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by Paul Muldoon |

The Frog

 Comes to mind as another small 
        upheaval
amongst the rubble.
His eye matches exactly the bubble
in my spirit-level.
I set aside hammer and chisel
and take him on the trowel.

The entire population of Ireland
springs from a pair left to stand
overnight in a pond
in the gardens of Trinity College,
two bottle of wine left there to chill
after the Act of Union.

There is, surely, in this story
a moral. A moral for our times.
What if I put him to my head
and squeezed it out of him,
like the juice of freshly squeezed limes,
or a lemon sorbet?


by Paul Muldoon |

Tell

 He opens the scullery door, and a sudden rush
of wind, as raw as raw,
brushes past him as he himself will brush
past the stacks of straw

that stood in earlier for Crow
or Comanche tepees hung with scalps
but tonight past muster, row upon row,
for the foothills of the Alps.

He opens the door of the peeling-shed
just as one of the apple-peelers
(one of almost a score
of red-cheeked men who pare

and core
the red-cheeked apples for a few spare
shillings) mutters something about "bloodshed"
and the "peelers."

The red-cheeked men put down their knives
at one and the same
moment. All but his father, who somehow connives
to close one eye as if taking aim

or holding back a tear,
and shoots him a glance
he might take, as it whizzes past his ear,
for a Crow, or a Comanche, lance

hurled through the Tilley-lit
gloom of the peeling-shed,
when he hears what must be an apple split
above his head.


by Paul Muldoon |

The Birth

 Seven o'clock. The seventh day of the seventh month of the year.
No sooner have I got myself up in lime-green scrubs,
a sterile cap and mask,
and taken my place at the head of the table

than the windlass-woman ply their shears
and gralloch-grub
for a footling foot, then, warming to their task,
haul into the inestimable

realm of apple-blossoms and chanterelles and damsons and eel-spears
and foxes and the general hubbub
of inkies and jennets and Kickapoos with their lemniscs
or peekaboo-quiffs of Russian sable

and tallow-unctuous vernix, into the realm of the widgeon—
the 'whew' or 'yellow-poll', not the 'zuizin'—

Dorothy Aoife Korelitz Muldoon: I watch through floods of tears
as they give her a quick rub-a-dub
and whisk
her off to the nursery, then check their staple-guns for staples


by Paul Muldoon |

Cuba

 My eldest sister arrived home that morning
In her white muslin evening dress.
'Who the hell do you think you are
Running out to dances in next to nothing?
As though we hadn't enough bother
With the world at war, if not at an end.'
My father was pounding the breakfast-table. 

'Those Yankees were touch and go as it was—
If you'd heard Patton in Armagh—
But this Kennedy's nearly an Irishman
So he's not much better than ourselves.
And him with only to say the word.
If you've got anything on your mind
Maybe you should make your peace with God.' 

I could hear May from beyond the curtain.
'Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.
I told a lie once, I was disobedient once.
And, Father, a boy touched me once.'
'Tell me, child. Was this touch immodest?
Did he touch your breasts, for example?'
'He brushed against me, Father. Very gently.'


by Paul Muldoon |

Promises Promises

 I am stretched out under the lean-to
Of an old tobacco-shed
On a farm in North Carolina.
A cardinal sings from the dogwood
For the love of marijuana.
His song goes over my head.
There is such splendour in the grass
I might be the picture of happiness.
Yet I am utterly bereft
Of the low hills, the open-ended sky,
The wave upon wave of pasture
Rolling in, and just as surely
Falling short of my bare feet.
Whatever is passing is passing me by. 

I am with Raleigh, near the Atlantic,
Where we have built a stockade
Around our little colony.
Give him his scallop-shell of quiet,
His staff of faith to walk upon,
His scrip of joy, immortal diet—
We are some eighty souls
On whom Raleigh will hoist his sails.
He will return, years afterwards,
To wonder where and why
We might have altogether disappeared,
Only to glimpse us here and there
As one fair strand in her braid,
The blue in an Indian girl's dead eye. 

I am stretched out under the lean-to
Of an old tobacco-shed
On a farm in North Carolina,
When someone or other, warm, naked,
Stirs within my own skeleton
And stands on tip-toe to look out
Over the horizon,
Through the zones, across the Ocean.
The cardinal sings from a redbud
For the love of one slender and shy,
The flight after flight of stairs
To her room in Bayswater,
The damson freckle on her throat
That I kissed when we kissed Goodbye.


by Paul Muldoon |

Holy Thursday

 They're kindly here, to let us linger so late,
Long after the shutters are up.
A waiter glides from the kitchen with a plate
Of stew, or some thick soup, 

And settles himself at the next table but one.
We know, you and I, that it's over,
That something or other has come between
Us, whatever we are, or were. 

