Knock, Market Day, Ireland 1966.
Streaming down the hills from Wicklow with banners and boots and donkeys braying and the smell of burning turf and Guinness for the drinking of,
red faced log like men with waistcoats from their fathers and sharp wet noses like the noses of their black and white and black dogs that drive them like sheep through the emerald fields and over the stone walls and down the twisting snake of a lane that swoops and dives and dips and swerves drunk on its own gay thoughtless joining of the villages of Knock, and Banfe, and Killymiwilly.
The women were singing the day away with songs of the lost kingdoms and Druids with golden staffs, and oh the comely princess with hair the colour of the sun, lips kissed with berries and eyes as dark as the starless night. what is love Mrs. Lynch why it’s ten times hotter than fire Mrs. Finch and I’d have married him then were not a cripple with a withered leg and a sister on the stage
OReilly takes out his watch the half hunter from his pocket and beams the joy of knowing when to start and when to stop. ‘There’ll be horses to catch before night.’ he shouts to the men and the boys, ‘take ropes and sugar and bells, a guinea for the stallion if you please.’
OReilly leaning on Cassidy’s long bar wiping sea fret from his facial hair a better pint there never was me boys an all down and dripping black, the smacking of many lips slapping by god yer roight sur an yes oil have another for t’would be churlish to refuse
and still behind the bar thin Quinn dreams pulling the white tusks the sweepstake and the winning of
speeches to be made and a new brown suit stuffed with crisp notes and a bottle of Jameson in the pocket
while by the fire young Mary McCoy stirs the bleeding sparking embers remembering the fire of dirty Dermot McCray and kisses burning lips
oh I never should for ’tis a sin but not of you don’t put in the tongue, the priest will know and then
seven hail Maries an worth a dozen more if should I let him but I’ll not have me best green cardy ruined even so,
by the bar Ben Brown looks down at her with wolf eyes imagining a dozen Mary’s dancing sturdily the summers green with cymbals and a blind accordion
the dresses bouncing over dimpled knees flashing, flinging, and furious then off running into the long corn field calling the boys you’ll never catch me and if you do I’ll never tell.
Eleven of the clock as me names OReilly and he puts the watch asleep,
the mornings washed away an all washed and waned and spent in idle games then out into the bright tight dazzling sun the road knee deep in promises of other places and spent wishes.
A mile or three to Knock will pass the afternoon away for tis a shame to hurry
OReilly mutters good day to you father to the black crow priest flapping storm warnings from the swinging gate St. Peter and Saint Paul and all along the path between the dead and dusty ancestors
and him Father Murphy staring blind into his dreams hears bells ringing, choirs singing, babies crying, time ticking,
never too late OReilly, forty guilty years since last confession,
please father I did put a mirror under Kelly’s skirt what did you see there boy there were birds and mothballs, bicycles and busses, badgers and the brown bull of Cooley sure god will strike you blind give me here your hand my boy for Jesus will forgive.
And out beyond the town the rolling road OReilly roams whistling the miles away to Knock.
What is your heart today Mr. OReilly sing the women of the market a fine fat pig with a smile on his face or a pair of piebald hens, a sheep’s head freshly skinned eyeballs intact a ox tail shaved, talced and lotioned,
I’ll have a brace of dreams me girls go easy on the spice.
The river running swift and dark and under the town’s grey walls skimmed green moss while silent seated men with rods and nets crouch staring at the upside down world of the other bank and peer into the waters for a glimpse of half forgotten hope, what was it now that slipped away like a thief in the night.
Then over Tanker’s Bridge and into Cork Lane and the knocking of the green door opened
Clara Clara would you ever be looking at yerself for me eyes are starved of yer light and I hear only yer voice in my dreams And into Clara’s parlor eyes dancing hands aflutter small white teeth parted oh Clara sure I’d kill for a smile
And the arms around him and the coolness of her cheek and the smell of summer on her breath spinning spinning until they fall giddy with the wanting and the needing and the remembering
Taking her face in his hands and diving into the dark pools of her eyes cool and warm and cool again her hands busy peeling, shelling, stripping until nothing’s left but the white smooth surface of a place unexplored
Now she says now and all is lost except the being and the doing as the earth rolls away and leaves them lost in a darkness full of flickering lightning, and the moaning like the wind in the chimney on a winter’s night, and the breath like thunder in their ears, Now, and the hands like claws gripping now, now, and then the crying like the hurt, Clara oh Clara, Mr. OReilly now, now, now
And down the days tumbling through the bright white place into warm seas to rest pillowed on the ocean the sounds slip back birds sing, voices, the sound of the river in stillness and the beating of the hearts among the clouds.
O’Reilly stepping high across and back across the Liffey by the Tankers his hand on Clara for the kindness that’s in it and off to Brady’s by the quays
A full meat house stuffed and smelling cigarettes and sweat and smoke and stout and burning turf, and heads a turning as the door swings shut no ladies here shouts Aemon from behind the bar
Sweet times and looking each the eyes knowing unsaid words and remembering will you stop with me tonight Ah Clara I have horses to catch and men to find and tales to tell
when will you come to me again
I’ll come when the gorse blooms on Slieve Leag, and when the salmon leap for joy, I’ll come in silence if you listen hard me boots on cobbles in the night by the haunting of the sickle moon I’ll come
keep warmth for me between the sheets
Standing outside Brady’s last goodbyes and him away across the darkened town with lights in windows and the crying of the bairnes driven to their beds on bread and dripping, hot milk and Horlicks, Dads sitting by the fire reading the Echo while the women elbow deep in soap whisper to the listening night
And out into the country and the road to Balfe O’Reilly strides under a pair of moons lighting the pale road to the distant hills and dreaming as he goes where is Brian O’Sullivan who could play the fiddle and Johnny Byrne who ran away to Blackrock and other foreign parts where are the chieftains of childhood and the terror gangs of the back lanes and the girls who ran screaming home to mothers with red elbows and bleeding hands.
The night surrounds him whispering the voices of old behind the shriveled oak under silent rocks breathless in the grasses
The road a silver belt around the earth that he could walk forever careless of time and the passing of mute friends
Will I see you again sweet Clara, will the spells of your eyes and your lips draw me back,
oh aye, I’ll come in the spring when the weather is kind and the sky is sprinkled with larks when the you hear the music of Dagda’s harp and the wind is stilled and the ashes cold in the hearth, I’ll come my love when the gorse blooms gold on Slieve Leag.
Then Balfes dark roofs in the valley below the smell of the turf burning while the town sleeps drowned in dreams OReilly’s boots on cobbled roads the horses are in the stables and the cats stalk shadows in the streets.
Taking down the old photo album and blowing the dust off. Worn brown cover made from pre war cardboard fraying at the corners into brown dust. The smell of Grandpa’s house, damp, tobacco, old wood, and the sound of a ticking clock. Winter nights by the fire with the wind moaning in the chimney. The quietness of the old things, comfortable things, sleeping in corners, not waiting anymore.
Turning the pages and travelling back into summer on the beach, at the pool, walking the promenade.
Wiping the dust off and slipping it back on the high shelf, the memories quietly singing, then silent.