Medbh McGuckian

Four Poems

Mappamondo

My tongue, coated red,
Loses itself in the Englishness
Of water, and their sense
Of weather, a kind of water
In the form of feeling.

So I fold nature into
My gently bewildered body,
As a girl leaves her hair
Open to be enjoyed
By the moon’s fine touch.

Rain returns to its rightful
Place, and trees,
Sparingly branched, become
Their own justification,
Cleaned like a vessel by ashes.

A voice collects
Fire and air
Within the throats of old women,
Playing with a darker eye
On a silver horse’s skull,

And believing in the merry war
As they would have believed
In a new poet.
But what had happened
On the street, or fallen

In the dark at the foot
Of a window, would not
Have astonished a forest.
If colour as a foundation
For love or death

Builds a world, and the eye
Consists of a million worlds,
To show how the earth
Is a house exchanged for three tulip bulbs,
First define the eye,

This perforation,
That wells up as spring melt,
Or celandine, the red stone
Growing in the stomach
Of the swallow


A More

The stairs begin with Jacob’s Ladder.
They sit in each other’s presence
In a room neither can stand up in;
They both have grey eyes.

The earth is spread out below them,
In small vanished areas of green vegetation,
Woodsorrel, the herb alleluia, an earlier meadow
Where they once stood fully upright.

She is caught with a breath half-taken,
Holding a common rose and a pale book.
The pages of the book curl in space.

Her hands, incapable of gripping,
Convincingly fold in a backward turn
Against the standard furnishings, the bed.

The angel, from the behaviour of the cloth
In his waistband, seems to have no body
Beneath his drapery: no feet appear below.

He carries forward his wing and arm
Halfway between rising and sinking,
Identified by the dove at his ear

Which could be the severely damaged goldfinch
The Christ Child holds to his mouth
In the next stained-glass miracle.

What the simplified eyes experience deepest
In this pilgrimage church
Whose beauty is strictly outward

Is the candle-burned pearl on her head
Like a triple head within solar rays,
Her badly rubbed star-halo’s
Long association of vases,

The unfinished, leave-taking wings.


A Blessing Christ

Only in the short time
When the light was annunciation-strong
Would space be flattened out
To such a ravishing ivory.

Inhabitable world, near dormition,
That has not been fully realized,
As though the warhorse had
A moment before been reined in.

The corner itself is loosely marked
By the tree of sacro-iliac joints,
A movement in, out and around,
A whorl at the edges of the field

Like spirited handwriting
Or a last judgement spread over two fields
Of lyrical bronze. The stylised
Earth requires the physical exertion

Of two curtain-holding, censing angels
And the almost bitter power
Of the interior springing of the ribs,
The distinction of their hands,

To reach the unflinching candour
Of the direct gaze and perpendicular
Glance the still-living Christ
Directs across her criss-cross stola.

He has lost all rigidity,
And rests his utterly relaxed arm
On her shoulder – no longer a Roman matron –
He touches Mary’s crown.


Soul being Saved by an Angel

Some of the blessed turn to look down
From within a cocoon shot with blue
At free-floating souls fished up to heaven,
Past the descending vices.

Two have ceased to sound their trumpets
As Christ’s eyelids, the tinder of grace,
Scrape back the small corrections
To the cleared sky, the way into the year.

Unengaged with other psyches,
The green-filleted angel
Who digs his feet and knees
Into a stair-stepped cloud

Crushes against the billowing shroud
That seems the discarded companion
Of a climbing, lavender-draped soul
Hurried out of the chapel.