Saturday 10 December 2016

Poetry: The All-Souls' Hotel

Joseph O'Connor

Published 30/10/2016 | 02:30

'The sea-wind brings November. Soon there will be snow Down the hedgerow lane, Where the blackberries grew' Photo: Depositphotos
'The sea-wind brings November. Soon there will be snow Down the hedgerow lane, Where the blackberries grew' Photo: Depositphotos

The passing of October.

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Pumpkins in the dark illuminate the pathways

Of Forget-Me-Not Park.

Down Memory Lane someone's ringing a bell

For Halloween Night

In the All-Souls' Hotel.

They're turning back the clocks in the corner of the soul

Where the shipwrecked find a harbour and the lost come home.

And the chestnuts fall in the waters of the well

By the gardens of mercy at the All-Souls' Hotel.

Handshakes on the landings; friends never made.

David Bowie playing poker with John Charles McQuaid.

All the Romeos and Juliets who couldn't be together

Meet in the forgiveness of the gold and ochre weather,

Where the rules are different, and there's nothing to sell,

In the orchards of compassion

At the All-Souls' Hotel.

Come closer to the windowpane, Face to the glass.

The ghosts of those we loved, Seem to shimmer as they pass

Through the rooms of recollection, Where the mirrors are veiled

In the drapes of old absence, And the letters never mailed.

Old gloves. Old books. A ball-gown on a bed.

Old hurts unforgiven, Sweet nothings never said,

Mingling with October, Like a half-forgotten rhyme.

'Be gentle,' they whisper,

'While you still have time.'

The sea-wind brings November. Soon there will be snow

Down the hedgerow lane, Where the blackberries grew

And the branches of the elders, Bend to an arch,

Of fox-roamed shadows, Near a country church.

Angry bonfires assemble.

Fireworks fizz and soar.

In the All-Souls' Hotel,

Man, they saw it all before.

So on Halloween, they say,

Leave your dreads at the door

Let all be well.

Be at peace. Be mild.

Unclip them

Like a costume

Discarded by a child.

For they don't matter here,

All your frailties and your fear,

The masks you once wore,

All your vanities and grief,

All the things you thought important,

They were some of them illusions.

Fate is dressed like a fool.

Time's dressed like a thief.

So they go to bed early

In the All-Souls' Hotel,

With a book,

Or some knitting,

Or the memory of a lover

Who was luscious as a mouthful of wintertime wine.

I'll say a prayer for yours, friend.

Say a prayer for mine?

Joseph O'Connor is McCourt Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Limerick

Sunday Independent

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