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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Section Two: Spirit

Larry Stapleton

Larry Stapleton
    ‘Still may some nameless power of Nature stray…’
          Margaret Louisa Woods.      Genius Loci
Now is the time to leave your city behind,
the cherry blossom all scattering and you
so heedful, the real map in your hand.

So come, take the old way, in through
the rich province – the road up to the enclosure
of the temple of temples. Avoid the hard path
by the rookery in the churchyard, for yours
is the green one that binds the two worlds
through what was once the great timber circle.
You bow to the gods of each sacred space,
taking time on your solemn climb to the rath
high on the hill, the holiest place, the seat
of the wise, the one chosen, who was granted
the cup of truth’s healing by the god of the sea.
Do not stay long on that heathen hill, as though
it were the heart of all. Come to the ground
where the last of its gods were laid to rest.
Make your way steadily through the plain
where the scents of meadow and woodland used mingle.
Then take the dry ridge between the boglands –
stripped and bled now, scored inch by inch
to feed the flames. Follow the pilgrim’s way
every last step along the stepping stones
to the towers high above the wide river,
and the ruins of the great cathedral and eight churches.
Look out across the callows where the Corncrake’s call
may echo still – as once between these walls
the crotalus did on those holiest of days
when all bells fell silent,
here in the ancient heart of Christendom
beating for this whole island and far beyond.
But song and dance are God’s gifts too.
Set sail the morning of the swallows’ return,
take time to share with them a little
of the river’s slow and easy journey to the tide,
then cleave the reeds, stride the lowlands, trek
the foothills heavy with scent of whin, skirt
the new hard forest on the hilltops, and enter
the realm of pale grey stone. By now
you sense the nearness of the ocean but first follow
the turlough’s waning waters down into theatres
of stalactites and Stygian runnels. Then climb
once more into wild gardens of orchids
and gentians in the grikes of rock. Drink from the well.
Go easily down in the sea breeze
to a treeless coast. Catch the wild strains
on the air and follow them to the heartbeat
of the music, above the kelp-strewn shore.
Now come and leave dry land behind,
place your trust in the giver of the cup of truth,
and complete your journey to the heartlands – first tasting
the salt out in the midst of seals and seabirds,
crab fishermen in half-deckers, all riding
the ocean swell under the high cliffs.
Then, leaving them, voyage out
past the three islands of light’s grounding,
slip quietly down into the gloaming of Humpback
and Orca, winter home of the Basking Shark,
journey onwards, onwards across the vast
plateau and onwards still towards the fastness
of the dark heartland, through the marvellous thickets
of the coral Lophelia lit by a million suns,
and onwards to the scarp, and then drop
into the vale of unfathomable darkness –
a trough as wide as the land you have left behind,
deeper by far than the land’s mountains are high,
and unfolding as you glide down its populous slopes,
the home range of Squalid Sharks, go deeper
again at a quickening pace, scattering lizardfish
rat tails and grenadiers, and go down and down
until, amid the galaxies of brittle stars
far from the dry decile, you know you are
truly in the thick of things and have reached the core.
And the petals of the cherry blossom rise and fall,
fall and rise, borne on improbable journeys
by an unruly breeze. You watch them as they go.

Larry Stapleton has written extensively on the Irish environment. His poetry has appeared in Poetry Ireland Review and is forthcoming also in Science Meets Poetry.





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