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(Under)World Martin Burke

The Red Ceilings Press MMX [rcp 13]

(Under)World Martin Burke

ONE Active, happening, articulated Whenever you go there and go there you will It is active and articulate: deep uncanny mine of souls / yawing cavern / sunless lake / nothing could fly above it / its poisonous breath / into the sky…. cliffs / forests / mist / cruel landscape / over which a fragile bridge…. * Pluck a branch from a tree? (be it golden, be it green) Do so and you enter darker time, dimmer worlds Of which the tree is guardian Others have gone this way before you – have gone Some few have returned The glittering branch (be it golden, be it green) Is your sign to the world to enliven a world In which the dark can glitter in the light.

* There are cities which are allegiances (a Greeks proposition which holds true in our time) There are islands (each with a history) There are harbours (the one you arrive it is not always the one you depart from) Bonds made by the quay-wall are binding Enduring as stone, alive to the various rhythms of tides Enduring as Aran or Patmos ( these words have their origins there) In other words: Friendship roots imagination into fertile ground Offering a name which offers a key to pass beyond a name. As if in snow a poem was written which has melted back into the ground Or that the bright birds of Egypt were seen in an average sky on an average day Or that Something was imparted to the world without which it would be incomplete. Somewhere there is singing (surely you hear it?) Shall we join the singing – or is it a wailing Which like a malignant email Carries a virus intent on subverting our narratives and networks? Like troubadours or dervishes or those dancing men Of an itinerant order at odds with the world The birds ignore these questions which as Adam’s child I ask: I only know as much as I don’t know.

* “…and went down to the sea…. drew our ship into water and rigged her mast and sails.” Like any journeyman about his business I want to know, and with precise measurements, Where those worlds, others than ours, intersect To our advantage – or is it to our discomfort? (as the masters insist it that they do) I want to know coordinates and locations, Those cities, harbours, islands which are an end in themselves But also, but more so, entrance to a vivid world beyond Thus the city I am travelling from and the city I am travelling towards Is an unending negotiation between memory already lodged in the mind And what will enter memory like bright water casting light on a page. Regardless of who you are, regardless of who you would be You are now Orpheus or Ulysses Whose steps towards the living are steps towards the dead For wherever you are you are always somewhere And There is always, always a stairway that you must descend (If there is this world then there is that other) “All day long the sails were full as we held our course, but the sun went down, darkness fell on the earth when we came to the place Circe talked of” A world other than ours, opposite to ours, but not totally so, Whole in itself, whole to itself

Not for the living, not that, nor could it be, but with its own validity Yet have you come as warrior or singer? Do you mean to question your advantage Or ask for guidance towards the living light? “I prayed sufficiently I cut the throats of the two sheep, the ghosts came trooping up” Pale Eurydice, then Teiresias (some say he was blind) Others you know of (because of a poem) Lucid yet cold in that pale light Now you are either Orpheus or Ulysses Whatever you ask will be answered But will you understand? “Why have you left the light of day and come to visit the dead? withdraw your sword that I may drink and answer your questions” Whatever you say will determine the future. The answer you get depends on the question you ask. * Fragments? Yes, and yet (how could it be otherwise –or less?) Containing a ripened fullness in themselves: You remember one thing because you remember another. You recover what was lost. You fix it in memory. You make it part of tradition. Make it different. The same. Translating one word into another. Giving it a new name.

Making peace with the past. Adding nothing to the fragments. Reconciling Christ with Sophocles “and after all these years, walking into my past – an old corridor with all the doors newly painted.” The river under the earth, those others, those under…..they will not be denied; “I will tell….”, exile already creeping into language. You remember one thing because you remember another. You recover what was lost. You fix it in memory. It enters tradition. Thus hail, the future is born. * One year the autumn comes early, one year the autumn comes late. A season gives itself to the world or holds itself to itself. At the harbour the ships are ready to depart. “…and went down to the sea” as if we were dervishes or troubadours Heading towards the unknown except for what we knew of it By what the old poems said or old songs sang. Nothing else is needed. Everything is already happening. The boat is departing as you walk up the gangplank Singing of cities the old songs say are guarded by a tree

