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Spring 2000

The Real Names

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for Brian Friel
Enter Owen Kelly, loping and gowling,
His underlip and lower jaw ill-set,
A mad turn in his eye, his shot-putter’s
Neck and shoulders still a schoolboy’s.
The hard sticks
He dumped down at the opening of the scene
Raised a stour off the boards, his turnip fists
Swung low out of his ripped tarpaulin smock.
I won’t forget his Sperrins Caliban,
His bag-aproned, potato-gatherer’s Shakespeare.
And I with my long nails will dig thee pig-nuts.

*

Who played Miranda?
Some junior-final dayboy.
Flaxen, credible, incredible
In a braided wig and costume, speaking high,
He was a she angelic in the light
We couldn’t take our eyes off.
House lights down,
Liam McLelland enters, Ferdinand
Sleepwalking to the music, spied upon
By Gerry O’Neill cloaked up as Prospero.
“A voice like an organ, so he has, that boy,”
Gallagher (who directed) soliloquized
To the class next day.
The previous year
Gerry had been Macbeth, green football socks
Cross-gartered to his Thane of Cawdor knees.
And Anthony Murray, with the hiccups, played
The porter in an ignorant Scotch accent.

*

The smell of the new book. The peep ahead
At words not quite beyond you. At which time
A CARRIER, with a lantern in his hand
Entered the small hours, speaking low-life prose,
And a light that sparked when I read that Charles’s Wain
Was over the new chimney has never stopped
Arriving ever since.
Pinhead words
In the thick sable of the universe.
Single line to sing along the lifeline.
Sometimes it was as if a chink had opened

Upon a scene foreseen and enterable—
Like the perpetual that shone in sparks going up
From McNicholl’s chimney:
I was crossing the yard
When I saw them that one time,
Babe in the world, up to my eyes in it,
Up and about in the winter milkers’ darkness,
Hand held by one with a lantern in her hand.

*

Shakespeare’s father (or so John Aubrey says)
Was a butcher, and when Shakespeare was a boy
“He exercised his father’s trade, but when
He kill’d a Calfe, he would doe it in high style
& make a speech.”
Airiness from the start,
Me on top of the byre, seeing things
In a headier light from that much nearer heaven,
Managing to stand up unsupported
On the deck-tilt of hot zinc: I’m on a roof
That overlooks forever, with a pretend
Gully knife of my own in one raised hand,
Sawing air with the other
(Call it a stage
That everyone goes through ahead of time).

Cows snuffle at feed buckets in the byre,
The stall-chains clink.
Call it a home from home.

*

There is a willow grows askant a brook
But in the beginning it was sally tree.
Sallies in hedges and sallies on the bank
Of the Moyola River and black sallies
Like a line of daunted stragglers bogging down
In the sedge and glarry wetness of our meadow.
The one in the yard was tetter-barked and hollow,
Two-timing earth and air: corona top
Of flick-and-shimmer, sprout-and-tremble growth.
Land and sky assembled themselves round it.
In the protocol of soul, soul might have moved
Backwards away from it, as from a monarch,

Then turned to those princess-saplings by the river.
But they in their turn had stepped a word away
And willowed like Ophelias in Moyola.

*

“Frankie McMahon, you’re Bassanio.
Irwin, Launcelot Gobbo. Bredin, Portia.”
That was the cast, or some of it; the scene,
The right hand side of Gallagher’s low desk,
A nowhere where the three caskets were placed
By dumb-show. And off we went again. (And yes,
Of course, Irwin the fabulous
Who’d walked out of the gates on the first day
Was typecast as the runaway apprentice.
And Cassoni the Italian as Lorenzo).
But who was Jessica?
Unforgotten,
Out of this world, the start of Act Five, Scene One.
In such a night—continue, please, Cassoni!”
“—Stood Dido with a willow in her hand
Upon the wild sea banks
.”
In summer’s language.
In 1954. In the sun-thwarted
Glass and steel of those new showpiece classrooms.

*

Duncan’s horses, plastered in wet, surge up
Wild as the chestnut tree one terrible night
In Mossbawn, the aerial rod like a mast
Whiplashed in tempest, my mother rocking and oching
And blessing herself—
the breach in nature open
As the back of the raiders’ lorry hammering on
For the Monaghan border, blood loosed in a scrim
From the tailboard, the volunteer screaming O Jesus!
O merciful Jesus
.
Or was it the night
The Princess Victoria was lost, when the words sink
And gale-force and drowning broke from their stalls
And whinnied round window and chimney?
The newsreader’s
Voice abreast of the nightmare, striding the airwaves

*

Romantic England live and well. Twelfth Night
In open evening air in Regent’s Park.
Feste’s sad countertenor and hugged lute
Erotic as it got. In such a dark
McCoo, McAuley, Terrins, me, half tight

In the small hours fug of an Earls Court student flat…
In love with love. And scrumpy. And the bright
Glamour of that phosphorescent mark
They stamped on your hand in Cafe des Artistes.

*

Feste, for all the world like an “ESN”
From Class IG, those little gutsy suede-heads
I took for PT, Fridays, 2 to 3,
By the cemetery short-cut to Falls Park
And let go early. And then went myself…

Feste, with his ear to his instrument
And eye on nothing, like the deaf boy in 5A
With his bud-pale hearing aid and clean school tie
And panic when I swooped. “Sir, no! Please, sir!”

Feste, like catatonic Bobby Sproule
With his curled-in shoulders and cabbage-water eyes
Speechlessly rocking, a little tiny boy
Shut up inside him. And the doctor shouting,
“Bobby, for Christ’s sake, Bobby, catch yourself on.”
Me in attendance, watching sorrow’s elf
Bow his head and hunch and stay beyond us,
Like that moment at the end when “Exeunt
[All but FESTE]. FESTE (sings)
.”
But not Bobby sings.

*

Then say chameleon. And the boy-men reappear
Who’s whoing themselves like changelings.
So will it be
Ariel or the real name, the already
Featly sweetly tuneful Philip Coulter?
Or his brother Joe as Banquo, dressed in white,
Wise Joe, good Banquo, fairest of the prefects?
Aura and justice, soul in bliss or torment,
Ghost on cue at the banquet, entering
And entering memory like mitigation—
The table on stage a long, formica-topped
Table for fourteen, on loan from the refectory
Where we, in fourteens, moon-calves, know-nothings
Stood by our chairs and waited for the grace.




Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney was an Irish poet who won the Nobel Prize in 1995. He died in August of 2013.

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