Michael Smith


Approaching Song

dawn is about to break
the song of the blackbird
high in the silver birch
melody irritates the dark quiet
re-minding and re-minding and re-minding
over the sleeping houses
so many dawns like this like this
singing without solace
mindless morning celebrant


daybreak birdsong
tireless repetition wearies
insistent mindlessness
pains the unsleeping
high involuntary song
recalls the day
days before and days again
for the solitary
winds memory more tense more tense



Approaching White

a white pigeon flashed across the window
the summer sunlight glinted on its breast
no bird of peace this but an omen
the brief beauty of new-fallen snow
a single candle-flame extinguished
a child once held such a quick white bird
the eyes of age blink, are blind again
abrupt clack of wings and silence then
flash of bright light in a dark mind


something flashes across the eye
inciting terror
It flashes by
and is forgotten
then forgotten again
an image flashes across the eye
the solitary child 
in the darkness




Approaching Cold

the cold of oblivion, summer is done
river turns to glinting furrow
pool becomes pit of peril
clamour of birds without shelter
white snow winds towards the door
falling flakes wide as wether’s skin
raindrops broad as a shield
quick frost binds the pathways
men shudder and cry cold


homeless bird screams
in the frost-vice of winter
home warmth is not forgotten
hear the pain in the scream
there is a frozen sun in the sky
the air chills to the bone
calamitous this winter world
flight without destination
pain shrieks in the cold air




Approaching Moon Mind

doom approaches and the moon is cleft in two
who dares say the moon has no heart
a god measured the distance from the moon to the sun
when the clouds fly the moon travels
the moon in the water is only mind
the moon is a coin in the gutter
sister moon waxing and waning
who declares the ages of the moon
the eye of the moon at the well’s end


light and dark of the moon’s reflection
the eye peers into the well’s end
is it the moon in the sky
or the gazer’s eye
a god is the measure of distance
look into the moon’s eye
and the movement of cloud
if one could defy that movement
would the heart be at rest then



Approaching Water

I seek shade in the trees and the trees wither
the orange tree of your patio threw its flowers at your feet
open my gate and look into the farthest nook
seeing you the flowers of your garden wept
the day you were born all the flowers were born
the nightingales sang in the garden fountain
they have taken from me the rose that is mine
I thought I was the only one who watered your garden
the unwatered tree is dry at the roots


unreal garden of love
garden of pleasure
garden of delight
where the flowers weep silver dew
where orange blossoms scent the air
the stone toad croaks
at the nightingale’s descant
‘Make me some shoes with high heels’



Approaching Landscape

the steeples escaped bone skeletons from the churches
each word murmured was a vow and a plea
white gulls filled the lakes like ash
the sky clouded with gouged-out eyes of stars
we went on drifting with ardent brands
timeless the clocks stared
sightless eyes were blind in the bushes
into the short ban fell mortar claps of murder
underneath there dwelt despondent fear




Approaching Terminus

going nowhere it’s the old story
time up and no reprieve
farewell goodbye what word matters
you saw it coming but no matter
no harder than coming but knowing
tell me there’s another way
map me the soul in the brain’s neurons
pattern of leaves in the wind
snow flicking its cotton-tails



Born in Dublin in 1942, Michael Smith was the founder of New Writers’ Press in 1967 and has been responsible for the publication of over 50 books and magazines. He was keen to promote the modernist tradition in Irish poetry, publishing the work of Thomas MacGreevy, Brian Coffey, Denis Devlin, Anthony Cronin, Michael Hartnett, among others. He was founder and editor of the influential literary magazine The Lace Curtain. From 1984 to 1989 he was a member of the Arts Council. He has translated into English some of the most difficult and exhilarating poets in Spanish, including Federico García Lorca, Pablo Neruda, Miguel Hernández and the two great masters of the baroque, Francisco de Quevedo and Luis de Góngora. In 2001 he received the prestigious translating award, the European Academy Medal, for his impeccable translation of great Spanish poets. His own poetry has appeared in numerous anthologies of Irish poetry, including The Penguin Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry. His two most recent books (2004) are The Purpose of the Gift. Selected Poems and Maldon & Other Translations (NWP/Shearsman). Due out later this year (2005) are two volumes of the poetry of the great 20th century Peruvian poet, César Vallejo, Trilce and Complete Later Poems 1923-1938 (Shearsman), in which he has collaborated with the Peruvian scholar, Valentino Gianuzzi.