Lines with a Latin Dictionary

for Pat Deery

Sending you back the dictionary, I think of things uncovered
or rather rubbed from the consciousness of compilers –
the smell of dung; insects and sweat they sniffed ecstatically;
the life-sapping torpor of slaves who waited on poets.
Music there must have been, a skip or moan in the pulse;
sawdust round blood clotting on a taverna floor.
Such a magnificent fiction, this dictionary; no decay,
as when we were adolescent and opening like fumbling thieves
the purse of our lives which we thought we’d daringly snatched
from acquisitive fate. Since we last spoke, I’ve added
two derelicts to the unfolding film-set of my life,
one we shared for five years, the other occasionally
admitted me.

But the true spirit is vagrant.
You were always in your element whenever our paths crossed
or when I listened to you, your breath drawn for spotlit
lines committed over evenings such as this
to arid paper. The lit movement of your eyes,
the living grammar of your fingers, conducted an edgy
truth to the electric utterance where print is discarded
and the paper-slaved is liberated. We are all sons
of freedmen; saints’ names above the lintels of our various schools
were badges of an unintended patronage. That you stepped out
yet carried onstage the burden of a knowledge
acquired whole elsewhere, was no more than proper.
Each fluid line had a weight of life, and more, a shared,
uneasy memory of crowd and tumult,
words hammered out like iron on secret anvils,
old books opening, their fust a smell of dusty blood.

Ted McCarthy was born in Clones, Ireland, where he currently lives and works as a teacher. His first collection was published here by the Lilliput Press and won the Brendan Behan Award for best first collection. Since then, he has had work published in Ireland, Europe and the U.S. He also translates poetry from Irish, including Sean O Riordain, the foremost poet in Irish of the 20th century. (edmundmcc@hotmail.com)

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761