Moy Sand and Gravel: Poemsby Muldoon
Paul Muldoon's ninth collection of poems, his first since Hay (1998), finds him working a rich vein that extends from the rivery, apple-heavy County Armagh of the 1950s, in which he was brought up, to suburban New Jersey, on the banks of a canal dug by Irish navvies, where he now lives. Grounded, glistening, as gritty as they are graceful, these poems seem capable of taking in almost anything, and anybody, be it a Tuareg glimpsed on the Irish border, Bessie Smith, Marilyn Monroe, Queen Elizabeth I, a hunted hare, William Tell, William Butler Yeats, Sitting Bull, Ted Hughes, an otter, a fox, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Joscelyne, un unearthed pit pony, a loaf of bread, an outhouse, a killdeer, Oscar Wilde, or a flock of redknots. At the heart of the book is an elegy for a miscarried child, and that elegiac tone predominates, particularly in the elegant remaking of Yeats's "A Prayer for My Daughter" with which the book concludes, where a welter of traffic signs and slogans, along with the spirits of admen, hardware storekeepers, flimflammers, fixers, and other forebears, are borne along by a hurricane-swollen canal, and private grief coincides with some of the gravest matter of our age.
“A marvellous book; nothing human, or inhuman, is alien to it.” Andrew Motion, The Independent Books of the Year
“Among the few significant poets of our half-century.” Tim Kendall, The Guardian
“Paul Muldoon is a shape-shifting Proteus to readers who try to pin him down...Those who interrogate Muldoon's poems find themselves changing shapes each time he does... authentically touched or delighted.” Richard Eder, The New York Times Book Review
“One of the English-Speaking world's most acclaimed poets still at the top of his slippery, virtuosic game.” Publishers Weekly
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MOY SAND AND GRAVEL
By PAUL MULDOON
FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUXCopyright © 2002 Paul Muldoon
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHARD DRIVE With my back to the wall and a foot in the door and my shoulder to the wheel I would drive through Seskinore. With an ear to the ground and my neck on the block I would tend to my wound in Belleek and Bellanaleck. With a toe in the water and a nose for trouble and an eye to the future I would drive through Derryfubble and Dunnamanagh and Ballynascreen, keeping that wound green. UNAPPROVED ROAD I When we came to the customs post at Aughnacloy, as at Cullaville or Pettigoe, I was holding my breath as if I might yet again be about to go underwater ... The fortieth anniversary of 1916 had somehow fizzled out, the New Year's Eve attack on Brookeborough ending in the deaths of O'Hanlon and South, while Dev was likely to bring back internment without trial ... As we drew level with the leveled shack I was met by another black-coated, long fellow, though he wore a sky-blue winding-cloth or scarf wrapped round his mouth and nose, leaving only a slit for him to peer through. II "In the late fifties I was looking for a place," he nestled his coffee cup on its zarf and turned to me, thirty years later, in Rotterdam ... "An ancestral place ... A place my ancestors knew as Scairbh na gCaorach." "Scairbh na gCaorach," I chewed on my foul madams, "is now better known as'Emyvale' though the Irish name means 'the sheep-steeps' or 'the rampart of rams.'" "'Rampart of rams?' That makes sense. It was the image of an outcrop of shale with a particularly sheer drop that my ancestors, the 'people of the veil,' held before them as they drove their flocks from tier to tier through Algeria, Mali, and Libya all the way up to Armagh, Monaghan, and Louth with-you'll like this-a total disregard for any frontier." III "Patrick Regan?" A black-coated R.U.C. man was unwrapping a scarf from his mouth and flicking back and forth from my uncle's license to his face. "Have you any news of young Sean South? The last I heard he was suffering from a bad case of lead poisoning. Maybe he's changed his name to Gone West?" I knew rightly he could trace us by way of that bottle of Redbreast under my seat, that carton of Players, that bullion chest of butter. I knew rightly we'd fail each and every test they might be preparing behind the heavy iron shutters even now being raised aloft by men carrying belt saws