I was a programmer at the School of Physics:
aspirational work that held my interest for half
a decade. Campus was seventies breezeblock
brutal — less elegant than field theories, or other
calculable mysteries. A man upstairs hypothesised
God, or his particle, years back; scores of others since
constructed transcontinental instruments in pursuit
of Him. I herded terabytes, which were new then —
the digital wake of simulations that predicted
the path of hadrons smashing under Switzerland,
igniting cascades of bytes, fanning innumerable
data points out over Europe for transubstantiation
by statistical hieromonks. One day they would trace
incantations that declared — look: this is the stuff
of the universe — rejoice! At lunch, profane
in the cold stone of Scottish winters, I’d scald my palette
on hot chips. Between tales of his bathhouse exploits,
a colleague questioned my orientation in a way that I
had not. Another — headcocked, voice an algebraic
reduction — bedevilled himself with intractable logic.
I was married then, and had tight confidence intervals
concerning the future but hadn’t run the numbers properly.
First published in Crossways Literary Magazine, 2021.
Last Time Ghazal
All those forgotten finales. I can’t remember when I rode
a skateboard, say, or rolled a cigarette for the last time;
paddled a kayak; fortified a treehouse. Or signed a binding
contract: I blank on the detail of childhood pastimes
and adult obligations alike. A podcast said that I should pour
my coffee/butter my toast/wipe my arse as if it were the last time
I ever would, and I agree, but I don’t think that I’d remember
any better. Some things stay, though. Like the last time
I saw you, months after we separated — standing at pedestrian lights,
eyes at a side angle. I couldn’t read your face. You glanced past mine,
and my body quickened, moulding to its shape near the end —
steel jaw, full clench, belly-fire gone cold, long past time
to leave — but I did, or you did, and when that yo-yo string snapped,
I spent a long year inside myself, contemplating lost time,
until, by and by, I took root to rise, like the oak that I’m
named for, ready to live again as though it were the last time.
Highly Commended in the Winchester Poetry Prize 2021. Published in the competition anthology.
Uber Ride at Christmas
Every backseat transit is a ritual — a baptism,
a confirmation; in the worst case, last rites. At first,
I think Giorgos is sermonising — antic language,
prattling hands, eyes rear-viewed to mine.
He opens with the virus: all these cases —
only the old ones die, eighty, ninety, what does it matter.
I tune out as quick as if he were a priest,
but when he tells me how his wife,
who loved, fed, and blessed him
for thirty-seven unremarkable years,
died in front of him at the dinner table one evening
eight months ago, I realise this is a confession.
Who am I to close the grille on such an act of faith?
I listen to his litany of care, dazzling in its ordinariness,
its everyday magnificence, and my eyes fill with his tears.
I pray for his release. Outside, Christmas revellers
shine in late-December sun; a well-known face
sells the Big Issue at the same old pitch. Departing,
Giorgos urges care — wear your mask, stay healthy.
I touch him on the shoulder. An absolution.
Shortlisted in the Trim Poetry Prize 2021.
As It Is In Heaven
As it is in heaven, so below.
Round ripples gather, narrow, by the edge
of this enchanted lake. The shapeless snow
and winter light paint blackbirds in the hedge,
and from the church hall, surging choral runs
threaten to give up that which I seek.
A fist of solitude glints in the sun.
I loiter at the doorway, reserved and meek.
To tread within seems a transforming act —
a gathered choir flames like a thousand suns;
a soloist, unbacked, yields a thin tone.
It’s time to bind myself to love’s contract:
to warm my hands, accept myself as one
of earth’s own children, and not to be alone.
Winner of the Rafferty’s Return Arts Festival Poetry Competition 2021.
“How good it is to love live things”
– Ada Limon
When I was eight, I asked my uncle
if the blood sucked from a cut thumb
would end up back in my veins.
A child’s question: yes or no
is a good enough answer, until the next one.
I wanted to learn about creatures
and their dying — does a swallow have a soul?
Would I see my dead German Shepherd in heaven?
His face told me the limit of all knowledge,
but I couldn’t read it yet.
Daragh Byrne is an Irish poet living on Gadigal land (Sydney). He has published in The Honest Ulsterman, The Blue Nib, Crossways Literary Magazine, The Canberra Times and Westerly, amongst others. In 2021, he was runner up in the Allingham Poetry Prize, was awarded Highly Commended in the Winchester Poetry Prize and won 1st prize in the inaugural Rafferty’s Return Arts Festival poetry competition. His chapbook And What of Love? was Highly Commended in the Fool for Poetry International Chapbook competition. He is the convener of the Sydney Poetry Lounge, a long-running open mic night.