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Matthew Sweeney


And, of course, the road is crooked
and far too long. And no one knows
what'll be there at the end -
a town with a decent restaurant
and a wide main street,
and a hotel to take up residence in
and never move out -
or a mongrel-guarded ruin
where winos stagger up to you,
pawing at your pockets,
and there's no way back.
And add up all the obstacles -
the key for the door, the papers
and photographs, the solid predictions,
the longed-for kitchen, the...
oh, just imagine the rest,
and despite this there's traffic
heading down the road -
slowly, as it's twisty
and rocks are far below.
And the passengers look happy
or are those manic grins?
And there's no sign of road-maps.
And the music they're playing
is rough, but melodic, and a little sad.
And there's looking in mirrors
but little turning round.


Somewhere in a foreign city
a woman is sitting reading,
shaking her head at what she finds.
Maybe a bottle of wine is open,
maybe a cat is on her lap
and gypsy jazz is playing.
It has got cold outside
so she's turned the heating on.
A terrapin moves slowly
towards the pipes. Tomorrow
she'll teach all day, and then
maybe, go dancing, but tonight
she reads a bad translation
of a writer she knows,
and it makes her angry.
The cat notices and stiffens.
The terrapin doesn't care.
She pours herself another glass
and thinks of mountains
where bears come down in winter
to gobble the unwary.
She hears the howls for help
and ignores them. She flings
the magazine at the wall,
turns the music up, closes
her eyes and thinks of lovemaking.


Stay patient, my sweet.
Sit the winter siege out,
watch the sky for gaps of blue
in the cold grey blanket
and remember the summer woods,
the tiny wild rasberries,
the hunted prize mushrooms,
the rumour of bears.
Replay those walks in a rain
that never lasted long -
that path by the river,
the beer-hut, with tables
outside to sit at,
the laughs and the talk,
the old women in black
smiling, and you smiling back,
the dog who barked and was silenced.
And always, after the rain,
the day getting hotter, remember?
So sit at the window
in the darkening light, and smile -
go on, you're good at it.


Matthew Sweeney was born in Co Donegal in 1952. His poetry collections include A Dream of Maps (Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1981); A Round House (London, Alison & Busby/ Raven, 1983); The Lame Waltzer (Allison & Busby,1985); Blue Shoes (Secker & Warburg,1989); Cacti (Secker & Warburg 1989); The Bridal Suite (London, Jonathan Cape, 1997); and A Smell of Fish (Jonathan Cape, 2000). A selection of his work appears in Penguin Modern Poets 12 (London, Penguin, 1997). His childrens' poetry collections are The Flying Spring Onion (Faber 1992); Fatso in the Red Suit (Faber 1995); and Up On The Roof: New & Selected Poems (Faber, 2001). He has also written fiction for children: The Chinese Dressing Gown (Raven 1987); and The Snow Vulture (Faber 1992). He is the co-author with John Hartley Williams of Writing Poetry (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1997). He has co-edited, with Jo Shapcott, the anthology Emergency Kit, Poems for Strange Times (London, Faber & Faber, 1996), and with Ken Smith, Beyond Bedlam, Poems Written Out of Mental Distress (London, Anvil Press, 1997). Awards include the Prudence Farmer Prize (1984); Cholmondely Award (1987); and the Henfield Writing Fellowship (1986). In 1999, he received an Arts Council of England Writers Award. In 1994/95 he was Writer in Residence at the South Bank, London. He is a member of Aosdána, and lives in London. His Selected Poems is due out in 2002

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