[ɪ] [ai] [æ] [ei] /ʊ] [e/eə:] [i:] [ɒ] [əʊ] [ɑː] [uː] [ɜː] [au]


I was parked on a high road, listening

to peewits and wind blowing round the car

when something came to life in the driving mirror,


someone walking fast in an overcoat
and boots, bare
headed, big, determined

in his sure haste along the crown of the road


so that I felt myself the challenged one.
The car door
slammed. I was suddenly out
face to face with an aggravated man


raving on about nights spent listening for
gun butts to come cracking on the door,
yeomen on the rampage, and his neighbour


among them, hammering home the shape of things.
'Round about here you overtook the women,'

I said, as the thing came clear. 'Your Lough Derg Pilgrim


haunts me every time I cross this mountain -
as
if I am being followed, or following.

I'm on my road there now to do the station.'


'O holy Jesus Christ, does nothing change?'
His head
jerked sharply side to side and up
like a
diver surfacing,


then with a look that said, who is this cub
anyhow, he took cognizance again

of where he was: the road, the mountain top,


and the air, softened by a shower of rain,
worked
on his anger visibly until:

'It is a road you travel on your own.



I who learned to read in the reek of flax

and smelled hanged bodies rotting on their gibbets
and saw their looped
slime gleaming from the sacks -


hard-mouthed Ribbonmen and Orange bigots
made
me into the old fork-tongued turncoat
who
mucked the byre of their politics.


If times were hard, I could be hard too.

I made the traitor in me sink the knife.
And
maybe there's a lesson there for you,


whoever you are, wherever you come out of,

for though there's something natural in your smile
there's some
thing in it strikes me as defensive.'


'I have no mettle for the angry role,'
I said. 'I come from County Derry,
born in earshot of an Hibernian hall


where a band of Ribbonmen played hymns to Mary.
By
then the brotherhood was a frail procession
staggering home drunk on Patrick's Day


in collarettes and sashes fringed with green.




Obedient strains like theirs tuned me first
and
not that harp of unforgiving iron


the Fenians strung. A lot of what you wrote

I heard and did: this Lough Derg station,
flax-pullings, dances, summer crossroads chat


and the shaky local voice of education.
All
that. And always, Orange drums.

And neighbours on the roads at night with guns.'


'I know, I know, I know, I know,' he said,

'but you have to try to make sense of what comes.
Re
member everything and keep your head.'


'The alders in the hedge,' I said, 'mushrooms,
dark-clumped grass where cows or horses dunged,
the c
luck when pith-lined chestnut shells split open


in your hand, the melt of shells corrupting,

old jampots in a drain clogged up with mud -'

But now Carleton was interrupting:


'All this is like a trout kept in a spring
or
maggots sown in wounds -
another life that cleans our element.


We are earthworms of the earth, and all that
has gone through us is what will be our trace.'
He
turned on his heel when he was saying this


and headed up the road at the same hard pace.