Canto XCVI

You ask me why I’ve not removed this ink,
this Celtic Cross tattooed on my right arm,
despite the fact that nowadays I think

that God’s a fiction. Watch the pigments turn
from clotted black to muddy, vein-like green.
Does this not illustrate how faith can wane?

If not, then let me try a different scene,
a storm tossed island off the Galway coast,
the same one Roethke spent some time upon,

where I left the small inn and headed west
to where the landscape turns to rock and mud,
where, blinded by the drizzle and the mist,

you can stroll off a cliff, just like that, dead,
which almost happened a few times before
I saw a bob of seals just up ahead,

down on the rocks. I wanted to see more,
perhaps they’d let me brush my primate hand
across each blubbery ripple of their fur?

But as I headed down to them I found
a steel cross, six foot high, facing out
into the north Atlantic where the wind

will find no trace of land until it hits
the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador
and I felt moved to kneel down, genuflect

and offer up a gently worded prayer
before I headed back towards the inn
to binge on Guinness ’til the early hours.

That’s when I heard the tale—the two young men
that climbed onto the rocks to watch the seals,
both lost forever as the tide came in.

The iron cross was their memorial,
the very cross that kept me from their fate,
though a safety notice might have worked as well…

That’s why this cross remains, I’ll let it fade,
as all must fade, it serves to tell a tale,
as do these wrinkles, scars, these flecks of grey

that glint within my hair and my stubble.
I’ll leave the censorship to time’s slow hand,
as the landlord’s hand grasps for the closing bell,

now reach into those pockets, it’s your round.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. peter litton
    Dec 07, 2011 @ 00:46:11

    I didn’t expect this… I think that is one of the joys of this series. Each poem reflects a different mood and gives a different slant on the poet’s personality.

    I think this was written somewhat tongue in cheek, as it sounds like a pastiche of a Galway pub tale.


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