I was sad to hear of the death last week of the poet P.J.Kavanagh. I met Patrick once briefly at a poetry gathering when he read out one of my poems. I was hoping to see him afterwards to tell him how much I liked many of his own poems, but he had disappeared outside to catch up with the cricket on the radio and I thought he wouldn’t thank me for interrupting a Test Match at a possibly critical moment just to witter about poetry. So in lieu of that missed opportunity here is one of his that I would surely have cited, a poem of grief and epiphany, disarming in its vulnerable sincerity.
Stalled, in the middle of a rented room,
The couple who own it quarrelling in the yard
Outside, about which shade of Snowcem
They should use. (From the bed I’d heard
Her say she liked me in my dressing-gown
And heard her husband’s grunt of irritation.
Some ladies like sad men who are alone.)
But I am stalled, and sad is not the word.
Go out I cannot, nor can I stay in.
Becalmed mid-carpet, breathless, on the road
To nowhere and the road has petered out.
This was twenty years ago, and bad as that.
I must have moved at last, for I knelt down,
Which I had not before, nor thought I should.
It would not be exact to say I prayed;
What for? The one I wanted there was dead.
All I could do was kneel and so I did.
At once I entered dark so vast and warm
I wondered it could fit inside the room
When I looked round. The road I had to walk down
Was still there. From that moment it was mean
Beyond my strength to doubt what I had seen:
A heat at the heart of dark, so plainly shown,
A bowl, of two cupped hands, in which a pain
That filled a room could be engulfed and drown
And yet, for truth is in the bowl, remain…
Today I thought it time to write this down
Beyond decoration, humble, in plain rhyme,
As clear as I could, and as truthful, which I have done.