Poetry: Athlone

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We followed the footsteps

Down to the Old Red Gates,

Where Frost perched upon

The fading paint first laid down

By men known only through

Wall-mounted moments.


Before us sat the endless fields,

Which now held only earth;

The verge where Ossian fell

Bore our sole crop of

Bared boards and nails.


Some nights I watched,

Feigning sleep, as you

Rose softly from the bed

And eased the door ajar,

Stealing into the dark

As if seeking escape.


To the window I’d come,

To see only a familiar cross

And a hooded figure upon the hill,

Betrayed by clear skies

And a waxing moon.


We’d awake the next morning

To find the verge cleared of snow.

‘Ossian’s been up and in the fields’

The children would cry as I

Shook my head and held them close

While you stood by silent.


We came at last to the northern field,

Where the children once played

Upon the crumbling stone wall

And amongst the ancient oaks

That caged the pasture.


There you stood, chest bare

And blistered feet unshod –

A pale spectre of the past –

Spade gripped and thrust

Into the unyielding earth

Like Demeter’s champion.


We stood and watched,

Eyes held dry by the cold

And the children uphill,

As you sought to best

Nature by brute force alone.


But each quart of sweat

Bought you but an inch

Of that cursed, barren dirt,

And with each desperate thrust

Your figure seemed to dwindle,

Made more of bone than flesh.


When finally you fell, weeping

Upon the bloodied handle,

Palms splintered and eyes utterly

Emptied, we rushed and held you

And you hid your face among us.


The ragged hole remained,

‘A testament to your failure,’

Held by the Frost as a trophy of war,

More suited to the planting of Man

Than Seed; the shallow grave

A card laid upon a gypsy’s table.


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