Issue 7

Sean O'Brien
Two Poems
Poetry

Signs

Last time was starlight through smoke -
The rags of her glittering train
Hauled over the mud at low tide.
Her purple robe was a figment
Glimpsed in the fruit-wrappings strewn
Among the orange-boxes in a passageway
In which the white sun stood.
Then nothing, forever, bare facts
Of the wintering city whose meaning
Clarity has worn away, bare streets
Where dreams may not be disinterred,
Street names, street signs, funereal
Labours of bureaucracy to speak
Exactly as it finds: this place
Is neither terrible nor blessed.

She will not listen, but I long
For the curve of the evening street
When the crowd falls away
And St Mary’s weathercock turns
In the last shaft of sun, and in turning
Replies with the seal of its gold
On the indigo air: as if the mere object
Should know what it is to be frozen
And faithful, to study deserving, should know
How at the core of winter her creation
Flows and flows, vouchsafing
That all shall be well because all shall be,
Which is all we may hope for, signs
Of the impartial love she bears the world,
The privilege we serve and fear.
Always

The teller in the high white room
Beside the silent harbour loathes
His ledgers and his counterfoils
But adds and checks and enters, does
What he is here to do. He knows the rules.
The sunlight floods an alleyway,
Its premises abandoned.
Venetians, Turks and all the rest
Are dead and gone, likewise their gold.
The enemy has sailed away,
Gone south, gone west,
But no one living has been told.
The morning is eternal. It is not.
For now is noon, the sun too hot
For thinking or for loving.
The noonday girl’s asleep, her bitter breath
Distressing to the bitter clerk who lies
Beside her in the sunstruck heat, his cock
Shrunk back in white surrender.
Slowly in the blazing bay,
The ferry turns, is leaving.
The bank is opening again. The clock
Repeats that this is always, always,
That you are not here to wonder.
All the days will be like this.
The hills grow pale, the sea’s dim haze
Means time has passed invisibly again.
The widow in her blinding black
Comes up the street with bread and oil
And speaks to no one, and the surf
Returns, returns along the shore,
Still seeking the perfection of its form,
A girl not quite a girl, who frets through
Every finical frou-frou adjustment: or
Like this, perhaps, or this, or this,
Her breath still bitter in the kiss.
A sailor would know how to name that star,
The first of evening, hanging in the square
Like something no one ever says.
Lock up the money and the bonds,
Remembering to wash your hands,
And see the world become anonymous.
In this day there are all the days.