Stung by coagulated water, we watched as umbrellas of jelly
free-floated and parachuted through the turquoise shallows,
they pulsed translucent like membranes of water in water,
a bloom of them, their benthic polyps free of the coral-hold,
and their stolons trailing beneath them like antennae
as they contracted and throbbed and found us out.
They swarmed where we swarmed, casting their nerve nets
and training their ocelli to where we swam,
clogging the waters with cysts and toxic barbs—
one kiss was enough to stun, so numbed and stung,
we fled the nettled waves, tip-toeing past beached jellies,
that lay bleached and baked like strewn placentas.
The vendors flog fish and fruit, no fowl here,
but they also hawk the city, the streets, the spire
and the spirit of the spire, and the streets, and the city,
and they barter the body of the late state too
in their bazaars that they butcher up
without ceremony and peddle off piecemeal,
lean cutlets of culture, the mean chops of dialect,
and the whole lilting rigmarole that voyeurs
lap up mistaking it for the genuine fare.
Fetishists purchase only themselves in all they crave—
it’s not what they take but who they bring
they want the most, packing and unpacking aporias,
prosopopoeias, synecdoches of self,
their selves as carry-on luggage, and baggage,
that they lug into Moore Street or drag across the bogs,
hoist in the fields and impale at the end of hooks
to fling over the pier wall in Bantry Bay—
even the catch-of-the-day is themselves.
But the vendors don’t just leave themselves behind,
none does, neither the cockeyed cockles nor the flaccid mussels,
not the tongues of steers garnished with parsley,
nor exotic fish limp-eyed on crushed or shredded ice,
not the stares from the dead eyes in the ram’s head,
nor the sleeping, slaughtered pig’s turned-up snout,
nor even mid this cacophony and ad hoc pageant
the parcelled shanks and quartered limbs
of tourists’ dreams all bloodied on the block.
Tangled netting unknots the bay—they follow
the threads to Sandymount and to Howth where seaweed
is strewn like emerald spaghetti across the couscous sand,
Martello Tower is their tabernacle to self—
it drinks and undrinks the snot-green sea,
they expect the stupid stones to know their Ulysses
or to recall the Cyclops, but too many tides have washed
between now and their shores, and all the choked years
are smoked into a noose of frayed hemp.
They are reclaiming silt and dredging up Dublin Harbour,
but the water-level is rising regardless, haranguing home
with the world beyond, giving our barnacles
a good old bollocking, reminding the neutral pebbles
that the prodigal tides are on the way—
an orange bobs on the surface of the murky water
and beside it a mackerel floats on its side,
refuse litters the beach, and yet the sea keeps recycling
and throwing up the detritus of our lost and atomized selves.
Pictured in sepia tones, his smile looks rusted
and foxed, now faded, now copper-hued.
A dullness discolours the vitriolic residue
round the eyes and limpid lips—
even absence is old in this cossetted study
signifying what time does to time.
The house behind him failed to hold back
the sea, so was dismantled brick by brick
and rebuilt further inland—now it too is gone,
and the inlet is gone, its tongue of sand lies
muffled on the sea bed, and all the roots
his people planted here ... they too are gone.
You can almost taste the strangled seaweed
in the acid of his glassy stare—
when the tides finally reclaimed his boyhood,
the bed where his dreams found atavisms
was stranded like flotsam on the baited beach—
his paradise was flooded completely off the map,
with memory’s moorings corroded and blurred,
hoarding vestiges like this forced smile
in this bitter-sweet portrait, bronze-tinted now,
a daguerreotype haunting its own presence,
as though something not quite human shimmered
through the blanched features and blotched the lines.
Poems Copyright © John Griffin 2022