a lift on a country road.