‘Kepler 452B’ by Medbh McGuckian

Numbers are useless in counting anything

Like perfumed rosaries made of plumstones

Knotted in the shape of a rose. There is only

One universe at a time, the one real world

Earlier on, when we were simpler than we are

Now, is soaked through and through with time.

 

The roses spelled out one word – partner –

Any flashier miracle in the unsunned snow

Or the blur of summer. I remembered how

The irises’ skill in clearing up after themselves

Was like shadow children against a secluded

Gate, blue snowflakes, first fat drops of thunder.

 

I should re-insert the moon into the narrative

Of the war. In fact, I felt like a bonfire,

Full of dull smoke, as if I were treading

The rim of a wheel burning a string

Of crudely knotted flags. Dried blood on several

Hundred candles fluttered towards the street.

 

Dark as those nights may have been, as the ghosts

Of pens long dead, I sat and swayed

In my drowsy conflagration, kicking the tight-

Laced city moodily behind me, step by step,

Yet not advancing an inch. The streaks

Of the sun furled up on the curtain, the brightness temperature.

 

As if my hand had been a skinless heart

Or a raw telescope for tours of the afterlife,

Sudden frosting moonmilk on a semi-infinite

Cloud, starless cores surrounding a young star.

The stale preserved breath of the dead

Who once ruled a world that now seems of no

 

Importance, hooded the streetlamps,

The church bells throbbing in the towers,

Guarding forgotten dumps in abandoned bases

And empty petrol tins that shuffled like claws

To possess the half empty town. I saw much

Of these scarecrow troops, the way their youth was humbled,

 

Bled grey with boredom. Young soldiers everywhere,

Standing about in shut streets on rainy Sundays,

On midnight platforms where no trains came.

They whistled and wished to be anywhere

But here. There were times when there seemed

To be no one else but these in the city,

 

City of expired fanaticisms and cold, closed

Lamps. Soldiers, priests and beggars, sleek

Black priests stepping like cats on a petal

As though to extinguish a match, while the afternoon

Sun sucked up the flavour of each cramped

Tree, surely the most painless way to be wakened.

 

Their Christ was carved from old wood

The colour of moonlight, lilies tied to his feet,

His toes already stirring, like the weight

Of the leaves on the trees, the children were

Especially quiet, my notebook was snatched

From my hand, they didn’t like the look of it,

 

Sniffed at, shaken, thumped hard, held upside

Down. I was pretending to be a ghost,

My face stroked by the lighthouse with

Its own grey roof of weather, and every scrap

Of old cloth run up on a pole. I had ridden

Wrapped up in a Union Jack to protect me

 

From the sun, and when I rolled out of it,

I felt that I was born. Or feeling well for once,

Here and there, beginning with a window

And a streak of wind letting in the sky,

Drawn by some need every evening to look

Out to sea, not knowing what my prayer should be.

 

Abusers of the flag have no arm to cling to.

I had to wrestle with just such an angel,

Stout angel in black dress, not an agreeable saint,

The whole poise of the evening. Not long ago

We exited a century, like prisoners of a language

Learned against our will – now every thing breathes 2016.

 

As if the body needs to re-think the river

Of the world-otherwise story before it

Comes home. It is not certain that a bee

In his tapestries can hear this honey-

Centred hum with his flight muscles

Brushing it away like a bell for sleep.

Medbh McGuckian was born in 1950 in Belfast where she continues to live. She has been Writer-in-Residence at Queen’s University, Belfast, the University of Ulster, Coleraine, and Trinity College, Dublin, and was Visiting Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. Among the prizes she has won are England’s National Poetry Competition, The Cheltenham Award, The Rooney Prize, the Bass Ireland Award for Literature, the Denis Devlin Award, the Alice Hunt Bartlett Prize, and, in 2002, The Forward Prize for Best Poem. She received the American Ireland Fund Literary Award in 1998. She won the Forward Prize for Best Poem for ‘She Is in the Past, She Has This Grace’. Her latest collection is Blaris Moor. Medbh McGuckian is a member of Aosdána.

‘Kepler 452B’ is published in Issue Eight of The Lonely Crowd, alongside two more brand new poems from Medbh McGuckian.

© Medbh McGuckian, 2017. Image © Jo Mazelis, 2017.