A sobering thought, the idea of you stretched there,
bittern, under a dark sky, your exposed bones
yellow too in a ditch among cold stones,
ice glittering everywhere on bog and river,
the whole unfortunate country frozen over
and your voice stilled by enforced sobriety —
a thought more wrenching than the fall of Troy
because more intimate; for we’d hear your shout
of delight from a pale patch of watery sunlight
out on the mud there as you took your first
drink of the day and now, destroyed by thirst,
you lie in brambles while the rats rotate.
I’d’ve broken the ice for you, given an inkling;
now, had I known it, we might both be drinking
and singing too; for ours is the same story.
Others have perished — heron, blackbird, thrushes —
and lie shivering like you under whin-bushes;
but I mourn only the bittern, withdrawn and solitary,
who used to carouse alone among the rushes
and sleep rough in the star-glimmering bog-drain.
It used to be, with characters like us,
they’d let us wander the roads in wind and rain
or lock us up and throw away the key —
but now they have a cure for these psychoses
as indeed they do for most social diseases
and, rich at last, we can forget our pain.
She says I’m done for if I drink again;
so now, relieved of dangerous stimuli,
as peace with my plastic bottle of H2O
and the slack strings of insouciance, I sit
with bronze Kavanagh on his canal-bank seat
not in ‘the tremendous silence of mid-July’
but the fast bright zing of a winter afternoon
dizzy with head-set, flash-bulb and digifone,
to learn the tao he once claimed as his own
and share with him the moor-hen and the swan,
the thoughtless lyric of a cloud in the sky
and the play of light and shadow on the slow
commemorative waters; relax, go with the flow.