and blowtorches and bolt cutters. IV As he turned to me again, thirty years later in Rotterdam, the Tuareg doffed his sky-blue scarf. "Back in those days I saw no risk in sleeping under hedges. As a matter of fact I preferred a thorn hedge to a hayloft because-you'll like this-it reminded me of the tamarisks along the salt route into Timbuktu." He crossed his forearms lightly under his armpits as if he might be about to frisk himself, then smiled as he handed me the sky-blue winding-cloth and a dunking water gourd. "It had been my understanding that Scairbh na gCaorach meant 'the crossing of ewes' for scairbh means not 'a ledge' but 'a ford' or, more specifically, 'a shallow ford.'" And he immediately set off at a jog trot down an unapproved road near Aughnacloy or Swanlinbar or Lifford. V "It had always been my sense," I hear him still, "that the goat fades into the goad and the spur fades into the flank and the fastness fades into no fixed abode and the Black Pig's Dyke fades into the piggy bank and your Hams fade into your Japheths and the point fades into the point-blank and the Gristal fades into the crystal meths where the ends somehow begin to fade into the means and the sheugh fades into the shibboleth and the timbre fades into the tambourine and the quiddity fades into the quid pro quo and-you'll like this, I know-the bourne fades into the boreen." MOY SAND AND GRAVEL To come out of the Olympic Cinema and be taken aback by how, in the time it took a dolly to travel along its little track to the point where two movie stars' heads had come together smackety-smack and their kiss filled the whole screen, those two great towers directly across the road at Moy Sand and Gravel had already washed, at least once, what had flowed or been dredged from the Blackwater's bed and were washing it again, load by load, as if washing might make it clean. THE MISFITS If and when I did look up, the sky over the Moy was the very same gray-blue as the slow lift of steam-smoke over the seam of manure on a midwinter morning. I noticed the splash of red lead on my left boot as again and again I would bend my knee and bury my head in the rich black earth the way an ostrich was rumored to bury its head. My hands were blue with cold. Again and again I would bend to my left and lift by one handle a creel of potatoes-King Edwards, gray as lead- mined from what would surely seem to any nine- or ten-year-old an inexhaustible seam. My father wore a bag-apron that read, in capital letters, RICH. My own capital idea, meanwhile, had sunk like a lead balloon. "Blow all you like," my father turned on me. "Talk till you're blue in the face. I won't let you take a lift from the Monk. Blow all you like. I won't bend." The Monk had spent twenty-odd years as a priest in South Bend, his face priest-smooth except for a deep seam in his left cheek. Fred Grew said something strange about how he liked to "lift his shirttail." Jack Grimley chipped in with how he was "ostrich-sized" because he once lent Joe Corr a book called Little Boy Blue. When Fred Grew remarked on his having "no lead in his pencil," I heard myself say, cool as cool, "I think you've all been misled." At which the RICHARDSON'S TWO-SWARD suddenly began to unbend in that distinctive pale blue lettering as the seam of his bag-apron unstitched itself and my father turned on me again: "That's rich, all right. If you think, after that, I'd let the Monk give you a lift into the Moy to see Montgomery bloody Clift you've another think coming. I'll give him two barrels full of twelve-gauge lead if he comes anywhere near you. Bloody popinjay. Peacock. Ostrich." All I could think of was how the Monk was now no more likely to show me how to bend that note on the guitar-"like opening a seam straight into your heart"-when he played Bessie Smith's "Cold in Hand Blues" than an ostrich to bend its lead-plumed wings and, with its two-toed foot, rip out the horizon seam and lift off, somehow, into the blue.
Excerpted from MOY SAND AND GRAVEL by PAUL MULDOON Copyright © 2002 by Paul Muldoon
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
Paul Muldoon is the author of eight previous books of poetry, collected in Poems 1968-1998 (FSG, 2001). He teaches at Princeton University and is Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford.
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