The best said little, yet enough to signal praise.
The best said least, never laid too heavy a hand;
just a glance of light, a path I might find,
but I followed false signs, stumbled into byways.
At last I retrace, begin the haul again —
the double task that probes the double faith of loss
before gain. And then a patient glow of progress.
I so wanted them to know, to call to them:
Oh, look what I have done! But they have gone
beyond the bend and out of sight. I sway
an instant, peering ahead; a voice resonates:
steady as you go, you carry someone's beacon.
Table by table the café fills
till talk and the clap of plates
bulge with well-being; a dark
waitress's patchwork skirt
hurries behind the counter;
every face under the sun peers
at the window menu, more
voices join the steamy pentecost.
Here in the metropolis nothing
shocks. Out of its huge anonymity
worlds of strange gossip crowd
this lunch-time café. And I'm in love
with its mystery, the peculiar rapture
of life à la carte. The window mists;
after wine, the Basque in the corner
turns his smokey eyes on the waitress.
Outside the door, the buses shriek,
rush and judder; a city's jamboree,
hope and haphazard, limitless
chances, choices wait. Sitting
here I know I've felt the throb
of Jerusalem or Rome or any city
yet to come, where there's a café
and we, citizens all, break bread.
Urgencies of language: check-in, stand-by, take-off.
Everything apace, businesslike. But I'm happy here
Gazing at all the meetings and farewells. I love
To see those strangers' faces quickened and bare.
A lost arrival is wandering. A moment on edge,
He pans a lounge for his countersign of welcome.
A flash of greeting, sudden lightening of baggage,
As though he journeyed out only to journey home.
I watch a parting couple in their embrace and freeing.
The woman turns, a Veronica with her handkerchief
Absorbing into herself a last stain of a countenance.
She dissolves in crowds. An aura of her leaving glance
Travels through the yearning air. Tell me we live
For those faces wiped into the folds of our being.
These poems are from Michael O'Siadhail, Poems 1975-1995, published by Bloodaxe Books in 1999. Copyright © by Bloodaxe Books. Internet publication in Forum for Literature and Art by kind permission of Bloodaxe Books. They also appear in the bilingual edition Micheal O'Siadhail Aus heiterem Himmel, Gedichte, englisch und deutsch, published in 2001 by Heiderhoff Verlag, Eisingen, Germany.
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