TWO “as if it were a journey among the dead-lands….” “the visitor is reminded…..” Easy to miss – no matter how radiant / dark is deep / can be deeper Even as your golden vanities gather about you As for faith as for doubt…. As for bayonet, rifle, sword / leave them under the oak. Tread in a puddle / crawl away (if you are lucky –and you may be) It’s difficult with the weight of a rifle / leave it under the oak Easy / accuse the dark / everyone does / rightly, wrongly / anything / yet he who is lord sleeps in that necessity I almost said at the end of a civilization when I meant the end of an age Becoming passionate about our weapons/ sexual metaphors / bullets as rampant as pricks A monument for the faithful / safely abed / in love / or / indifference As we…. (This does not shock me – I have long known their indifference / our plight did not register in their various calculations) Anger, bitterness, calls for revenge / leave them under the oak As you did passing the four bright stones at the turn of wood

As you did / but / will you? / will you do so again? As if in your body’s wounds….. The entrance of Christ in radiant pain from under the oak / yet easy to mistake him in the dark As for the dark you gather The land sleeps when the lord does “I will never be rid of the mud or the rats or these guts” These you must carry / cannot be left behind Tin hat with the slack-sling of it Your clumsy prayer an aim for radiance Even as you crawl towards the stretcher-bearers they crawl towards you And this is what they call ‘Flanders’? Tourists will come / will look / but not under / not under the oak Easy to miss him Easy to miss Easy to miss at the falling of an age when that age is falling

* No god-voice demands I give account, even so: Write, what shall I write? Once in these woods….: Pan’s flute / a gathering / verse and painter The present shocked us from the pastoral / Flanders to Wales / my past taken / impious nature of the present / in which…. Some laughing trickster playing with the trinkets of history that we are / have become / but not forever must be Yet as if that’s what we were Yet rightful, rightfully “not to condemn the unfamiliar” As if from rat’s-hole, bunker, fear, a newness might…… Textures and contours / colours / shade / degrees of light / that these wounds might teach me those glorious wounds The amulet worn against a bullet carved from a bullet / that a saint’s ivory might… He did not have the luxury of dwelling on any such contradiction Easy to miss him in the rat-hole dark Darkness gathers against the lord / he sleeps “we did not sleep drinking tepid tea” / waiting for judgements and condemnations A cock crowing / Who amongst us has denied? / who has not? Easy to miss him in the dark

* Sleepers in barrows with their faces to the moon Under turmoil but sleeping as the old gods slept Their bones numbered for healing The dark bones glistening against the white of their bodies (There was no other beauty in the world) To endure Beyond silence beyond pain beyond forgetting Remembering hills, remembering landscapes The poetry of those in their barrows facing the moon (As we have done, as we are doing) For you can still hear the silence of it (Though we do not mention its name) Silence of no-man’s land, the rat’s inheritance Against which neither amulet nor ivory…. While rats gnawed the bones and meat of the living But now you ask for ‘poetry’ As if Swinbourn was still writing sensible verse As if the Poet Laureateship was up for grabs As if the damned thing mattered or was worth a damn! A world separated from the world But don’t jump at me with a quick reply Or an easily cited citations about “the poetry being the pity”. You weren’t there. You haven’t earned the right. Only the truly living can speak about the dead.

* Even the oak trembled One by one the trees mourned the somewhat-living kind Who leant against them for support in dying The wood was no longer a wood by any recognisable name Nor were the ‘living’ recognisable to their kindred Nor was there any kindness in the world which the world had become There was neither time nor energy nor inclination for an elegy What was seen in the sky is now doubted but it was seen Masculine weapons were in full arrogance over the earth The oak trembled, shuddered in horror and so would we had we the time as we shuffled towards what had now become ‘The Front’ Praying we would not be forgotten in the dark * He sleeps Land and memory are at ease where nothing has been forgotten. Yet it is asked: who is he in his slumber? The splendid oak. The Ieper battlements. I have seen both Where wounds drained into the earth –yet still it is asked: Who is he in his slumber? Have his wounds been reconciled with time? Yet such questions cannot, do not, overshadow the radiance With which he overshadows the land with splendid greens Of grass and ivy and shrubs Upon which I came to the verses of the world Praying we would not be forgotten in the dark.

Biography Martin Burke is an Irish poet-playwright living in Belgium. Apart from publishing Books in Ireland, Belgium, UK, & USA – he also has had plays produced in the USA & Belgium. Two books are due soon from American Publishers:A = O = A (Foothills Publishing) Wetteren Lyrics (World Audience Press) His work has appeared in magazines worldwide.

The Red Ceilings Press

MMX [rcp 13]


by Martin Burke