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JIM MAGUIRE

 

 

 

Jim Maguire 

Jim Maguire studied music and English at University College Dublin. His poems have been widely published and have won several awards and prizes, most recently the Strokestown Poetry Prize. For many years he lived in Korea, the setting for his collection of short stories Quiet People. He works as an adult education tutor in Wexford.


 

 

 

Before Music

 

1.

Sometimes, as the pianist stepped onstage

you'd close your eyes and try to inhale

summer, kelp, animal breath

from hands. One thing would lead to the next

and soon you'd imagined you were the page

being smoothed before the first note was played,

that their knob-twiddling at the sides of the chair

was a message for you, a sly wave

prior to the momentous coming to rest

on thighs. You liked the ripple effect

of that stillnessthe umber hush

like a starting-gun for the blindman's buff

reach for the tingling, fit-to-burst keys.

But it wasn't just hands. It was the clemency

bestowed in the silent moments before

the music began that you longed for,

the rush of air as the bedraggled hawk

flew out from under your coat with its clawfuls

of sharp-edged verbs, leaving in their place

a flickering Schubertian sadness

for soothing youa kind of prelude

to solitude's quadruple fugue.

 

 

2.

And so to the language where language ends

or consolation in the Ignatian sense

of intimate converse with the divine:

the stranger who slipped-in beside you on the train

with the incense perfume and ascetic eyes

with whom you end-up living out a life

wordlessly, in the space of five stops,

marriage, children, the row where she drops

the bombshell. You've never measured up.

          You're a mannequin, a milksop

brought up to believe anger is a sin.

A life wasted spiritualizing,

sublimating the calls to action,

the sotto voce implorings of skin,

into Monteverdi, the stoical belief

you're cursed with a secret way of seeing.

Which was your way of not seeing

the bottle-pile in the garden or Schumann screaming                                        

in the asylum at the aliveness of the ordinary

          crack in a plate or masonry

your blindness itself a form of deafness

as though in the manic dissonances

of the Fantasie you heard only itches

for soothing and not the magnificent risks

of a mind shaking loose from outmoded forms.

You still hardly knew what music was for

just that it managed to slow the march

of aliens into your house after dark

or let you ignore the fear in the faces

of certain concert-goers, that pathos,

children exiled to a deserted shore.

If only they'd known the grief in store

for the dreamer cajoled into playing his part,

how a mind must follow its hidden path

or be mired forever in the rutted lanes

of Heiligenstadt where Beethoven raged

at a God who would dare to steal from him

the sense I possessed in the highest perfection.

 

 

3.

Heiligenstadt, Heiligenstadt

the rhythm of fate's knock-knocking, or a heart,

too overwrought for barlines and scales,

overloading fingers with a pulse that failed

to impress the kind, old-world polite

examiner who waved you goodbye

with a gaze so gentle and faraway

you knew your lives were interlaced.

As if he foresaw the Icarian fall

into the sunken medieval world

with the empty castle, the sky growing dark,

          the solitary bird in the window arch

a mood of such madrigal peacefulness

you almost missed the gallows stench

in the vault, the frenzy of pipes and tabors

weaving their spell on drinking days,

turning the creaky piano stool

to an anomaly, a soundless wound

from which magma spewed and gobbets

          bone, lobes, the finger-flesh

congealed on the coats of the lacquered antique

retrievers on the mantelpiece

your six-year-old self had come to believe

were rivals to your harmonies.

 

 

4.

Sing for the delinquent six-year-old

distracted in the night from kicking-in your doors

by a sudden unearthly clarion call

from the mountain swathed in fog;

who shouted stop as you commenced

the hundred-and-eight step descent

to the stone garden: a scheme of boulders

set in gravel, a crumbling pagoda.

Shapes whose pallor in the evening glow

          suggested an intimacy with ghosts

chain-smokers, all politeness

and frozen ire, a dawning sense

they'd never really been with things

except as motifs in a throbbing dream,

 creatures unable to mourn or rebel,

always too easily tricked out of themselves,

left with nothing but the dolomite heat

the nausea, the sleep-

less nights.  No-one to tell them

the weeping fits would end.

 

                  

5.

A dream of a spectre waiting

          outside a deserted country station

her shawled beauty half concealed

in the shade of the snow-piled canopy;

whose stare was fixed on the twilight moon

closing off the secret routes

that gave the scene its daytime sense

of tender interconnectedness:

the call-and-response between the rusty

siding, the hanging baskets, the ivy-

covered signal box thrumming

in sympathy with the overnight case

forgotten at her feet, which once she'd clenched

with so much love and doggedness…

all silenced now, left for dead, 

children waking in the oubliette

to the trickling pipe, footbeats overhead,

her ladyship's mad-scene on the balustrade…

and after the dinner party laughter,

a tantalizing snatch of Bartok

at sea in New York, war-weary, dying,

racked with homesickness for the wild

drumming of hooves on the Hungarian plains,

the herdsman at the campfire whose spartan gaze

he couldn't escape, a Rilkean searchlight

it was time to change his life.

 

 

6.

Waking, warm in the sunlight, sober,

you drank-in the view of the shimmering pagoda,

boulders filled with the blue of the sky,

a garden quickened into life

at the sudden return of the missing boy

who before he knows it has started to fall

in love again with the swing, the flowerbeds,

the play of sun on the window of the shed

where first he'd felt the pain of being

distracted by his own reflection.

So much is foreshadowed inside a shed.

The misty café-tabac where together

they waltzed for an eternity in the forest

of bentwood chairs but never touched,

the brown significance of  the church

pew air, her hands, her beaded purse;

fathers mending engines in the burlap

turned by time to the parents you had

before thoughts or words the ancient monk

half-man half-stone who'd sat so long

his hair and beard had grown together.

Even in thunderstorms you'd never

seen him move, except for that once

to snap you out of your drowsiness

he rapped you on the shoulder, asked you to stop

making a mountain out of the burdock

fields in the sunlit valley below

children playing in the afterglow

of the wedding party whose music still

echoed from the woods on the crest of the hill,

the deserted organist, left

to shake-off his sadness in the choir loft,

sinking his fingers deep through the sun

stained keys, drupe smooth, juice running down.

 

 

©2012 Jim Maguire

 

 

Author Links

 

O'Donoghue Competition commended poem by Jim Maguire in Southword

'Duparc: A Programme Note': Strokestown-winning poem by Maguire (2012)

'Music Field': Maguire poem in The Works

Maguire reviews Geraldine Mitchell in Eyewear

 

 

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