To Francis Stuart on his 95th Birthday
You – on a Friday evening in Dublin
At the curtain of the 20th century –
Dare me to be a child again:
‘Imagine being Dostoevsky ... ’
(Pause) ‘Or a gnat.’ Lucky me
To be sitting in the company of a dead man.
How many years ago is it since you died?
You have always been a cat but since your death
A before-only-sniffed-at flexibility buzzes your fuzz
Entitling you to enlighten me in the evolution of flight –
To give me a gnat’s eye glimpse of the cosmos
And of Russian fiction – the last word in death.
Over twenty golden years
We have spent hundreds of hours in silence
Confronting one another in your shadowy living-room
Over coffee and cheese
From five to seven
On the lookout for words.
I visit you at rush hour.
Rush hour! – you exclaim
Pawing the phrase
Before dousing it in laughter:
That skimming, cormorant chuckle
Halfway between a revelation and a peep.
Goodbye, Francis – see you soon
See you soon, Paul – you cry out.
In my car at your gate I perch in the dark
Under the orange streetlight a gnat in an Astra
Facing downhill to The Great Wall of China –
Your local corner takeaway – and the Scots pines
High above the Central Mental Hospital kremlin walls.
I can hear a spade undressing clay
Or is it the blackbird in your snowdrops –
The blackbird you announced to me when I came –
‘The first blackbird of spring’?
I switch on the ignition – glance
Back over at the switched-on porch light of your home.
Yet again I have visited your tomb and found it empty.