Ciaran Carson



                                                      Hamlet


As usual, the clock in The Clock Bar was a good few minutes fast:
A fiction no one really bothered to maintain, unlike the story
The comrade on my left was telling, which no one knew for certain truth:
Back in 1922 a sergeant, I forget his name, was shot outside the National Bank . . .
Ah, yes, what year was it that they knocked it down? Yet, its memory's as fresh
As the inky smell of new pound notes – which interferes with the beer-and-whiskey
Tang of now, like two dogs meeting in the revolutionary 69 of a long sniff,
Or cattle jostling shit-stained flanks in the Pound. For pound, as some wag
Interrupted, was an off-shoot of the Falls, from the Irish, fal, a hedge;
Hence, any kind of enclosed thing, its twigs and branches commemorated
By the soldiers' drab and olive camouflage, as they try to melt
Into a brick wall; red coats might be better, after all. At any rate,
This sergeant's number came up; not a winning one. The bullet had his name on it.
Though Sergeant X, as we'll call him, doesn't really feature in the story:
The nub of it is, This tin can which was heard that night, trundling down
From the bank, down Balaklava Street. Which thousands heard, and no one ever
Saw. Which was heard for years, any night that trouble might be
Round the corner . . . and when it skittered to a halt, you knew
That someone else had snuffed it: a name drifting like an afterthought,
A scribbled wisp of smoke you try and grasp, as it becomes diminuendo, then
Vanishes. For fal is also frontier, boundary, as in the undiscovered country
For whose bourne no traveller returns, the illegible, thorny hedge of time itself –
Heartstopping moments, measured not by the pulse of a wristwatch, nor
The archaic anarchists' alarm-clock, but a mercury tilt device
Which 'only connects' on any given bump on the road. So, by this winged messenger
The promise 'to pay the bearer' is fulfilled:

As someone buys another round, an Allied Irish Banks L10 note drowns in
The slops of the counter; a Guinness stain blooms on the artist's impression
Of the sinking of the Girona; a tiny foam hisses round the salamander brooch
Dredged up to show how love and money endure, beyond death and the Armada,
Like the bomb-disposal expert in his suit of salamander-cloth.
Shielded against the blast of time by a strangely mediaeval visor,
He's been outmoded by this jerky robot whose various attachments include
A large hook for turning over corpses that may be booby-trapped;
But I still have this picture of his hands held up to avert the future
In a final act of No surrender, as, twisting through the murky fathoms
Of what might have been, he is washed ashore as pearl and coral.

This strange eruption to our state is seen in other versions of the Falls:
A no-go area, a ghetto, a demolition zone. For the ghost, as it turns out –
All this according to your man, and I can well believe it – this tin ghost,
Since the streets it haunted were abolished, was never heard again.
The sleeve of Raglan Street has been unravelled; the helmet of Balaklava
Is torn away from the mouth. The dim glow of Garnet has gone out,
And with it, all but the memory of where I lived. I, too, heard the ghost:
A roulette trickle, or the hesitant annunciation of a downpour, ricocheting
Off the window; a goods train shunting distantly into a siding,
Then groaning to a halt; the rainy cries of children after dusk.
For the voice from the grave reverberates in others' mouths, as the sails
Of the whitethorn hedge swell up in a little breeze, and tremble
Like the spiral blossom of Andromeda: so suddenly are shrouds and branches
Hung with street-lights, celebrating all that's lost, as fields are reclaimed
By the Starry Plough. So we name the constellations, to put a shape
On what was there; so, the storyteller picks his way between the isolated stars.

But, Was it really like that? And, Is the story true?
You might as well tear off the iron mask, and find that no one, after all,
Is there: nothing but a cry, a summons, clanking out from the smoke
Of demolition. Like some son looking for his father, or the father for his son,
We try to piece together the exploded fragments. Let these broken spars
Stand for the Armada and its proud full sails, for even if
The clock is put to rights, everyone will still believe it's fast:
The barman's shouts of time will be ignored in any case, since time
Is conversation; it is the hedge that flits incessantly into the present,
As words blossom from the speakers' mouths, and the flotilla returns to harbour,
Long after hours.


Ciaran Carson, Selected Poems, Wake Forest University Press, 2001.