It's a lifetime ago. I mean I wrote this poem a lifetime ago. My student-life in Galway, well that's two lifetimes ago. But this poem does catch my Galway.
Do I still have a soft spot for that city: no, I don't think so. Happiest memories so rooted in their time and place, that the place can never live up to them. Best to leave those locations shimmering as they do in your head.
At half past five we cracked dawn on the Salmon Weir,
swished the rose-coloured sky around our eyes,
clinked our voices.
Then on down College Road like circus folk,
past Johnny Ward's, past the university
where the crows were blowing the ears off the trees,
past the Regional and Kelehan's
and on out to Salthill to shine out loud with the ocean.
I remember Galway's soft drizzle,
each droplet carrying an atom of perfume
from the Glenard garden hedges.
My night-time walks in that lazy spray:
onto Threadneedle Road, down to the prom,
out onto the diving board at Blackrock.
Then the palm of mist along my cheek;
the tide repeating
easy, easssssy, easssssssy.
Each evening the flotilla of swans returns to the Claddagh;
they are, through half-closed eyes,
a thousand yachts drifting by like ghosts.
On the far wall a trawler slumps;
sometimes children run to it but it disappoints them.
Here is the colour of Galway,
that falls from the clouds that mop the spires,
that rises again in the Burren hills across the bay.
The boats went on the river in May.
Nothing was more beautiful than the wooden thud
of the oars, than the glare into the eyes,
the voices over the water, that slow slow progress
and the gurgling beneath the boat.
And sometimes into the reeds,
where sunlight fell as though a Japanese screen,
its spectrum on the water disturbed
by a thousand dark lines like flamingoes' legs.
That first year my eyes were studded with splinters
of sunlight, my ears flooded with the ripples' laughter.
It was cosy in the Cellar:
the fire, the bodies, the sunshine that we snared
in our pints of lager,
Gerry Mulholland licking out tunes on the piano,
the whiff of Balkan Sobranie.
All day long heads were coming round the door,
hippies with jester-clothed kids,
long-haired musicians with slaked tongues,
mothers battering through with buggies and shopping.
Sometimes Andy, shambling behind the bar,
undoubled long enough to vent a curse-like greeting,
if he saw you, if he remembered you, if he had no choice.
Then closing time: the wind invited in the opened door
and that god-awful glass scraping down the window-pane.
In Winter the rain made sizzling sounds on Shop Street,
rivulets of shop-lighting rushed along the gutters
with yachting cartons that collected in the grates;
slate-coloured people ran doorway to doorway and
bus queues stood limp and dripping like clothes on a line.
Each footfall splashed a halo of water, soaking shoes;
collars were pinned closed with fingers;
but I remember that the rain made cables of your hair
and they ran currents down your back.
Out Newcastle Road, down Saint Mary's,
past the Claddagh Palace, the Cottage, the Warwick;
and Salthill still asleep with that blank look
on its doors as though drink had not yet been discovered.
Then down onto the strand where the swish of the sea
filled our ears like shells, where we wrote our names,
where the sun found us and shaded in
that group of shadows it never found again.
There was a house on Nun's Island we fancied
where the water ran almost to the door.
Sometimes we would walk around that way
just to see it, just to say our house is looking well.
I never mention it to anyone;
I’ve passed it and passed without looking;
that moment invisible to everyone but us.
And I don’t see you. I wonder how you are.
The poem in Sunfire had a stanza edited out that I quite like, it was this:
Do you remember, Martin, that Sunday in May,
you and I were on the river about twelve,
a beautiful Summer morning
and we heard the music of flageolets?
So we stopped and looked, but there was no one.
Fifty yards away the Menlo road ran behind a grassy bank
and a low stone wall. The music kept rising
but there was only ourselves on the water.
A band was playing marches right beside us;
the river was still, there was a rock near the boat
with a smooth round back,
And then above the wall a child's head appeared,
then two, then four, and maybe fifty more,
only to disappear as soon, dragging their tail of music