Wild Court

An international poetry journal based in the English Department of King’s College London

Two poems by Daragh Byrne

    Back to Life

The pub was closed for Christ’s yearly dying.
Good Friday — regulars filed in, prisoners
who felt they were better off inside,
claimed aptitudes for carpentry or wiring
given the lie as the hours ticked on.

All morning, hammers banging —
lads nailing floorboards or knocking walls;
spectres of dust rising — the ash of a year’s cigarettes
threshed from seatbacks, pelts, eaves.
Everything lifted and sponged:
mirrors wiped with vinegar, strata of nicotine
scrubbed from ceilings with sugar-soap
(conversations trapped in those amber layers forever erased);
carpets steam-cleaned or ripped out and replaced.

I roved, hip-height to the throng, shooed
when too curious, scanning the floors for lost coins,
observing workers become drinkers
as teatime approached, watching them scull
black and amber pints that never seemed
to slake their thirst.

And Dad calling time before the night
went on too long — how they cried out
as his firm hand ushered them out the back door
to tend to their incarnations.

They would show themselves again
before three days had passed.

    The Green World

When the pub was quiet,
you’d feel their glass eyes upon you —
fulvous orbs, glinting from animal heads:
a pair of lions, pelts still attached;
a buffalo mounted on a plaque; even a crocodile
(teeth you could carve into chess pieces) —
they glared at you from the walls
like you’d broken a promise.

It’s a wonder the place never ignited:
log-cabin walls; oak-stump stools;
iron carcasses of Singer treadles
topped with inch-thick plywood;
an Axminster pyre never sparked
by stubbed Woodbines or embers
straying from the hearth.

On a barrel in the centre of the floor,
a garden-in-a-bottle, its glass dome
shielding a leaf and clay cosmos
raining daily on itself,
self-sustaining, approaching immortal.
You’d hear Dad mumbling when he polished it —
this thing will outlive me.

One night Ned Dolan put his fist through it.
Barred for life. Still has the knuckle scars.
He flashed them at me last time I was home.

Now I keep one myself, on the kitchen counter —
something for the cat to ignore.
I give it a shine every fortnight.
When I peer into its gleam,
I see the whole green world
staring out.