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Wake Forest
University Press

Wake Forest University Press

Dedicated to Irish Poetry

Wake: Up to Poetry

"The act of poetry is a rebel act."

Poem of the Week: “That Actor Kiss” by Michael Hartnett

That Actor Kiss

In “That Actor Kiss”, Michael Hartnett reflects on the complex nature of a father-son relationship as the hourglass runs out. The speaker desperately seeks a sign from the father’s muddled mind, but the shaft is too deep for any retrieval.

That Actor Kiss

I kissed my father as he lay in bed
in the ward. Nurses walked on soles of sleep
and old men argued with themselves all day.
The seven decades locked inside his head
congealed into a timeless leaking heap,
the painter lost his sense of all but grey.
That actor kiss fell down a shaft too deep
to send back echoes that I would have prized—
’29 was ’41 was ’84,
all one in his kaleidoscopic eyes
(he willed to me his bitterness and thirst,
his cold ability to close a door).
Later, over a drink, I realised
that was our last kiss and, alas, our first.

                             died 3 October 1984

Michael Hartnett, from Selected & New Poems (1994)


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