International Poetry Circle of the Air
August 20, 2005 Saturday 3PM CT
This hour, Jean Feraca hosts Here on Earth's Fall International Poetry Circle of the Air with Molly Peacock and Irish poet Dennis O'Driscoll celebrating the poetry of work.
Molly Peacock will be performing her one-woman poetry show, "The Shimmering Verge," in Washington D.C. at the National Museum for Women in the Arts on Oct. 29.
- Molly Peacock, poet and author of five books of poetry, including "Cornucopia: New & Selected Poems"
- Dennis O'Driscoll, Irish poet, former editor of Poetry Ireland Review
Dennis O'Driscoll's Poems
We are marching for work:
people fresh from dream bedrooms,
people whose flesh begins to slip
like old linoleum loosening on a floor,
people with head colds and lovebites,
girls startlingly immaculate,
pores probed with cleanser,
showered hair still wet;
people subordinating their tastes and talents
to the demands of office,
the uniform grind of files.
We forego identity and drive
for the security of such places,
a foyer guard by the spotlit tapestry;
soft furnishings; a constant heat;
gossip with the copier's undulations;
crushes on new recruits; booze?ups
after back?pay from disputes . . .
We are wasting our lives
earning a living, underwriting new life,
grateful at a time of unemployment
to have jobs, hating what we do.
Work is the nightmare from which we yearn to wake,
the slow hours between tea?breaks
vetting claims, scrutinising invoices.
We are the people at the other end
of telephone extensions when you ring,
the ones who put a good face on the firm,
responding to enquiries, parrying complaints,
the ones without the luck to have inherited
long?laned retreats, fixed?income bonds,
who yield to lunchtime temptations,
buy clothes and gadgets, keep retail spending high.
We age in the mirrors of office lavatories,
watch seeds of rain broadcast their flecks
along the screen of tinted glass, a pane
that stands between us and the freedom
which we struggle towards
and will resign ourselves to
when the clock comes round.
The Bottom Line
I am a trustworthy, well-adjusted citizen
at this stage, capable of a commanding
pungency in business talk, good grasp
of office jargon, the skill to rest
phones on my shoulders as I keep tabs,
the ability to clinch a deal convincingly . . .
I recognise a counterpart when our paths
cross in sandwich bar or jazz shop and we nod
to each other with a telling smile, maybe
recall negotiations where we held opposing lines,
all discreet charm now, agendas agreed.
A life of small disappointments, hardly meriting
asperity or rage, an e-mail cc-ed
to the wrong address, an engagement
missed, a client presentation failing
to persuade: nothing you can't sweat off
at gym or squash. But, in the dark filling
of the night, doubts gather with the rain
which, spreading as predicted from the west,
now leaves its mark on fuscous window panes;
and you wait for apprehensions to dissolve
in the first glimmer of curtain light.
How did I get this far, become
this worldly-wise, letting off steam
to suppliers, sure of my own ground?
What did my dribbling, toddling stage
prepare me for? What was picked up
from rag books, sticks of coloured chalk,
cute bears, during those gap-toothed years?
So embarrassing the idiocies of my past,
seen from the vantage of tooled-leather
and buffed teak, hands-on management
techniques, line logistics, voice mail.
At the visitors' car park, the belts
of our trench coats flap with the wind;
we huddle in a confidential group
hoping to have pressed home the point,
a hollow Coke can tinkling on the street.
Then, despite this meeting of minds,
for one long second we run out of things
to say, permit thoughts chill as downturns
to stray into our heads until we contrive
the next move, check watch or schedule,
arrange matters arising, part on a jocose note.
You could do it in your sleep, the dawn
trek through another empty terminal,
vinyl undergoing a mechanical shine,
gift shops shut - cigars, frilled silk
behind steel grilles - bales of early
papers bursting to blurt out their news . . .
Fanning stale air with your boarding pass,
if you look up from your business-class recliner
during the safety drill, it will be only to
eyeball the stewardess; you itch
to switch your laptop on, rejig the unit price.
Sensor lights tested, alarm code set,
I burrow into the bigh-tog, duckdown duvet;
the number-crunching radio-clock squanders
digital minutes like there was no tomorrow.
Who will remember my achievements when
age censors me from headed notepaper?
Sometimes, if I try to pray, it is with
dead colleagues that I find myself communing . . .
At the end of the day, for my successors too,
what will cost sleep are market forces,
vagaries of share price, p/e ratio, the bottom line.
Life is too short to sleep through.
Stay up late, wait until the sea of traffic ebbs,
until noise has drained from the world
like blood from the cheeks of the full moon.
Everyone else around you has succumbed:
they lie like tranquillised pets on a vet's table;
they languish on hospital trolleys and friends' couches,
on iron beds in hostels for the homeless,
under feather duvets at tourist B & Bs.
The radio, devoid of listeners to confide in,
turns repetitious. You are your own voice-over.
You are alone in the bone-weary tower
of your bleary-eyed, blinking lighthouse,
watching the spillage of tide on the shingle inlet.
You are the single-minded one who hears
time shaking from the clock's fingertips
like drops, who watches its hands
chop years into diced seconds,
who knows that when the church bell
tolls at 2 or 3 it tolls unmistakably for you.
You are the sole hand on deck when
temperatures plummet and the hull
of an iceberg is jostling for prominence.
Your confidential number is the life-line
where the sedated long-distance voices
of despair hold out muzzily for an answer.
You are the emergency services' driver
ready to dive into action at the first
warning signs of birth or death.
You spot the crack in night's façade
even before the red-eyed businessman
on look-out from his transatlantic seat.
You are the only reliable witness to when
the light is separated from the darkness,
who has learned to see the dark in its true
colours, who has not squandered your life.
Soundbites and Music Used in the Program
- The Chieftains - "The Fiddling Ladies" - From the album Tears of Stone - RCA Records
- The Chieftains - "The Dusty Miller" - From the album Water From The Well - RCA Records
- Altan - "Dulaman" - From the album The Best of Altan - Green Linnet Records
- The Chieftains - "I Know My Love" - From the album Tears of Stone - RCA Records