Always the rain, always the cloud
cover, the peaks and troughs,
the closing isobars, the north by
northwest tilt of the vane’s arrow,
the needle pert in the hygrometer.
Always the three-piece funeral suit
you wear, a scrunched up cigarette
in one pocket, a bent nail in the other,
and the glass-rim hum of voices
in the high wires, where crows
congregate like boys on a corner.
You feel your way back blind
towards somewhere, no white stick,
only the tips of your fingers. You slip
between the lines, go limber, then
limbo beneath the caution tape
around the scene. Always the diesel
fumes. Always the waiting room
of pneumonic coughs and scattered
newspapers, the destinations listed
over the counter where you slide
a crumpled note into the trough,
collect your ticket and change.
Always the hiss of the pneumatic
doors before you board, the driver
squat amidst his gadgets and gears,
the floor viscous with piss and vinegar
as you step into the aisle, its seats
held together with masking tape
and chewing gum. On each arm-
rest a flip top ashtray like an urn
that carries the stubbed out remains
of every boy you’ve ever been.
You lose the run of yourself again,
slip backwards, the past, the future
like two subway cars almost touching
in the cryptic dark of some far away
metropolis, the passengers like fish
against the glass. Smoke wafts
from somewhere, or a throwback
hit bursts from the subwoofers,
and you hear the screech of air
in the airbrakes, the uphill, downhill
shift of gears, as you pass through towns
nondescript and scripture. Betting
shop. Chip shop. Post Office. Bar.
The Mountaintop a stating of the obvious.
The Dew Drop Inn perhaps a slurred pun.
The wreck of a Cortina or an Escort
Mark I set up on blocks in a garden,
where someone’s improvised a coop
for chickens, or a kennel for a dog
with two different coloured eyes.
There are the doughnut shaped skid marks
of the boy racer at a crossroads
that opens four ways into nowhere,
and the phone box lit up at the corner
like a spaceship that will never take off.
There’s the ghost kiss of the cue
off the cue ball in the snooker hall,
long forsaken, and the milk bottle
vase of daisies and dandelions
below the palms of the blue-robed
virgin at her roadside shrine. It’s never
not this way, what you’re trying
to get back to like the T.V.
on mute in a room just off the bar,
where The Angelus drones on forever
and ever and the owner waits
for the bell above the door. One
Russian nesting doll inside the other,
you make a paper chain of figures
joined at the ankle and wrist,
the game you’re playing a game
of snakes & ladders. Always the yes,
no, yes, of the wipers. Always
your falling asleep against the pane
as you get lost again somewhere
between reverence and blasphemy.
Always the radio soundtrack, the static
of the years. Always the burned rubber
and spilled beer, the country singer
packing up his gear before the chintz,
wince, speed rinse of techno from
the disco next door, someone throwing
a fish supper up over his own shoes
as all your old selves square up to each
other after last orders, the barman’s
fourth or fifth “Time now, folks, please.”
Always the closed fist, the skinned
knuckles and loose teeth. The are we
there yet? The when will we be there?
Ciaran Berry is the author of The Sphere of Birds, winner of the Jerwood Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize, and The Dead Zoo, a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. He grew up in Connemara and Donegal and currently lives in Hartford, Connecticut.