Martin Burke

Canto II

See her – she is fire!

She is here — casting pleasing shadows of light whose shadow is ever the brightest
Her presence a flame about a flame issuing commands which are not displeasing

I come upon myself in ways not previously known — there among the faithful on a
               hillside…present at the blessing of the boats…
Remembering the call of islands or voices in caves housing the sibyls of prophecy
Traditions enter — new forms mould about the core (as it was in the beginning so now will it
               be) to face history’s disparity in the shambles of the world
So look star-wards kinsmen — the world will be amazed: shrines call from the oldest dark,
               bells inhabit the world
Flame roots in flame to burn the wanton cities
Thus it was, thus it will be — the fidelities of spring essayed in water under ice or trickles
               from spits of snow-webbed grass
Yet sister, if I have been silent, it is a matter between thee and me and as such no concern to
               another so of which venerable master do I need permission to speak?

Spring casts its thesis against winter, against history, against the confusions of the world
               which shudders at Antigone cry
“Let the State be undone! — let it be toppled into the bitter grip of unending winter if it does
               not answer the issued word”

Its gravity a guiding star where the wind continues harrowing — where fruit falls (like reason
               into your comprehension)

Her breath, disturbing the grass, climbs steadily up a trellis of roses long part of the world’s

Under the moon the world is as white as the river — only silence holds the full weight of her cry


Turning for home I turn towards the image of her concerns as she moves about the house
Children run to greet her with love — I might say this is bequeathed some others’ breath but
               it is her breath which fires the flame
The present she presents me with reshapes my past — gives new harvests, becomes
               defining liberty cast in translucent light
(In Dubrovnik we ate the grapes of earth — in Malta we drank the wine –and did we not sail
               to an island with the name of the goddess whose shrine we sought?)
Light falls on the page to give its shadow to the page
What was unknown becomes familiar — the familiar becomes fabulous
We have not ceased to be sailors — we have given ourselves to the sea
One writes: I have sailed with you — another says: I have the journal of that voyage
Letters arrive –friendship marks its territory — nothing is said that should not be said as I
               reply without thinking of morality or history
I move between harvest and harvest — brother to those who seek the barns — to those
               who cast nets
As if the comely gods were speaking a rainbow speech — as if the season stepped    outside of
               history by stepping fully into it
A spark of history flowing through the dark of history
Harbor calling to harbor — Oostende to Galway (the present she has presented me
               with reshapes my past)
See — nothing dies
A photograph of Venice says the world is composed of bridges — so what in the land of the
               living is the geography of the dead?
I move between harvest and grace — moving by grace — hoping the gods will smile
               upon the intentions of this poem
Amazing itself by what it remembers, by what it forgets — yet were it not for the rainbow no
               word would be atoned
Therefore to move from lucidity to lucidity all be it in the blandness of December
Everything draws me back to the present — perhaps I lapse from my fidelities yet I return to them
(What authority can rescind a word?)
The answer has already been given — even the winter solstice survives its limitation to move
               to its appointment with the summer
(My clocks are set to the hours of summer — I travel by April in December)
Therefore let us fill a glass and pass it to those at the table — I have stories to tell which only
               the saturated heart will understand for the worlds sobriety can offer no comfort or wisdom

We are poetry’s drunkards disputing tepid assessments of the day — we say the calendars
               are false and that the clocks run backwards into time
We distrust a politicians’ claim
So drink and be soul-father to yourself — it was always going to come to this — a conclusion
               arching to a rainbow at the entrance of a harbor

Then let me be speechless if I do not speak the accurate word — perhaps thinking I
               have found it in the photo of a bridge or the memory of a rainbow at a harbor
The soul-fathers smile — their minds a glowing star breaking the limitations of the dark
I raise my arms in celebration of solstice light and dark with which I have a sweet complicity
(This is the truth but the truth is older)
It matters — it matters not — there are words other than these which tell the same story
(In those stories I am a winter-bird feeding from her hands by which the frost upon the
               berry is no frost upon the mind)
In a shimmer of moonlight new configurations of history take shape in the flowering of the hyacinths
Poems begun in Malta will end elsewhere but it will be the self-same earth the potter shapes to a shell
Yes, let the State bury the State and the Church the Church — it is Hamlet who will sing their death-song
Everything will change — is changing — as in the ministry of her hands she breaks bread
               upon the whetstone of the world
I propose a festival — forty days of the mind’s delight — song and recitation to satisfy the drunkards
               of this art
Yet it is true — I sometimes forget what I promised to remember
The dead speak from silence to silence — so should I pour wine on a grave — or sing a song for
               the slow unwinding of a winding-sheet unwinding like a bridge to the opposite shore?
There are festivals for this in the narratives of December — fields begin to flower in
               ways not predictable but prophesied, the crocus replaces the holly
Shadows move towards conclusions, streetlights are yellow in night-mist
A muffled clock strikes eleven with love-thoughts in the clock tower of my mind
The harbor of her heart is my harbor — the barges that sail can sail to no better destination as
               love unwinds the winding-sheet of time
My untamed heart offers its love to her as a necklace for her heart
Again the clock strikes — I am nowhere but in the present
Again they appear — again the soul-fathers call to me who are shadows of light in a time of light
Mist closes in about the night yet it is the light which endures — the white moths of
               night assume a sudden importance (do not say this did not happen)
The names I bestowed upon all things bore Adam’s signature when light broke upon the surface
               with light as the miracle reoccurred
That this be done and done to good ends — that it be done for the child’s delight and
               the woman’s satisfaction
Sprightly as a sailor stepping inland I step towards the new traditions.

Martin Burke is an Irish poet & playwright living in Flanders from where he has published fourteen book of his work with small presses in Ireland, UK, USA, & Belgium - the latest being ANNALS just published by Lapwind Press, UK.
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