Six Poems by David Butler



Returning after fifteen years
in a lean, cold season – the ground
numb from winter’s pummelling.
A year of uncertainties. Even
in this retreat the spring has stalled:
nothing in leaf, but the promise of leaves;
a skittish wind scattering light
over the bright slate of the lake.


The Manse does its bit to hold time,
as Art aspires: the Cluedo floorplan;
the stone-flagged hall and wooden hue
of the various Dutch interiors.
Chancing into the Music Room,
an open score on the harpsicordDebussy ‘Syrinx’ L.129 was published in ‘METAMORPHIC’ (Nessa O’Mahony & Paul Munden eds)
sets clefs and quavers prancing
like the prows of waiting gondolas.


What you hear, here, are silences:
the harp and piano, mute;
the volumes on antique shelves;
the corridors of oils;
the interrogative past
weighing on every floorboard.
What is it it asks of you,
of your half-a-lifetime?


Each tree declares its certainty:
the Scots pine, the copper beech.
The woods resound with woodwind
of liveried birds. In the bull-rushes
a glissade of landing ducks,
whilst a woodpigeon, dusk-toned,
erupts on a high parabola. What
do you do? What do you do?


Before the Storm

There is a moment, before the storm,
when the winds hold their breath;
the boughs stop moving; the cloud,
backlit, is photograph-still;
the lake’s meniscus reverent.

A moment in suspense.

An instant, when future imperfect
appears to hang in the balance;
when the dice have yet to fall,
the first fat drops to explode
in the dust-tormented earth.

Before the Storm won the Poetry Ireland / Trócaire Award, 2017


The Irish Sea

That morning, the tide kept on going out. By noon,
the corrugated floor stretched out past eyesight.
‘Come on,’ my father said, ‘let’s see how far we get!’ Our tracks
meandered miles across the sand before we turned.

All summer, parties arrive on foot from Anglesey.
Along the way, the enterprising set up stalls. Things lost
are found: storm-lanterns; lobster-pots; lorgnettes;
cavernous hulks; the U-boat a squid engulfed.

Migrant seabirds coast in ghostly shoals. A distraught moon
plates all, as though searching for something mislaid.
No-one would be surprised to read dead mariners walked.

We’ve begun to forget the sea has ever been here –
until the rumours: low thunder over the horizon; a salty breeze;
the tracks of vendors decamping; a deepening unease.

The Irish Sea was published as ‘The Empty Sound’ in The Irish Times on Sat 5th Jan., 2019


Debussy ‘Syrinx’ L.129

Music begins in panic.
The phallic chase of a god
goat-legged and mortal;
the lust-right, the thrust
and swell of the bestial.
Out of such chaos, flight;

startled flight of the chaste
into osiers to evade
the hot pursuit. No beauty
here barked over, no
passion dwindled to echo,
but into woodwind;

a score of windblown starlings
roused by a flautist’s
breathing over reeds
to fly the rigid staves:
a murmuration;
a rough god chastened.

Debussy ‘Syrinx’ L.129 was published in ‘METAMORPHIC’ (Nessa O’Mahony & Paul Munden eds)


Hard Shoulder

What hits at once is the harshness –
the hazardous Doppler of haste
racing asphalt, your silence
pounded at each passage,
buffeted, side-lined,
all at sea while life
dashes, dashes.



What place is this?
What strange puppets, these,
strung up in silent alcoves?
So small, so incorporeal. Vanities?
Mementi mori? Death’s heads atop
stick-bones, dressed up, displayed –
the children, frilled and fluted,
the rope and habit of capuchins,
the well-to-do’s mouldy trappings.
What is it they would tell us, if
their clamour filled the vaults, these
parchment skulls, these fallen jaws,
this awful famine of sockets?
And could we listen?


David Butler’s second poetry collection All the Barbaric Glass was published by Doire Press in 2017. A poetry commission Blackrock Sequence, illustrated by his brother Jim, was winner of the World Illustrator’s Award, 2018. His third novel, City of Dis (New Island) was short-listed for the Irish Novel of the Year, 2015.

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