Noel Duffy: Four Poems

Biographical Note              Contemporary Irish Poetry Index

The Department of Dead Letters
The Botanical Gardens
Darkroom Notes
The Island

P .

The Department of Dead Letters

There is a man among us who knows secrets.
He gets up when night comes, looks
at the outline of the woman’s body, a question mark
against the sheets as he dresses quickly
and leaves her there asleep. He is already late,
but then everything is his life is late, or lost
as he retrieves his car from the apartment carpark
to make his nightshift at the sorting depot.
There it is his duty to piece together the clues
and runes of misspelt addresses, the half-remembered
names, the scrawling handwriting, undecipherable;
the lost love letters or wedding invitations
written to those long since parted or departed –
to try, at least, to find a place to return them to,
so the one who sent them may know they went
undelivered, touched only by his hands.
This work his solitary calling as he inspects
the items from the tray, delicately lifting one
from the pile as he applies steam to the yellowed
parchment, his hand a soft caress to ease it open
to find there a cursive script but no return address,
the loss so carefully expressed, now his and his only.

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P .

The Botanical Gardens

You lean down close to the blossom, inhale deeply;
the stem straight, the perfect contours of the stamen,
the tight, precise folds of containing petals. There is
a sadness in the opulent grace of such things whose
season is passing. The August sunshine suddenly
darkens, the cloud thickening to rain. I take your hand
as we run to take cover, passing beneath the creepers
that climb the arching ironwork trellis of the entrance
to the rose garden. You pull tight your yellow overcoat
and we hurriedly make our way towards the shelter
of the vaulting glass of the Victorian palm house,
the slam of humid heat that meets us as we enter,
the intense odour of sweat reminding us of ourselves.
You shake away the rain and laugh as an old couple
walk past slowly, holding hands, carrying each other along,
like the century flower that blooms only once in its lifetime,
but endures so many seasons to continue so.

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P .

Darkroom Notes

The print lies in the tray, the image of the hotel
emerging in the red sundown of the darkroom,
the filigree of the ironwork window boxes painted over
in the double-exposure of memory’s flashbulb
and the rust of time passing. What stories lie behind
these boarded-up windows overlooking the promenade,
the sea still washing up against the harbour wall,
yet forgetful of everything: the women in their
tightened corsets and flounce of tresses, attended upon;
the men in their bowler hats and spotted neckties;
the reliquary of old, faded postcards of the silver-nitrate
past as the ghosts of maids continue to walk the corridors
ascending and descending staircases that lead nowhere
in the stopped watch of someone else’s afterlife.
And the figure of a man caught in the scene, standing
beneath the spotlight of a street lamp, staring back at me.

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P .

The Island

We approach the jetty by a narrow path
the boat shifting with the lake’s waters.
I hold your hand as you step
from the wooden platform in half-shadow
to the rocking seat, the cradling bow
measuring your weight as it tilts slightly
beneath you, the water lapping against the hull.
I climb onto the seat behind you, push
the oars down deep into the surface,
the lake receiving my giving force
and we push outward from the bank into
obsidian waters. A crescent moon rises
above the distant treetops of the island,
your shrill laughter echoing in the stillness
the stars plotting our course through darkness
into the night’s forbidden navigations.

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‘Reykjavik’ – a video-poem by Noel Duffy