Not a birthday only
but a clan gathering for Bríd.
Her poor old peerless eyes.
The young, peripheral.
The host, with his long jaw
and recreational shirt
distributing flutes of gold wine
to the old, the late, the rheumy-eyed,
who fill the bright reception room
with its view of the pool
and, further, the ocean; mingle,
awkward and sociable, polite
enquirers after each other’s
links − a slight anxiety
to be leaves on the twigs of a
branch of the scheme of things.
They gather around
the family chart, unscrolled
on the sideboard, busily plot
themselves and theirs,
point and jostle, narratives
tumbling out of their mouths,
excitable flow of births,
deaths, accidents, marriages,
properties lost. What
it is all about, it seems,
is the simple multiplication
of the tribe. The ancients
lower themselves into chairs.
A ribboned child, somebody’s
from England, picks out
phrases on the baby grand.
Bríd floats blindly through the guests,
immaculate in suit and shades.
She folds the hand of each in hers,
intent, intensely feeling her way,
heels clacking on the oak floor.
The hosts are oddly embarrassed
by their wealth, all modesty
and disconnect. In sepia,
the family heroes. Uncle Joe,
third from the left at the first Dáil,
his handsome face pure intellect…
A hand on an arm, smiles, guffaws,
a palpable text now almost visible
in the air; a set text, thick as a
swarm around the head-to-heads
and the have-you-met-yets.
I don’t mention my lover,
how we have to invent
for ourselves a blank, unscripted
future; her guaranteed absence
from the diagram, the great
and no one asks,
sensing a difference.
Outdoors, they spill onto several
levels, settle in groups and lean
on rails as if on the various decks
of a ship. United they stand
against death and difference:
my mother, who drew nine babies
from her body, as though
from out of a conjurer’s cloak;
the low-key waiters, musicians,
caterers; toddlers chasing each other
through the legs; the NorthSouth divide, the Celtic Tiger,
unmet cousins, country farmers.
Time for a speech from the birthday girl!
A believer, she says, in genes,
The sea’s incredible equilibrium.
Imagine a tilt and the consequence.
The four-by-fours in the drive.
From The Whole & Rain-domed Universe. Reproduced with kind permission from Picador.