The waiter swabs his plate with bread
And drains what's left of his wine,
Then rearranges, one by one,
The knife, the fork, the spoon, the napkin,
The table itself, the chair he's simply borrowed,
And smiles, and bows to his own absence.


by Paul Muldoon |

Cows

 Even as we speak, there's a smoker's cough
from behind the whitethorn hedge: we stop dead in our tracks;
a distant tingle of water into a trough.

In the past half-hour—since a cattle truck
all but sent us shuffling off this mortal coil—
we've consoled ourselves with the dregs

of a bottle of Redbreast. Had Hawthorne been a Gael,
I insist, the scarlet A on Hester Prynne
would have stood for "Alcohol."

This must be the same truck whose taillights burn
so dimly, as if caked with dirt,
three or four hundred yards along the boreen

(a diminutive form of the Gaelic bóthar, "a road,"
from bó, "a cow," and thar
meaning, in this case, something like "athwart,"

"boreen" has entered English "through the air"
despite the protestations of the O.E.D.):
why, though, should one taillight flash and flare

then flicker-fade
to an afterimage of tourmaline
set in a dark part-jet, part-jasper or -jade?

That smoker's cough again: it triggers off from drumlin
to drumlin an emphysemantiphon
of cows. They hoist themselves onto their trampoline

and steady themselves and straight away divine
water in some far-flung spot
to which they then gravely incline. This is no Devon

cow-coterie, by the way, whey-faced, with Spode
hooves and horns: nor are they the metaphysicattle of Japan
that have merely to anticipate

scoring a bull's-eye and, lo, it happens;
these are earth-flesh, earth-blood, salt of the earth,
whose talismans are their own jawbones

buried under threshold and hearth.
For though they trace themselves to the kith and kine
that presided over the birth

of Christ (so carry their calves a full nine
months and boast liquorice
cachous on their tongues), they belong more to the line

that's tramped these cwms and corries
since Cuchulainn tramped Aoife.
Again the flash. Again the fade. However I might allegorize

some oscaraboscarabinary bevy
of cattle there's no getting round this cattle truck,
one light on the blink, laden with what? Microwaves? Hi-fis?

Oscaraboscarabinary: a twin, entwined, a tree, a Tuareg;
a double dung-beetle; a plain
and simple hi-firing party; an off-the-back-of-a-lorry drogue?

Enough of Colette and Céline, Céline and Paul Celan:
enough of whether Nabokov
taught at Wellesley or Wesleyan.

Now let us talk of slaughter and the slain,
the helicopter gunship, the mighty Kalashnikov:
let's rest for a while in a place where a cow has lain.


by Paul Muldoon |

The Avenue

 Now that we've come to the end
I've been trying to piece it together,
Not that distance makes anything clearer.
It began in the half-light
While we walked through the dawn chorus
After a party that lasted all night,
With the blackbird, the wood-pigeon,
The song-thrush taking a bludgeon
To a snail, our taking each other's hand
As if the whole world lay before us.


by Paul Muldoon |

Anseo

 When the master was calling the roll
At the primary school in Collegelands,
You were meant to call back Anseo
And raise your hand 
As your name occurred.
Anseo, meaning here, here and now,
All present and correct,
Was the first word of Irish I spoke.
The last name on the ledger
Belonged to Joseph Mary Plunkett Ward
And was followed, as often as not,
By silence, knowing looks, 
A nod and a wink, the master's droll
'And where's our little Ward-of-court?'


I remember the first time he came back
The master had sent him out
Along the hedges
To weigh up for himself and cut
A stick with which he would be beaten.
After a while, nothing was spoken;
He would arrive as a matter of course
With an ash-plant, a salley-rod.
Or, finally, the hazel-wand
He had whittled down to a whip-lash,
Its twist of red and yellow lacquers
Sanded and polished,
And altogether so delicately wrought
That he had engraved his initials on it.


I last met Joseph Mary Plunkett Ward
In a pub just over the Irish border.
He was living in the open,
in a secret camp
On the other side of the mountain.
He was fighting for Ireland,
Making things happen.
And he told me, Joe Ward,
Of how he had risen through the ranks
To Quartermaster, Commandant:
How every morning at parade
His volunteers would call back Anseo
And raise their hands
As their names occurred.


by Paul Muldoon |

Pineapples And Pomegranates

 To think that, as a boy of thirteen, I would grapple 
with my first pineapple, 
its exposed breast 
setting itself as another test 
of my will-power, knowing in my bones 
that it stood for something other than itself alone 
while having absolutely no sense 
of its being a world-wide symbol of munificence. 
Munificence—right? Not munitions, if you understand 
where I'm coming from. As if the open hand 
might, for once, put paid 
to the hand-grenade 
in one corner of the planet. 
I'm talking about pineapples—right?—not pomegranates.