Four Poems

By John F. Deane

Words of the Unknown Soldier

He stumped us, this Jesus of yours, with his
walking on water, fandango, entrechat, glissade;
birthing, imagine! in a dark cave, out of all knowing; then
he walked the hard-baked earth of Palestine, but not
as you walk, or as I, for behind him the healing flowers grew,
the rosebay willowherb, chamomile, the John’s Wort;
we noted, too, that he could walk through walls,
appearing suddenly in the midst of folk as if
he were always there, waiting that they might notice him;
oh yes, this too, he walked on air
leaving them gawping upwards as he rose
higher and higher, like a skylark, walking
into the invisible. That was later. But humankind
will not be cheated of its prey for we claimed him,
hailing him fast to a tree, that he could not move
on water, earth or air, and we buried him in the underearth.
Where, it is said, he took to walking once again,
singing his larksong to the startled, to the stumped, dead.



It is April,
dry and hot as summer;
wisteria languishes
like an overdressed society dame
at a chamber concert, and purple tulips
speak of cemeteries and sex;
in Montparnasse,
tourists have a field-day,
avenues and alleyways laid out
as rationally as an old faubourg;
the dead
putting on a show,
the living
sauntering by as if nothing mattered, not
now, perhaps not ever. Here
is Brancusi’s kiss,
womanman embracing
as if to cleave forever;
Sartre and de Beauvoir
have nothing new to say
though miniature Japanese businessmen
pass by with cameras.
Listen to that chuckling sound
Saint-Saëns at it again,
doodling notes that touch
on the bones of sunshine,
piccolo-runs like tickled trout
finning their way towards death.
But we have comen
for Beckett,
to stand in numb and silent thanks
that someone led us to the edge
and did not push
though he impelled himself beyond the limit
and told us of it.
No ego-surfeiting. No longer
waiting. Move
softly by. Like leaf-fall. Like echo’s bones.
Samuel, salut!


Eye of the Hare

There! amongst lean-to grasses and trailing vetch
catch her?—vagrant, free-range and alert;

I saw the eager watch-tower of the ears, I knew
the power of legs that would fling her into flight;

concentrate, he said, and focus: you must love
the soft-flesh shoulder-muscles where the bullet bites,

caress—and do not jerk—the trigger: be all-embracing, be
delicate. I had no difficulty with the saucepan lid

down at the end of the meadow, lifted, for practice,
against the rhododendron hedge; I could sight

its smug self-satisfaction and shoot a hole
pea-perfect and clean through. Attention to the hare

left me perplexed for I, too, relish the vision
I imaged in its round dark eye, of a green world

easy under sunlight, of sweet sorrel and sacred herbs—
and I turned away, embarrassed, and absolved.


Still Life

We have slipped by here, scarcely noticed,
for generations; the trees we planted,
oak and birch and eucalyptus,

scarce reached our knees those days, now they rise
stooping amongst scattered stars, against
turquoise deepening to blue-pink, emerald, cobalt;

we know—after the old folks with their hearth-music
abandoned us—generations are layered beneath, and still
the young hare leaps in the joy of morningflush

while the mismatched mistlethrush will cock
her speckled chest into the northern breeze:
as it was, we say, in the beginning.

I will turn soon into the broth of dreams,
blue-pink, emerald, cobalt, a blade of grass
of being, but for now I hold my hand

against the sky and watch a star
between my fingers, see the webbed flesh, feel the blood
pulsing, and listen to the soft sigh lingering.

for Michael Schmidt


John F. Deane founded Poetry Ireland, the national poetry society, and The Poetry Ireland Review. He was elected secretary-general of the European Academy of Poetry in 1996. In Dogged Loyalty, his collection of essays on religious poetry, was published in 2006 (Columba), and his latest poetry collection is The Instruments of Art (Carcanet, 2005). A Little Book of Hours is forthcoming from Carcanet this year.

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