At the Limit, Poetry by Julian Beach

Genre: Society, Life

At the Limit
by Julian Beach


We went north and west, remember?
winding from Irish Sea to fretting Atlantic
calling at the favoured places; Tara of Kings
yellow-flagged, wind-ruffled Ramore and Erne
the Calf House at Blacklion, tinted with old moss.

Were you moved?
Did your soul stir?
Or were you obdurate
Lia Fáil to a false claimant?


Leaving the gulls to their dive-bombing
of the returning lobstermen at Killybegs
we topped the rise to Lurganboy
and below, the widening Owenea winked
reflected westering beams, pink with salmon
driving against the current to spawn.
Moving Hearts was on the stereo
and even the ineffable sorcery
of Spillane’s mournful low whistle
could not quicken you.

We wandered Tramore’s glistening sands.
You, under way, steamed ahead in review order
dressed overall, stem to stern, single-handed
leaving steaming new glass in your wake.
I stopped, dug for razor clams, called you to help
but a fling of dunlin snatched my words
carried them inland riding the westerly gust.

We saw great rollers, mere echoes
ripples from a more terrible tempest
smash spume fountains, then expire
spent, on the black teeth of Dawros.

Chameleon light, brushwork by scudding clouds
painted the Precambrian vastness of Slieve Tooey
as we put to sea, spluttering out of Rosbeg.
We hooked mackerel and pollock
to grill on fragrant turf and stones
dripping salted butter and capers
getting lashed on honeyed Powers
among the hardy grasses in the dunes
and later we walked the clear, sequinned night
through Drumboghill’s skeleton cottages.

We rowed the lake to the stone ring
at Doon, clan harbour of men of iron
followed the sheep track to Kilclooney Dolmen
sheltered from a sudden inbound squall
with a polythene-caped shepherd and his collie
hunched, foetal, behind the dry stone wall
that zig-zagged among the tussocks to Kiltoorish.
He smiled a greeting, called it ‘a fine dry mist’
even you cracked a smile at that.
The rain passed as soon as your laughter.

Thirsty, we supped in the back bar at Nancy’s
smacked our lips on the black and cream
ate our fill of oysters and soda bread
and storytellers told, singers sang
fiddlers fiddled and the room reeled
and jigged and thrilled but
The bodhrán’s rhythm left you frozen.

Oh you, I showed you all of it
took a scalpel to my heart
with a surgeon’s precision.

You; exquisite, downy cheeks
white with just a hint of blush
distant, serene daughter of Lir
seemed delicate as Limoges, I recall
but not brittle, no, not brittle
implacable like pack ice.

And you couldn’t wait to get back to Muswell Hill.

I’ll repeat that; Muswell Hill.

Thus I knew I’d lost you. No. Wait. You lost me
somewhere between Belleek and Ballyshannon.


And no, I never wonder where you are
or if anyone ever did unlock the life
the latent passion in that atrophied muscle
lurking somewhere in the cavern of your thorax.

    * * * * *

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