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Matthew Sweeney in Southword Journal

Born in Donegal in 1952, based in Cork currently, having previously been resident in Berlin, Timişoara and, for a long time, London. Latest publication, a retrospective selection, The Night Post ( 2010). Several books prior to that, including Black Moon, (2007), Sanctuary (2004) and Selected Poems (2002). Bilingual poetry selections appeared in Germany and Holland in 2008. A new collection, Horse Music, is forthcoming in early 2013, and before that, in late 2012, a satirical novel, jointly written with John Hartley Williams, Death Comes for the Poets, will come out in both printed and e-book formats.


Photo ©John Minihan





The Day I Met the Merman

Yellow Golf Ball on the Lawn






The Day I Met the Merman



I was on Tory Island. I’d gone there

at the invitation of the King, who wanted

to paint me lolling in a wreck

with blue seaweed in my hair.

So I arrived, seasick, to be marched

to the far end of the island, beyond

the lighthouse, and down to the rocks

where a juicy wreck waited, still

displaying splotches of its erstwhile

blue. And asleep in there we found

the merman! I can tell you, the King

was fit for tying, till I pointed out

what a fine subject for a portrait

the merman would be. I don’t do

portraits, he snapped, only seascapes!

‘This fellow is a denizen of the sea’

was my reply. And indeed, he looked

like a huge blue salmon with blond hair.

I hopped in beside him, waking him,

wondering why the King wished to

paint me, as I was hardly a seascape.

The merman appraised us both,

wagging his tail. He cleared his throat

and sounds flew out of his mouth

I’d never heard before, yet I knew

what he was saying – he was advising me

to swap my feet and legs for a tail

just like his, as one day I would drown.

Then he slithered into the water and

swam away.The king threw the seaweed

wig at me and bade me put it on.

He took out his paints and brush, but

before he began, he handed me a hipflask

of brandy. After thon scaly blue fellow,

I think we deserve a good slug, he said.

And his painting hangs in the island hotel.







Yellow Golf Ball on the Lawn



Every time I come in the gate, I see it

lurking in the grass, beside the bio bin.

And I ask myself how it got here. We

are so far from any golf course, that no

golfer, however long-hitting, could loft

a ball that far. Could a dog have brought it?

I’ve never seen a dog invader, only

cats, and they wouldn’t touch a golf ball.

Crows’ beaks don’t open wide enough,

nor even seagulls’. No, it has to be human—

but who? My neighbours are not golfers.

I know because I was one myself,

a long time ago, elsewhere, but still—

we walk in a certain way, hesitate

before making moves, take our bearings

from the sun, test the wind. Could it be

that I might have brought that ball here?


I lost many a golf ball when younger,

and once or twice they were yellow.

Not often, but I did try them sometimes.

And I remember the mysterious vanishing

of a yellow ball, when I was in danger

of winning a competition. We searched,

and searched, in vain. I had to add the

two penalty strokes, and lost, of course.

Could this be that ball—flown all the way

from Donegal to Cork, through four

decades, to lie there waiting for my shot?

But where is the flag and the green, and

more pertinently, where are my clubs?

What am I supposed to do—kick it?

Grab a gardening trowel and bury it?

Or should I pick the ball up tomorrow,

pocket it, and drop it in the River Lee?



©2012 Matthew Sweeney




Author Links


Sweeney at Salt Publishing

Sweeney at Bloodaxe Books

Bio and poems at Poetry International Web







©2009 Southword Editions
Munster Literature Centre

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