Quiet Country Still

This is still quiet country. 
The things that happen here
leave it quieter still.

A short walk will take you
to the brim of the horizon
from where you can see

houses this side and the far side
of the lough, each with a story
known to all, yet never told.

Tom Duddy
(Published in The Years)

Left Bank

This old street, which still dreams of being
central again one day, cannot change itself.
The new shops are always the same kinds
of shops - small places exhaling exotica,
wholly dark inside, their windows filled
with icons, bangles, guides to Zen,
and small decorated tin boxes. New cafes, too,
but all, like those that went before,
serving breakfast all day long. The people

who come down this far don’t need much
but they need to sit, sometimes for hours,
leaning into each other, the better to talk and talk.
Even those who sit alone
will sometimes smile or shake their heads,
their lips moving, now grimly, now sweetly.

Tom Duddy
(Published in The Hiding Place)

The Delivery Man

When the delivery man called after tea
he let in before him such an easterly,
and he stepped down the hallway so briskly,

and he smiled so flushingly, yet so briefly
and with so little knowledge of us,
and with such freedom from all accretion,

and with such innocence of all connection,
that our spirits flickered to life at once,
saltatorially. We cleared our throats

in greeting, and before we knew where we were
we had reached consensus on the lengthening
of the days, now that spring was here.

Such rustling, such quick society, such self-
forgetting! In his eyes, we were still citizens
of the world, with everything still to play for.

But then, while the smiles were still breaking
on our faces, he was gone. The house closed in fast
behind him and grew warm again, and airless
and secure. And dreaming once more overcame us.

Tom Duddy
(Published in Magma)

The Touch

If a child fell from a tree, or raved
with fever, or a father came in hurt
from the fields, I was the one who raced
down the roads to the far side of the town,
to the house by the river, glad
of the chance to pass one more time
through the high clanking gates
into the avenue that would slow me

to a crunching walk under the dark,
cher-cherking, rook-swaying canopy.
It never took more than the one
rat-a-tat-tat to bring to the door
the doctor’s wife whose briskly gentle hands
once fixed my collar as I stood in the rain.

Tom Duddy
(Published in Smiths Knoll)

Garden Party

At some strange distance, the good children
are playing among the metal chairs
in the patio; laugh after laugh
goes up from a group that still loiters
by the dead barbecue; old old friends
look well pleased to assemble again
on awkward ground under the sycamore;
the evening sun leaves all impressions

at the edge of consciousness;  and an air
of lateness shimmies in the trees.
I almost reach across the table
towards the woman opposite,
almost speak warmly to her,
almost give myself away for once.

Tom Duddy
(Published in The SHOp)

Side Street

I don't often pass through this part of the city,
though it's on my way uptown as the crow flies.
I don't feel at home here, or streetwise - it's cold,
even when the sun is warming the chimneys,

and dark to boot. My footsteps lose their beat,
the paths are so skewed, so irregular here.
The people are not the same as mainstream people -
a woman comes dashing out of the shoe repair

(Heels-While-U-Wait) shop and cries Sorry; pieces
of burnt paper float from somewhere behind me,
and the man looking back shouts Shag off, will ye!

(but not angrily) at some guys just out of range
of the corner of my eye. They say nothing at all,
these guys, as the loper increases his lead,
nor do they overtake me. The hot sharp smell

of burnt paper darts to the back of my throat,
and I think a small fragment, like a green flake
of distemper from the wall of an old porch,
has landed on my shoulder, but I can't check

or be seen to brush it off. Stepping into mainstreet
is like returning through the looking-glass without
a moment's notice - shoppers tucked in behind me,
not a thing on my shoulder, slight catch in my throat.

Tom Duddy
(Published in Magma)