Read sample poems and listen to audio recordings (*) of Sean Haldane reading.

The Bullhead*

Fishing where the cold and vicious tide

Swept between rocky islands, I dragged in

A bull-head, spiny, with lurid scales.

I cut it off the hook and threw it back.

That month on the same coast, changed in sun,

She and I found beaches of pure coral

And swam in that sea whose foam

Stung our bodies, quickening desire.

At evening we stepped through walls,

Lifting the stones aside with shaky hands,

To find a patch of grass and blown bog cotton

Where we could lie in shadow cast by boulders

As the sun sank and spilled its fire.

One night we ate dulse, then drank poteen. Rage

At her unfaithfulness burned in my brain.

I turned and staggered, shoved her to the ground.

Then we walked back together in cold shame.

Next day we crossed by boat to Inishmore,

She gaily singing to the other men,

And when we climbed to Dun Aengus fort

I muttered to myself I’d smash her head

On the sharp teeth of the chevaux-de-frise:
Each spike of stone went straight into my heart.

Desperately I tugged her behind the wall

Of the fort and pulled her to the grass,

Begging her to hold me. She refused.

Then we all lay together on the cliff

Three hundred feet above the emerald sea.

I felt myself vertiginously dragged

Close to the edge, while she talked happily

And flirted with my friends, taking one’s hand

And reading in the lines. I’d nothing to say.

I didn’t belong up on the sunny land:
No more that spiny fish, my jealousy.

She wept in silence when I turned away.

Why Did I Lie?

Why did I lie
When you asked why
My love was not warm still?

I answered so
As not to show
A coldness that could kill.

Is it too much
To label such
As lost integrity?

It could be true
That loving you
I lied more easily.

Ember Days *


Love took possession slowly as disease
And blindness came upon me gradually
As your flaws of complexion and of character
Faded. Not that I replaced them with false images
In my mind. Simply, they were consumed by fever.

So when, on September evenings, I come home,
Light the barbecue, drink wine on the porch,
Waiting for heat to incandesce the grill,
And I miss you – part of a long absence, not knowing
Who is with you or where you are – I can’t say
I deceive myself with an ideal.

The blindness of my love for you is real
As the invisible flame which reduces charcoal
To ember and ash. It seems the barbecue
Burns under my ribs, in lack of you.

Lake-fishing

Blue herons rise above the hemlock firs
Of their island as we roar past, and circle,
Legs dangling, a few gaunt mothers last to leave.
As we veer away we look back down our wake
At them settling again, then chug back and forth,
Our exhaust polluting the water, trolling
For lake trout. I hook one. It pulses on the line,
Splashes beside the boat. My friend nets it.

I take the heavy fish in both hands
And bash its head on the gunwale. Blood spatters,
Then it twitches in the bow. Each catch is ‘christened’
With a slug of rum-and-coke. We’re tipsy
As we turn back at dusk, but haul in a pike
Which snaps at my fingers as I stun it.

The V of foam behind us becomes luminous
And the hemlocks on the shores blacken
Against an indigo sky. At the dock,
We can hardly see to gut the fish. Their heads
Fall phosphorescent through the water.

In the clubhouse, more booze at the bar.
I imagine those fat paunches in trousers
Are fish-belly white. If I slit them with my knife,
What kind of guts would roll out? A mass
More stinking than pike-offal, the innards
Of killers who never kill. Watch the look
In their eyes as they buy each other drinks,
Watch them skirt around trouble – no pike
In the weeds could be more stealthy. What sort
Of fight would they put up on a hook?

No pulsing on the line, just a long cranking
Of dead weight. No flapping in the boat –
A whimper, floundering, a rush of puke.

Their women are at home, ‘fishing widows’,
Fat on their stale nests, playing bridge.
If they were herons, they’d be too torpid
To rise and circle. And if they were fish?
Imagine the dried-up roes, grey fat in their sides –
But we’d never see them, they’d never take a bait.

Quick, take another drink, Men. And Women,
Keep your seats, lay out another card.
In the fishy jungles of your minds
Among the weeds there may still be some tremors,
And vertigo from glimpsing light above,
But while the bottom seethes, calm the waters,
Not to feel it: you can let the corpses
Accumulate down there, the pain is gone,
And in the jungle only the descent
Of silt, and slime forming on weed and bone.

When our minds’ lakes are stilled, all to be seen
Is sky-reflecting blue, though sounds betray
Us, of mosquitoes rising from the rot
That breeds them, whining at the end of day,
And frogs whose every slow and laboured croak
From the mud anticipates our final choke.
Burns under my ribs, in lack of you.

Midwinter Racing*

 

My heart raced towards its pounding finish,

My brain light as a cross country skier

On the lunging skis of my body

As it surged up and over the leaps

Between long rhythmic pacing.

Then I lay perfectly still.

I didn’t want to move, but my mind

Went wandering: perhaps a spark

From your inner hearth had passed to me.

Or had it passed from me to you?

Outside I sawed wood for an hour,

Then waxed my skis and set off

On another race. My eyes streamed,

My face glowed under my woollen mask.

Ice breathed into my lungs puffed out in plumes.

At twenty below the spark was still alive,

And when I came back to you it burned

Somewhere deep in me. Our casual kiss

Was of two fires lit from the same brand –

Though now I knew which way the flame leapt first.

I meant to tell you

I meant to tell you about the cracked birches

Bent double to the ground,

Iced over as if glassed around.

I meant to tell you about the snow

Crushed beneath my skis,

But then my breath began to freeze.

I meant to tell you…