Sunday, 6 October 2019

Ciaran Carson

The Irish poet Ciaran Carson has died. Much of his work was about the Troubles, and so will perhaps gain a grim new relevance soon. I have read recently that one of the ironies about the Irish border being so central to the debate about leaving the EU is that it coincides with the rest of the UK becoming divided into two mutually uncomprehending and hostile camps in the same way that Northern Ireland always has been; so perhaps that relevance is already there. Note the closing stanza of this poem (which also incidentally has a wargamer friendly title):

Jacta Est Alea 

It was one of those puzzling necks of the woods
Where the South was in the North, the way
The double cross in a jigsaw loops into its matrix,
like the border was a clef

With arbitrary teeth indented in it.
Here, it cut clean across the plastic
Lounge of 'The Half-Way House";
My heart lay in the Republic

While my head was in the Six, or so I was inclined.
You know that drinker's
Angle, elbow-propped, knuckled to his brow like one
Of the Great Thinkers?

He's staring at my neck in the Power's mirror,
Debating whether
He should open up a lexicon with me: the price of
Beer, of steers, the weather.

At last we talk in code. We stumble on the border.
He is pro. I am con.
We are arm in arm; inextricably, we wade into the

The next poem has rather more personal connotations:

The Fetch

I woke. You were lying beside me in the double bed,
prone, your long dark hair fanned out over the downy pillow.

I’d been dreaming we stood on a beach an ocean away
watching the waves purl into their troughs and tumble over.

Knit one, purl two, you said. Something in your voice made me think
of women knitting by the guillotine. Your eyes met mine.

The fetch of a wave is the distance it travels, you said,
from where it is born at sea to where it founders to shore.

I must go back to where it all began. You waded in
thigh-deep, waist-deep, breast-deep, head-deep, until you disappeared.

I lay there and thought how glad I was to find you again.
You stirred in the bed and moaned something. I heard a footfall

on the landing, the rasp of a man’s cough. He put his head
around the door. He had my face. I woke. You were not there.


  1. I'm not one for poetry. I rarely 'get it' when I read it (spoken by the author is often different), but Jacta Est Alea works for me.

    Thanks for posting it. I've never come across it before.

    1. That's very gratifying. All we need now is someone stopping by for the poetry to discover a latent live of toy soldiers.