Ted McCarthy, Elegies for Strangers


The town was beautiful and empty.
How concisely put! — Robert Walser

Children staring at their first dead man
stop short, leaving a halo of snow
about the body.

From small to smaller.
A slight dusting of years sufficed
to render you invisible,
your life a handwriting, tiny, coded,
as if you’d receded
fitting perfectly into your tracks

and stood once more in Bieler Altstadt.
That town, its character
like that of any city
not fleeting but elusive
nurtured you, a child seeing himself
in the future, your diffidence
a kind of argument,
something of you vanishing even then –
a beautiful script, untouchable as powder –

as you walked along the Schüss, its air
holding the chill of a mountain stream
through early summer,
the Bahnhof facing east, toward
an uncertain Empire.
A town where you could fade
into another language
and all but disappear.

From where you left unnoticed,
interiors dwindling over time
to a scattering of mean rooms
in the last of which you said
you came to be mad, not to write.

Yet you persisted – could you tell
where one or other ended or began?

And fitting in a way
that what felled you knocked you back,
lay you facing up, as though
waiting for the stars
that kept you company
through countless shrinking windows.


The snow forecast is long coming.
Hours are a blanket of waiting, a spread
silence fixes clocks on their separate mantels.
Far from the prospect of moving, I think
of that long promontory, its unlucky houses,
their histories whispered on nights of smoke
and piercing stars. Or that remembered
evening, its dark that may have been:

there was a hare in headlights, caught
by a beam thrust in front of it,
following the lead of what it fled,
it never veered until a bend
swept the gift of night across its eyes.
Through a rolled-down window,
the smell of the sea. Imagination

fixing its beam where memory should run.
The car, the hare. The road about to turn.


Expecting not to be believed
a man sings psalms
across a burning sea

on an empty evening.
It is a lament
for summer to come

bringing their number
to those at table
in an upper room.

The notes are bare feet
on a city
of cut-throat shells,

he reaches the end
in a confusion of wind
and where to go next

as he pines for ditches,
the smell of mud,
a wife’s green fingers.

Ted McCarthy is a poet and translator living in Clones, Ireland. His work has appeared in magazines in Ireland, the UK, Germany, the USA, Canada and Australia. He has had two collections published, November Wedding and Beverly Downs. Find his work via http://www.tedmccarthyspoetry.weebly.com

One thought on “Ted McCarthy, Elegies for Strangers

  1. I liked this poem about Robert Walser, who is someone I read almost every day. I never grow tired of him and wish I’d discovered him earlier in life. Also, I’m reading his bio now. You have captured his essence very nicely.


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