Coming and Going

Ian Davidson

 

Cuckoo sounds

 

swallows skim trees

 

far out at sea waves curl

 

Crests hanging

 

Addicted to restriction

in love with lockdown

I tap my arm say, later

as along the way

lambs slither into the world

and begin breathing

 

The colours of sheep

 

Wild blue sheep come

down from the commonage

for the summer. Left on rough

pasture at the coast and

easily startled they turn

red and green as

marks of ownership

are slowly added until

they are all colour and

no sheep remains.

 

In the heat of summer their

heavy coats are worn off the

shoulder or left to hang

on ancient trees and free

of fleece their branding

temporarily absent

the sheep in just their skin

admire themselves

in rivers and pools

or stare deep into

each other’s eyes

 

The song of the hen

 

 

With smart red comb and

double yolk the hen can

clear rough ground

and lay eggs, some things

come in packages, the hens

have no fear

a hen can fold her wings and

legs and flatten

as in spatchcock to bathe

in the thin dust that rises

 

A hen is like a

dinosaur but smarter

 

Sheet music

 

The sheet flaps

demanding entry

 

behind the sheet

the sky a startling blue

 

Life is like that the

flap of the sheet only

the beginning the

blue sky beckons

the land an

unsolved mystery

 

The song of the tractor

 

Coming and going

between holdings,

land defined by

acts of survey and

distribution, acts to

establish an exact price

 

The song of the landworker

 

Leaving behind without a

backward glance

our slow walk across

a yard or sodden field

full buckets banging

on our knees

or the weight of

a sack of feed

on our shoulders

 

Land is not a parcel

passed from hand to hand.

Land is not revealed

with each torn layer.

There is no final prize

on which to feast your eyes.

 

Land lives in fields,

different every day.

unpredictably

 

Land gives no guarantees

but springs eternally

clouds bubble up

rain spits, weeds

wither and die

there is nothing like

knowing a

field for ever

in its unreliability

 

The song of the plasterer

 

 

We should have stayed home

and honed language like a

knife blade or a chisel

or given it the weight

of a sledge, or loaded it

onto a hawk to even out

a wall gone haywire,

or spread it so thin that

every grain of sand

impeded the even stroke

where words have a

gritty resistance

between the thin metal blade

and the rough

concrete background

 

In the wilderness of

teaching and administration,

held back from the

precipitous edge of

thinking,

kept in security and distraction,

tools rust

 

No way out

 

The way of the world

is not the highway to the east

but the boreen

at the side of the house that

peters out in the bog

 

Where John Clare went crazy

 

Where Patrick Kavanagh cut and ran

 

Kittens taken too young

become natural born killers

their crazy dichromatic eyes.

like little birds that collect

along the fence,

like clouds on the horizon,

the quad cruising

the boundaries.

 

Language will let you down

its ponderous diction

its second-rate facility

a little pension

scraped from the sides

of permanent employment

the privileges that

steal clear speech have

taken the motor from your mouth

taken words and emulsified them

weakened your ready wit

left to pontificate to

an empty room on texts

nobody knows or cares about

 

The infinite hollows of an

internal life coming to nothing,

things echoing as in caverns

of the mind and body.

 

On land, language

must take its turn.

 

Song of Itself

 

So language is a virus so,

readily transmitted and

you is the host

and the orders of syntax

conceal the fertile chaos

of the word, planted

like an idea,

and in the headlong rush

to fill a sentence

words get forgotten

the word and what it is

 

Words must be

king and queen,

at the points where

farms meet and

fences transmit lambs

looking for fresh pasture

and grass as green as

words that emerge

from the mouths of

babes and weanlings.

 

 

Ian Davidson’s most recent poetry publications are On the Way to Work (Shearsman 2017) and Gateshead and Back (Crater 2018). Work forthcoming includes From a Council House in Connacht (Oystercatcher) and The Matter of the Heart (New Dublin Press). Brought up in Wales he now lives on a smallholding in Ireland and is Professor of Poetry at UCD.

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