This footprint marks the landing of an incredible hulk
of a saint who bounded, centuries ago, clear
across the bay. Or there’s the devil’s hoof stamped
on granite, the sandal of a warrior king’s horse,
the hollow left by a hermit’s hand, the divot of kneecap
or elbow plunging him into the gear of his prayer.
Life, we agree, must have felt larger then, the wilderness
greening a path to every door, the cave or mountain
conceivable as the first child, the oldest mother.
But tonight, with hay and tar smells pricking the air,
and moon making for the only clock, we find ourselves
yielding to traceries – lip, ear, breast, buttock –
left by two long-lost, runaway lovers on a bed of rock.
This thin pale man, this poor gom who could pass
for one of us, sees through his window
the full moon sail in an optical illusion above clouds
and river and half-built hotel accommodating
only a stumped crane. The moon’s eyeful
works on him, building and bundling his ailment
into a dream of a super animal. He exits
to the street, craving delectation beyond the sensation
of the news ‘as it happens’ on-screen, the ravages
of flood, fireball, earthquake contending
in slow motion. He inhales the dregs of living in all
its shallow burials. The wind gusting seeds
and freshness tickles his face with a promise
to overcome everything – traffic smoke, oil-slick, even
the river’s chlorinated conscience. His fingers
send up a manhole cover for the moon’s laugh.
He teeters on the edge of astonishment,
of scaring himself, whose pelt – if we could touch it –
seems flecks, seems shivers, seems gentleness.
A thunderstorm starts him zig-zagging.
His odoriferous delights scatter; his limbs slobber
and steam. The moon abandons him. Long-horned
lorry lights close. Knocked clear, he stiffens,
curled naked in the ditch where he will be found
in time to make the early edition. Snapped, captioned
‘The man who thought he was a werewolf’,
with just a few specks of blood freckling his nose.
Patrick Deeley is a poet and children’s writer born in Loughrea, County Galway. Groundswell: New and Selected Poems, is the latest of his six collections with Dedalus Press. His memoir, The Hurley Maker’s Son, is published by Transworld/Doubleday in April 2016.