Wake: Up to Poetry
Poem of the Week: “St. Patrick’s Day” by John McAuliffe
“St. Patrick’s Day” by John McAuliffe details a luncheon and steers well away from the typical imagery of the holiday, meditating instead on wealth, privilege, and place—“our travels, from all over, to this corner of London.” The poem moves the way small talk moves, easy and slightly dissociative as it slips between details of the afternoon. Like many other poems in McAuliffe’s Selected Poems (2022), we begin in the present moment and find ourselves suddenly elsewhere.
St. Patrick’s Day
At the embassy launch, silver service for forty, I’m enjoying the lamb
I’ve given up for Lent at home
as a way of making the children (and us)
think about the choices they might make, choices
I make small talk about with my neighbor, who represents Irish impressionists,
hazy watercolors in blue and grey and green
for which, she explains, a market exists.
A PR looks up briefly from her phone
and confidingly discloses, a look over either shoulder, what she inherited.
Doing the rounds, the minister glazes over
until someone mentions her constituent,
here for work as well, cooking in the kitchen. She brightens when he is summoned upstairs,
while we stand, the guests, with the lamb forgotten, to shake her
by the hand, running through the pitches we’ve practiced and repeated
to each other. A stadium, a circuit,
an archive. Sometimes, in outdoorsy weather,
I am cycling to work and know I’ve dropped or somewhere lost the,
where is it, hi-vis vest I suddenly see
when I look down
I’m wearing all the time. It’s fine,
like the drink I find in my hand
that I’d left, I thought,
on the ante-room table and which, before the toast is proposed, I need.
The table, a historian said, as we moved away from it,
was the Liberator’s, now an emblem we place our drinks on,
or don’t, as the small talk takes a turn
to the voter in the kitchen,
and our travels, from all over, to this corner of London,
my blue morning spent, across town, in an artist’s studio, a converted chapel,
roof replaced with glass,
the interior’s cold spring brightness amazing, natural,
stepladders leaning on veiled walls,
the source of it all
the pictures of cloudy white and the darker greens
I sat under, making notes at a long wheeled table
we had tea on, with the scones
and jam of an Iranian collector
had deposited as a gift. (Years ago, in the capital on a visit,
a weekend away, together, unable as usual to find a place there to eat
that looked good and wouldn’t cost the earth
we settled on falafels from a street cart
and in the photograph you took that night
the flash whites out the detail of the figure I cut,
just anyone on a street, but knowing where to turn, to the light.
Which pours, hi-vis, blinding element,
into the room.) Now we are asked to raise our glasses. What for?
The minister, as she must, moving on to the next engagement,
and the ambassador,
a handshake and smiles for the histories
and memories he passes through, spelling this out: our friends
dotted around this city are unvisited, in private houses,
whose days also meet their ends;
the blank page under a blue sky blackens
what we cannot see into lines,
like something the waiting birds can land on
and call from, looking askance
at the glasses of light adrift on the tablecloths,
empty as the lobby chit-chat
for which there will soon be other mouthpieces.
Over there—can anyone believe it?—is the palace.
— John McAuliffe, Selected Poems (2022)
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