The Advance Party

We woke to the sound of nothing,
the lack of that forty-day thrum:
the rain had stopped, wind stilled; we rocked
so gently in our coffin-cradle
you might have thought
our parent slept.

I threw the hatch back; saw a square
of clear grey sky; smelt damp air
– and, frightened, shut it out,
needing (I said) to think.
It was warm inside.
Safe there, enclosed in darkness,
accustomed to the swaying floor,
the solid walls and roof,
I’d chosen to forget we had
to touch the ground again.

That night we feasted, sang,
laughed and gave thanks,
snug in our floating box. I crept away,
up to the deck where the birds roosted.
Most slept, but one raven, dark
in the dark shadows, blinked at me
with gold-rimmed eye. I chose her.
Tough claws gripping my fingers, we climbed
up, up to the hatch and that
empty square of sky.

She knew better than I did;
she flew before I was ready
to let her go.
My hand was light without her.
I watched the sky as long as I could bear it;
then, dizzy, I shut the hatch again,
and tried to forget her.

On how life is not like books

It is not given to most of us to know
the instant’s fiery trial, the two-forked path
from which, once chosen, we cannot turn back.
Life is too messy-incomplete for that,
crammed with uncertainty and second chances.
Integrity comes piecemeal, a dripped succession
of tiny moments where, grudging, agonised,
we choose to act for good,
from love or shame, some half-built value,
a memory, the decent thing. It all adds up.
Then we look back, perhaps, and find
we made the hardest choice by hardly choosing,
and grace is granted us to laugh,
wiser, grateful, and walk on, nearer, now,
the people we were born to be.

Valediction for May

Hush. The dawn is breaking on the hills.
The air is chill. My love is calling:
Awake. Arise. Come with me. Time to go.
It is time to go, and you must leave
with the daisies closed against the dew,
with the young green shoots piercing the earth,
the pigeons burbling and blackbird’s song,
and the candles on the chestnut trees
to light you on your way.

You dug the ground; you sowed the seed,
watered the shoot, and saw
the growth all but imperceptible:
a bud, a leaf – furled – opening – open –
Come away.
Leave the fruit. It is not yours to pick.

Follow me now beyond the garden.
Come and see.
I have a lovely place to show you.
Though here the flowers bloom and fruit trees
scatter blossom,
walk this path with me:
come away.

Commuter Mysticism

Damp Wednesday morning, seven o’clock,
the sun not up, nor looked to be;
the park a triangle of nothing
bisected by the pale path, trimmed
on each edge with lights
and pallid rags of early daffodils.
I walk. Bin men, cyclists,
ghosts in washed out yellow,
pass me, smiling. Two cars, then silence.The secret holiness of streetlamps,
quivering amber in the mist,
lighted windows, bus route boards –
whose destinations glow, picked out in gems:
Bushy Hill
and whirling flames on dustbin trucks:

Earth is afire today, and every breath
absorbs the sacred. Above, a sudden

Truth becomes real; dull illusions
I live between fold flat; more
dimensions leap into being, and I,
startled by sharp joy, can tell my gratitude
only in tears, and think how strange
to weep in wonder, where, bare
days ago I wept in desolation.

They stand close, close as to touch,
but never meet,
and both dissolve, and flow
in salt water.


Well, you know what it’s like,
having a mother with Causes –
Or, I don’t know, maybe you don’t,
maybe you never gave up your Sundays,
stood out in the rain with a banner,
cried out in the streets for your rights –
or someone else’s –
Anyway, mine had plenty:
She was always out there,
smashing the patriarchy, putting down
the mighty from their seat,
that sort of thing. ‘Jesus,’ she said,
‘a woman’s body’s her own, her soul’s her creator’s.
Don’t you forget it.’ Or, ‘What this
country needs is revolution.
Lift up the humble.’ She thought big.
So I was surprised when, at the wedding,
she said to me, ‘They’re out of wine.
What are you going to do about it?’
‘Mother,’ I said, ‘this isn’t the time.’
Meaning, of course, that I had bigger fish to fry.
‘Jesus,’ she said, ‘there’s one thing
you haven’t yet learned about changing the world.
You begin where you are
and you use what you’ve got.’
So I did. That’s where it started.


I remember how when we came to the city
we stopped, having no urge to go further,
as though that which had led us there rested,
and there was peace there,
and rest, and time to recall
who we were, who we had been,
and why we had come there at all;

And, though they told us before we set out,
and all down the way, that we’d want to walk on
to the world’s end, west,
west, until the abyss
stretched endless, roaring, before us,
and, though we once wondered if after all
we should go there,
go on to the end, just to see what was there,
to quiet our consciences, say
we had been all the way to the edge,
we remained; we had found what we came for;

And though my soul clamours still
to walk that same great starlit way once again,
onwards, westwards, to wonder,
I don’t know that this time
(whenever it comes)
I would want to go further.

For Anne

We’ll walk again.
We’ve known, between us,
sickness and fear, the madness
that makes friendship loneliness,
mislaid vocations, learned to love,
never quite forgotten that we walked
or that we’ll walk again.

We’ll walk again:
drink wine that springs from roadside fountains,
meet angels, know them by
their wire-spoked wing-umbrellas,
understand the Incarnation
eating sardines on Maundy Thursday,
hear the cock crow mid-Mass, standing
out where hands weren’t washed or wine poured,
toil across endless dusty plains,
follow the stars spread westwards, seen once,
follow the subtle trail of golden shells,
wonder how your great-grandfather
walked almost all the way up Everest
(and then, more, down again)
while your feet dissolve in friction.
I’ll turn out, another seven times,
not to be Irish,
disappoint another seven bands of pilgrims;
we’ll walk west,
catch wandering horreos,
sing psalms in kitchens so new,
so ill-equipped,
there’s nothing else to do there,
we’ll walk,
hug, disbelieving, in the square,
pat St James
on his shoulder,

It won’t, of course, be like that this time,
but even so, we’ll walk.