Firewatchers in the Blitz, two men look down
on Bloomsbury and St Paul’s. Above their heads
drone Heinkels, in their schwarms. Above those,
darkness, thinning air, the silence of the gods.

I’ll put my father first. Warehouse clerk,
waiting out the aerial assault; in letters –
shocked beyond a word to tell his father,
brothers, what he saw. Then Eliot, poet,
editor, no head for heights, summoning his senses
for the faith of Four Quartets – the cunning, clever
labyrinth that puts injury and death aside,
and suffering; makes learning and allusion key
to meaning no cradling bomb can break.

They both survive – my dad to find a quiet war,
a wife, an only son. A decent life,
obscurity, and love. In sickness and in health.
For richer for poorer. An honest litany.

Eliot was making his – his reputation as modernist
and icon-maker, breaker of machines and idols,
fades. The ironist of Prufrock, the wasted cities,
now bejewells crown and custom of the Church;
as if his revolution had never circled overhead.

Unknowing of the other, both died 2 years apart.
I have a letter in my father’s hand that tears.
Only facsimiles of Eliot’s, and poetry, of course.

Lowick 2018

That’s Poetry For You

There’s poetry in Moloney’s bar,
a meditation on much needed mutability
with the finding in the ruins of a tumbled school
of children’s flowers, surviving
well beyond the lives of tiny hands
that planted them. Such is the power
of Nature over Education, or Life
over Death, we’re all quite overcome.

A comic finale, and silence follows,
then warmed, polite applause. Voices
rise to match the tongues of music
that call across the road from Shortt’s.

Here, a dozen players gather to each
other’s strengths – notes are summoned
from the air. Fished out from bags
and cases, a match of fiddles, flutes,
banjos, concertinas, bodhrans,
control their owners hearts and fingers.

Tunes repeat themselves like water
tumbling, like  morning mountain winds,
like flowers found beneath a broken
wall. It all makes sense. Signalling
an end, the leader nods, the final
note is struck. Then glances, nods,
glasses raised to lips for speech.

Feakle, County Clare, Summer 2106
Joe Noonan and The Feakle Traditional Music Festival


From a Poland Train

The stench of our train in the darkness.
An angry fire consumes poor coal,
the needles shake and shiver, steam
escapes from worn out valves. We are
delivering, but are no express. I wipe
a gauge: a tear of condensation offends
a tidy footplate. The fireman, who, thanks
to war and careless rostering, I do not
know, leans back, resites his cap.
A tender moment, shovel propped.
His throat is full. Expertly, he rolls
the blackened phlegm and spits
it to the night, then checks the firebox.
Momentarily transfixed, the burst
of light records a figure trapped in hell,
then vanishes with a clang of steel.
On time, I utter. The watch that was
My father’s put away. No matter what
the load, the line’s end, or how long
the wait while other transports clear
the ramp, we will be there as scheduled.
Jews! I hear my father’s voice again, the
pounded Sunday fist, the engineer’s skilled
hand bunched in hatred of a race that killed
his Lord. We have them now. Their stench
is what we trail across this land.
Justice. My father’s hand was hard
enough to beat his sinless sons as well.
We take on water, at some Polish halt
that only needs a decent German name
to make it whole again. I  listen to the
boxcars’ groans, the slow and mournful
songs, the pleas for what I cannot understand.
I thank God I am no sentimental woman,
for you too would weaken at the thought
Of what we do, that must be done.
We do not linger. This final night will take
them to the ramp beyond the arch. Then peace
for them, and rest for us. I’d get this ancient train to
give more speed, and help them on their way
if it was not too old, and only fit for scrap.
We are not cruel. It is for all the best.
This ends in morning, for a world they helped
to make, and which now demands a final sacrifice.