Craigvara House


That was the year
of the black nights and clear
mornings, a mild elation touched with fear;

a watchful anomie,
heart silence, day-long reverie
while the wind made harp-strings on the sea

and the first
rain fo winter burst
earthwards as if quenching a great thirst.

A mist of spray
hung over the shore all day
while I slumped there re-reading La Nausee

or watched a cup
turn mantra on a table-top
like Scott Fitzgerald after the crack-up;

or knocked a coal
releasing squeaky gas until
it broke and tumbled into its hot hole.

Night fell on a rough
sea, on a moonlit basalt cliff,
huts with commandments painted on the roof,

and rain wept down
the raw slates of the town,
cackling maniacally in pipe and drain.

I slowly came
to treasure my ashram
(a flat with a sea view, the living room

furnished with frayed
chintz, cane chairs and faded
water-colours of Slemish and Fair Head--

no phone, no television,
nothing to break my concentration,
the new-won knowledge of my situation);

and it was there,
choosing my words with care,
I sat down and began to write once more.

When snowflakes
wandered on to the rocks
I thought, home is where the heart breaks--

the lost domain
of week-ends in the rain,
the Sunday sundae and the sexual pain.

I stared each night
at a glow of yellow light
over the water where the interned sat tight

(I in my own prison
envying their fierce reason,
their solidarity and extroversion)

and during storms
imagined the clenched farms
with dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms.

Sometime before
spring I found in there
the frequency I had been looking for

and crossed by night
a dark channel, my eyesight
focused upon a flickering pier-light.

I slept then and,
waking early, listened
entranced to the pea-whistle sound

of a first thrush
practising on a thorn bush
a new air picked up in Marrakesh.

And then your car
parked with a known roar
and you stood smiling at the door--

as if we might
consider a bad night
as over and step out into the sunlight.


Derek Mahon, Selected Poems, Penguin Books, 2006.