She traipsed across the island
to find a charger for her phone.
She’d left her own at home.
The gulls swooped over her,
the speckled cows said moo.
A one-legged man on a ditch
raised his red porkpie hat,
bowed, and said Bonjour.
She came to the first hotel –
a motorbike and sidecar sat
outside, and inside, the man
at reception said Guten Tag,
but his charger wasn’t right.
She turned left at the sea.
Two boys raced their canoes.
An old lady flew a purple kite.
She came to a fish & chip shop,
went in brandishing her phone.
Above the sizzle of the fryer,
the young man said Gin Dobri,
but he had a different model.
He advised she try the priest,
but on the way, the postman
braked his bright green van,
and offered her a lift – and he
didn’t carry a mobile phone.
She said she’d rather walk, so
he chimed arrividerci, drove on.
A donkey leaned over a wall
to greet her with a loud hee-haw.
She saw, ahead, a yellow hotel
flying all the flags of the EU.
Buenas Dias, said the woman
who met her inside the door,
Si, I have all the chargers,
por favor, follow me, so she
accompanied the señorina
down a corridor with butterflies
on the blue walls, thinking
about Nabokov, until there,
plugged in, were ten chargers,
one of them hers. She grabbed it,
got the juice flowing, and then
she heard her own ringtone.
I’m standing on Ballyliffin Strand,
the known end of the universe,
marvelling at the weird light
filtered through a pink cloud bank
that surely was created in hell
at the other end of eternity.
I get my head around eternity
when I come down to this strand
to look out over a sea that hell
can’t accommodate in its universe –
that flings itself against a sandbank
to help create this curious light.
Painters arrive here for the light.
They’ve been coming for an eternity –
they deposit their work in the bank,
countless portraits of the strand,
sometimes portrayed as a hell
of all the yellows in the universe,
with all the blues of the universe
daubed there on top, and that light
radiating out for all eternity,
even seeping its way into hell.
Ah, how fortunate is the bank
to have these masterpieces of strand,
these visions of a perfect curved strand
that ‘holds within it the universe’
(to quote the manager of the bank) –
that reflects and filters the sunlight,
sometimes suggesting a heat that hell
has aspired to for all eternity.
No, there’s no other symbol of eternity
than this dazzling bow of a strand,
no other snapshot of hell
in any corner of the known universe,
disregarding all its sources of light –
and this is well-known at the bank.
They refer to it as Eternity Strand.
They say it shows hell in the universe.
They claim to be the Bank of Light.
The Lighthouse on the Hill
for Mark Carson
They built a lighthouse on top of the hill
high above the town. Beyond it
stretched the sands of Morecombe Bay
across which, at low tide, processions
of people picked their way, joined
sometimes by coaches carrying royalty.
What never loomed there were ships,
nor were any rocks to be seen.
On good days, a stream of climbers
took the steep, twisting path to the top,
hoping for a glimpse of the Isle of Man,
but seeing, anyway, far out into the bay,
knowing maybe that hundreds of miles
to the south, another bigger lighthouse,
shaped like this one, saved countless ships
from the rocks, and the man who made it
came from this town, so they built
this small lighthouse on top of the hill,
enabling anyone approaching at night
to see its soft light shine on his town.
[Matthew Sweeney's recent volumes of poetry include Black Moon (Cape, 2007), Sanctuary (Cape, 2004), and Selected Poems (Cape, 2002). He is co-author, with John Hartley Williams of a chapbook, Writing Poetry (Hodder & Stoughton, 1997 – updated in 2002 and 2008) and has edited or co-edited a number of poetry anthologies. Bilingual poetry selections came out in Germany and Holland in 2008 . Earlier translations appeared in Mexico, Romania, Latvia and Slovakia. Born in Donegal in 1952, he has returned to live in Ireland recently, having previously been resident in Berlin, Graz, Timişoara and, for a long time, London.]
Copyright © 2009 by Matthew Sweeney, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.