Jack Grady, From the Quiet Centre

Venus in a Photograph

She mimics an hourglass with her hand
in the way she funnels sand over a dune.
Is she teasing the photographer,
is she timing the photo-shot,
or is she mocking
the temporal limits of man?

Tints from the goldenrod kiss
of sun in her hair
splash a hint of coral
over the strand of her skin.

The white womb of a seashell
lies abandoned nearby,
a simulacrum in miniature
of the divine cradle

that once rocked this model,
whose breasts are naked but sheltered
by the whispering sphinx
of her smile.

Pelvis and buttocks,
hips and thighs,
are caressed by pull-on Capris,
cropped at mid-calf.

Her floral-print,
sleeveless blouse,
discarded, adorns
erect spears of beach-grass.

Neptune honours her divinity
with his salt fragrance of the sea –
a fresher gift, more appropriate for her,
than frankincense and myrrh –

while aperture, shutter, and lens
immortalise this hatched marine blossom,
too perfect for constraint
of seashell or time;
too perfect for impermanence,
too perfect for mine.

Lazarus and Loretta

Loretta was the wife of Lazarus
long before Martha and Mary
called Jesus to revive him.
Loretta had no need of Jesus,
for she could raise the dead herself.

Loretta ate fire ants for breakfast
and spat out their rinds like rockets.
God help anyone within range
of this daily mania of missiles,
especially Lazarus, her constant target,
even ensconced in his coffin,

hammered incessantly by quiet, critical words
without rumble or roar or screeching
whistle of wind a neighbour would hear;
but they nailed Lazarus
like a wriggling worm
pierced in half by a plunging spade.

They stung like startled bees
and bedevilled like midges in swarms,
itching Lazarus to madness
until he ripped through the boards of his casket
and kicked down the door of his cave
to bellow with rage through the bowels of his house.

The local men always grinned when they heard it,
for their wives would know how lucky they were
their husbands were not
the same sort of dead
as Lazarus.

Artful Angler

I admire the craft in the way she casts,
hooks, reels, and lets out line,
seduces, coaxes, and exhausts.

The surrender of the trout is a sort of trust.
There may even be, in his forced acceptance
of the net in which she hauls him in,

a happy assurance of bliss,
as if dying is but a fish ladder
over the weir into paradise.

What a surprise, then, when she lets him go,
perhaps to drown in the familiar
suddenly too new for his balance to right him,

or, if to survive and hunt again, to do so
with the memory of the hook, forever mocking,
forever warning every bite runs a risk.

He may even learn he is not
the prize trout of the Moy,
but a toy purely for an angler’s pleasure.

What notions!
If he had a mind, he would sink
to the bottom and die.

Lucky for him
he is only a fish.

The Quiet Centre

In memory of Edith Henrich

Where is the metaphor to explain it?
…to say nothingness
on such a scale?
– Edith Henrich, ‘Uranium 235’, 1947

She was in hospital when I walked her dog
as far as Marblehead’s Fort Sewall,
sat on a bench and watched ocean unroll
the only road beyond

and its surf in the last light of evening
launder with its foam the rocks beneath us,
felt the sound of the sea’s mantra
launder as well my rudderless self,

adrift too long in the grip
of life’s pelagic madhouse.
And I pondered what destiny marooned this Mick
in the town of a blind Yankee poet.

A desk, a large desk were the words she had used
in the ad for a room with attached shower,
a place to sit and write, grow and aspire
from the quiet centre.

She told me the Hiroshima bomb made her blind,
that its shock waves hammered without mercy in her head,
knocked down every post that propped up her marriage,
every strut and beam that kept it intact

when she discovered what her husband Louis had done
in the project they called Manhattan.
First, her marriage vaporised;
then her eyes died in atonement for his sin

as her mind followed the disembodied
and their snuffed-out screams
into the spectral void
of the unseeing unseen.

Marblehead, her haven, was her quiet centre,
even in her blindness,
even in the world’s darkness.
And a desk in a room there was mine.

Audience with a Queen Mother

Sunlight sifts through leaves of the lindens
sparkles of topaz.
Sunlight dusts the grey headstones
with flickering jewels.

These headstones are crowns,
crowns of the dead,
the solemn dead,
reigning in silence,
carried on coffined litters beyond time and space,
robed in earth and manicured grass,
Persephones in the pageantry
of another palace.

And you beside me,
you who chose to come here,
you who urged me to kneel
before my mother’s grave,
you, her choice for me,
had she met you.

And I, half expecting the ground to sigh
or boogie to the bacchanal
my mother would have given as her blessing.
What I feel instead is the lullaby of your breath
and the tender of your hand to mine.
I sense a wellspring overflowing
the reservoir of your eyes,
and I rise, suddenly Sir Jack,
knighted and alive.

Dark Voyage

The fire has dimmed. The embers glow
like a lantern on a square-rigged ship,
though they wheeze and weaken,
slowly consumed by the intrusion of darkness.

I know that this world is wayward,
its helmsmen blind as our vessel drifts
towards a deserved black hole of doom.
But this night is soothing and still; for once,

no wind shrieks and rips limbs from the trees
and all the birds are settled and asleep.
The only sounds are the crackle and sizzle
of burning wood, not even teased by a breeze.

Then a moan from a meadow
calls from the darkness
like a desolate whale
disproving the peace of a quiet sea:

a cow in mourning for her slaughtered calf
informs me I am not alone in loss,
that the tides of this ocean carry us all
to the same anchorage of grief.

What will we discover when we sight our final port,
disembark, and explore our last shore?
What treasure of our lives will we barter
with buccaneers who have stolen the scales?

Will they grant our souls one chance on the balance
for safe passage to Heaven, not Hell?
Or are we bound to be reborn in a new Tortuga
of plunder and murder, and why?

But the night is still and has no answer,
save embers warming me yet
and a cow bellowing now
as if drowning in rip currents of grass,

and, off the bow and rising, a full moon:
a picaroon’s skull, a lurid doubloon.

Jack Grady is a founder member of the Mayo-based Ox Mountain Poets. His poetry is widely published, having appeared online or in print in Ireland, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Portugal, and Indonesia. Jack’s poetry collection, Resurrection, published by Lapwing in 2017, was nominated for the TS Eliot prize.

Early versions of these poems appeared in A New Ulster, The Runt, North West Words, and Outburst Magazine.

To read more of Jack, click here.

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