A poet paints with words. They select words carefully, one at a time, and fit them together like a jigsaw. The finished article, if it is a success, is an emotion capture. It is a perfectly recorded moment in time, which conveys the feelings of the poet. Really successful poems open those same emotions in the reader.
I think what makes Paula Meehan even more tangible to me is that she grew up in my part of Dublin both in place and time. Like Dermot Bolger she speaks with the cadence of Finglas when it was a village of Dublin perched on the edge of the countryside.
I grew up in the City, with a cow-field at the end of the street. There was a short cut that way, so we literally walked to school “through the fields”. My sister fell in the ditch once and had to go home covered in mud and get my mother to drive her in. The notion that anyone would be “driven” to school; preposterous! Of course in those days kids were skinny.
All the above just erupted out of my brain from reading the Meehan poem below. Yes, there were horses in gardens! Big gardens we had in those days.
Back to wordsmithing though. There is one word in the poem below that sits awkwardly. “Sweaters”. We didn’t have sweaters in Finglas in the 1960’s. Americans had sweaters. We had jumpers, cardigans or geansais. Maybe her brother got a sweater in the States in the 1980’s before we lost milk bottles.
My Father Perceived as a Vision of St Francis; by Paula Meehan
(for Brendan Kennelly)
It was the piebald horse in next door’s garden
frightened me out of a dream
with her dawn whinny. I was back
in the boxroom of the house,
my brother’s room now,
full of ties and sweaters and secrets.
Bottles chinked on the doorstep,
the first bus pulled up to the stop.
The rest of the house slept except for my father.
I heard him rake the ash from the grate,
plug in the kettle, hum a snatch of a tune.
Then he unlocked the back door
and stepped out into the garden.
Autumn was nearly done, the first frost
whitened the slates of the estate.
He was older than I had reckoned,
his hair completely silver,
and for the first time I saw
the stoop of his shoulder, saw that
his leg was stiff. What’s he at?
So early and still stars in the west?
They came then: birds
of every size, shape, colour;
they came from the hedges and shrubs,
from eaves and garden sheds,
from the industrial estate, outlying fields,
from Dubber Cross they came
and the ditches of the North Road.
The garden was a pandemonium
when my father threw up his hands
and tossed the crumbs to the air.
The sun cleared O’Reilly’s chimney
and he was suddenly radiant,
a perfect vision of St Francis, made whole, made young again, in a Finglas garden.