Poems by Ciaran O'Driscoll
My Builder’s Opinion Of Light
'Is it light you're looking for?' my builder says
with a schoolmaster's heavy irony.
'How d'you think you'll be able to pin it down?
It's not like timber, RSJs or pipes.
Has nobody told you how fast it travels?
All the world's glass won't help you capture light.
One hundred and eighty-six thousand miles
a second – no sooner arrived than gone –
sure it’s out again before it’s rightly in!
Oh there's plenty of light in the universe,
the problem is to get it into a house.
But then, if you contemplate the sky at night,
there isn’t much of it compared to dark.
We have the case of what’s called dark matter
up there, and a similar case down here –
a lot more darkness in the world than light.
Even if you trapped brightness in a room,
it’d cast more shadows than was worth your while.
The less there is, the more you'll appreciate
the light you have. And didn’t you ever read
the scientific theories on the subject?
Sure it’s half-nothing – it’s not a thing at all.
Still - no cause for despair', says my builder.
‘Be of unspeakable cheer, all that's serene
will come from nowhere and your colours fly
in Cygnus, Andromeda and the Little Bear.
Everything has already been wrapped up.
You're on the eternal publisher's autumn list,
and the critics are choirs singing your praises.
Eternity is ripe, ready to burst;
your wheatfields in the sky, your olive groves
and vineyards are in need of supervision.
I see you in star-studded wellingtons,
robed in a mantle of the zodiac,
the overlord of angels at their labours
harvesting galaxies and superclusters,
spirals, discs and threads of constellations,
dwarves, quasars, pulsars, protostars – the lot!
Be patient, and a light-harvest is yours
from suns whose beams will never reach the earth.
Meanwhile, if I was in your present state,
I'd be plumping for a warm and sturdy house,
with a kind of chiaroscuro effect,
more scuro than chiaro, which should keep
peepers and daylight robbers in the dark.'
Man In Field Talking To Cows
Man in field talking to cows
in the early morning, we’re skirting you
on a wide berth of motorway, but for all
we accomplish in the end, for all we do,
we might as well be in a field like you
talking to cows. And it’s no bad call
to be out and about and standing in a field
at the break of day and talking to cows,
to be able to talk to them, have the know-how.
And it would be an even greater feat
if the cows were to talk back, as well they might,
and for a proper parley to ensue,
with white mist blanketing the ground
while we are airport-bound
skirting your field in a wide arc
through the dissipating dark.
We’re going to Italy to take the air
in hinterlands hill-towned and singular,
where livestock’s scarcely sighted out on grass
nor man in meadow glimpsed, talking to cows,
but grape-growers are known to trust in song
for optimal results, and one morning
a neighboring recital rose to keep
a pair of frazzled travellers from sleep,
unsure how blessed they were to be alive
and hear a vineyard opera at five.
Are those the spokescattle, the two beside you?
Have you a name for each herd-member? Is
the most serene of them called Molly? Does
the teat-cup kicker go by Briggs, and how
do you talk her back to rights?... But what would I
know about cows? I knew a little once,
now I don’t pause to think the juice that lightens
the colour of my morning coffee flows
from biddable beasts like these you put to browse
in pasture on the edge of a motorway.
I wonder who’ll travel furthest today,
you or me, man in field talking to cows.
Ciaran O’Driscoll, born in Callan, Co. Kilkenny in 1943 and living in Limerick, is a member of Aosdána.
He has published six collections of poetry, including Gog and Magog (Salmon, 1987), Moving On, Still There (Dedalus, 2001), and Life Monitor (Three Spires Press, 2009). His work has been translated into many languages. Vecchie Donne di Magione (The Old Women of Magione) with Italian translations by Rita Castigli, was published by Volumnia Editrice in 2006 and a Selected Poems in Slovene translations was published in May 2013 by Kud France Preseren.
Liverpool University Press published his childhood memoir, A Runner Among Falling Leaves, in 2001. His novel A Year’s Midnight was published by Pighog in 2012.
He has won a number of awards for his work, including the James Joyce Prize and the Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry. His poem ‘Please Hold’, included in the anthology Poems of the Decade: An Anthology of the Forward Books of Poetry, has become a prescribed text in post-2000 poetry for A Level Literature from September 2015.