Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Derek Mahon: "The Mayo Tao"

I have abandoned the dream kitchens for a low fire
and a prescriptive literature of the spirit;
a storm snores on the desolate sea.
The nearest shop is four miles away—
when I walk there through the shambles
of the morning for tea and firelighters
the mountain paces me in a snow-lit silence.
My days are spent in conversation
with deer and blackbirds;
at night fox and badger gather at my door.
I have stood for hours
watching a salmon doze in the tea-gold dark,
for months listening to the sob story
of a stone in the road, the best,
most monotonous sob story I have ever heard.

I am an expert on frost crystals
and the silence of crickets, a confidant
of the stinking shore, the stars in the mud—
there is an immanence in these things
which drives me, despite my scepticism,
almost to the point of speech,
like sunlight cleaving the lake mist at morning
or when tepid water
runs cold at last from the tap.

I have been working for years
on a four-line poem
about the life of a leaf;
I think it might come out right this winter.

"The Mayo Tao" by Derek Mahon. Text as published in Selected Poems (Penquin Press, 2000), edited by Philippe Jaccotett.

Curator's note: "Mayo" refers to the County Mayo, in western Ireland. My thanks to subscriber Joyce Calvitti for suggesting this poem.

Art credit: "Keem at Night," photograph of Keem Strand in County Mayo, taken on February 16, 2010, by Larissa O'Duffy.

Poet photograph credit: John Allen (digitally altered by curator).

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  1. Thank you, Derek Mahon.
    There is ample desolation and immanence here to satisfy my ambivalence about the county where I grew up and am and am not drawn to. -- Again, thanks

  2. Freda Hogan GormleyTuesday, March 03, 2020

    Mayo is one of the places that liberate my being. Thank you for reminding me. I must go back soon

  3. What a wonderful poem so deep and profound yet so easy to read and understand. Thank you for writing this.


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