“MOUTH MUSIC IN SIGN LANGUAGE”: POETRY FROM JAMES MCGONIGAL’S NEW COLLECTION, ‘THE CAMPHILL WREN’
JAMES MCGONIGAL is a poet, editor and translator, formerly a school teacher and educationalist. His co-edited volume The Midnight Letterbox: Selected Correspondence of Edwin Morgan 1950–2010 is published by Carcanet Press. His collection Cloud Pibroch (Mariscat Press, 2010) won the UK Michael Marks Poetry Pamphlet Award. The Camphill Wren (Red Squirrel Press, 2016) is his first full collection. For more on his work, please visit www.jamesmcgonigal.com
The last week of your life is passing
in radio songs and cups of tea,
raindrops evaporating from rose leaves
or being sipped by the lawn.
How green the world is and unfazed
in its comings and goings.
Sometimes the rain falls straight
as the strings of a harp.
You can pick out each verse of your life
with undamaged hands.
There’s still time to sort out
those holiday snaps from 1998.
Look, the final waterfall near Sligo –
a stream absolutely beside itself
with hyperventilation and rainbows.
It’s started again. Fingertips of rain
find their baby nails turning pink
as freshwater pearls.
This week you may find it helpful
to greet the last few drops personally
when the lime tree by the back door
shakes them clear of its golf umbrella.
flops from the thorn, slow wings
beating a gloss from thin air,
to the birch
where its claw-tips grip silver.
The frowsy pony at our gate
weeps milky tears, his coat already
matted too thick for spring. Everywhere
in the bowl of the dale
beauty and sorrow stirred by the light’s long spoon.
This morning a wife might wake to hear
downstairs for the first time in years
her husband singing.
It started long before she came –
seeing her skull and eye sockets
suddenly caught in the womb scan
a grey ghost staring through water
like the picture of a Panzeroffizier
in my book on El Alamein
with goggles determinedly set against grit
against grim work against the grain –
future and past alike dark-eyed, intent.
Now here at last she lies asleep
new born on my computer screen
emailed as an attachment
I open and save – recalling her own mother’s
fierce cry then, our daughter
in snowlight. And from another
century the dear wound catches
my grey ghost staring through water.
This must be what light sounds like written down.
A grass concerto played pianissimo but with a fine
panache about it. Mouth music in sign language.
Or when a painter’s doodling quietly with both hands,
each holding a stick of charcoal. Evening prayer
being offered up in silence to the god of gloaming,
a believer might say.
The two moths rose as if afraid of being wet by dew.
Wing-beats outnumbered twists of roadside grasses.
They could be text inside the speech bubbles
of a cartoon about your rebel ancestors who used
to live hereabouts. What on earth are they still
trying to say? Floating epitaphs – take a few home
to choose from later.