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Paul Perry: Gallery for The Drowning of the Saints

Ode to a Banjo | The morning after Halloween | River of Light

Ode to a Banjo

You need to wait for the silence
the silence snow commands.

You need to find yourself
obsessed and not with a woman.

I'm thinking of a soldier
from the Irish Brigade,

deserter, court-martialed,
listening on his last night

to a banjo with its bones
made of ghosts, poker faced,

goat-hide, wound, spell,
magic word, stamping

the gravely ground down,
a twisted ankle, from Donegal

to Down South.
There's something of the river

in the quiver of the strings,
cold on the feet as you step

in, and it's dusk or dawn
and the banjo with a moon for a head

is fading in the far off sky
where you are running,

your scent dispersing among the trees
your childhood rising like smoke.

Far off you can hear it,
digging the soil, somewhere

in the forest, tempting
the scaffold with a body,

the snow's silence corrupted.
And the man who plays

the sodden tune, no one
calls him by his name.

The morning after Halloween

"The English language belongs to us.
You are raking at dead fires..."
Seamus Heaney, "Station Island XII"

The morning after Halloween
the three boys returned
to where the fire had witched
in graceful, haunted movement
the night before.
A dolmen of fire.
Now they stood around the ring,
a dark patch of grizzled soil and ash,
stoking the last popping embers
to a shuffling flame.
From the window dreaming,
one of those boys is me:

we watch the rhythmic sway of the flame,
The smoke rising black.
The spell peels, the wild
cracks and howls of the night before
smoulder with the dying flame
and the others go home to barmbrack
and a ten pence hidden in mashed potato.
If I could be that boy,
if that was me, I would stay
curious to witness
the ashen wood crumble
with the slightest hush of my breath.
Though I may have wanted to spark some flame
or found myself knee-dirty striking stone on stone,
I, too, left the fire and heard the wind
rise and saw the smoke
we had swallowed, like a voice
or the memory of a voice,
scatter and fade
over the desolate fields.

River of Light

red, green and yellow neon
blur the highway
into a river of light

the intersection appears
like a mirage
smoke wafting from the policeman's flares

call them mourning candles
three a.m.
surrounding the scene

the intersection
like a small island of sorrow
the car should not

be cut in half
so easily, so simply
but it is, there

we watch, dumb spectators,
held back
by yellow tape

as the police measure
confer and agree
the yellow plastic

covering the unnamed dead
flaps in the wind
like an ignomininious flag

a warning, a reminder
flapping absurdly in rhythm
with the smashed blinker

of the halved car,
again yellow
until the ambulance appears

and departs, easily, simply
the shattered glass swept away
the car removed

the tape taken
so that everything
looks as it did

an hour before
when we passed
on the other side

an unending kaleidoscope
a blurring, ever-moving
river of light

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"Ode to a Banjo," "The morning after Halloween" and "River of Light" appear in The Drowning of the Saints (Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland: Salmon Publishing, 2003). Copyright 2003 by Paul Perry. Reprinted with permission from Salmon Publishing.

© 1999 - 2003, by the poets featured herein.