That one sat in a soft prickly hayfield
writing her diary: ‘We visited a castle.
I have a stone from Lough Neagh, possibly marble
(see sketch on following page.)
Today is very hot again.
At lunch-time we went into a pub
and had milk mixed with soda-water.
Question: traditional Irish drink?’
This one sits in a white olive orchard
writing his diary. Dry silver trees,
bleached grass, cornflowers,
white road, silver stars
on the blue ceiling of a wayside shrine.
‘Today we went to San Damiano,
the church where Saint Francis hid from his father.’
And what would you say to that, Martha Brooks—
bringing the boy to a town full of Papists?
We must be the first among your children
to climb the worn shallow steps,
struggle back up the dusty road,
rest here. A cock crows at the farm.
Siesta-time is over, we say,
and move on up towards Assisi.
Martha, the boy is a good boy —
look at the blue eyes, the broad forehead —
and no more easily corrupted
by a taste of sanctity than I
all those years ago by holy Ireland —
not your phrase, I know, but your country:
which may all the saints protect now.
From Poetry Nation No 1 (1973)