Maurice Riordan‘s latest collection is The Water Stealer (Faber, 2013). He is the editor of The Finest Music: Early Irish Lyrics (Faber, 2014).
We were sitting in the restaurant window
when I heard myself saying Seamus is here –
though there was no greeting, And our view was blocked
by a brewery lorry pulled up on the kerb.
I’d no sight of him, but it was nothing spooky either.
What I had seen under the lorry were two feet
passing on the other side. I’d known him by the gait,
as one would by the voice. Yet I’d never before
noticed his feet – and, if asked, I might have guessed
he had a fisherman’s walk, slow and deliberate.
But no, what I saw were the feet of a schoolboy
invisibly sandaled, stepping nimbly towards us.
Questions for the Oracle
Will it rain? Will the hibiscus be in flower?
Will the boats arrive from Naros safe and on time?
Will Phillip come? With his new bride, Alcmene?
Will everything go according to plan
and everyone get along? No sulks or quarrels,
no tasteless jokes about the Christians?
And Penny, my dear friend who cannot come
—will this be the very day she gives birth?
Will it be a boy or a girl? Will it be born
without mishap, I pray, or too much pain?
Will Bella come? And Quintus behave
and not jump in the fish pond? Will everyone
get along? Will my husband frown at the wine, the sauces,
the sweetmeats? Will the food taste good anyway?
Will I be at ease with the wives, and avoid
nervously finishing their sentences?
Will Quintus give me a drunken kiss,
like he did a year ago? And those who’ve died since
be here? Saul, and my mother? And Simonides Rufus,
who teased me when we were children,
crucified six weeks ago in Smyrna?
Will the rain keep off, at least till evening
when people come indoors? And Quintus play
the old tunes from the islands? My husband then
be full of fellowship and army gossip,
and this become one of those nights
the islanders talk of, recalling a time blest
by Demeter and by your brightness, Lord Apollo?