Neil Slevin is a writer from Co. Leitrim, Ireland whose poetry has been published widely, most recently in Skylight 47 and A New Ulster, amongst others. ‘I Am’ is a section of his work-in-progress chapbook, Inhaling Silence, and inspired by Ireland’s Northwest. Read more of Neil via https://twitter.com/neil_slevin
The Gaelic Chieftain
I am the starlit horseman.
With the stars’ raining light my shadow’s flecked,
stars that stream like trickling tears
from the eyes of a crying sky;
tears that streak the face of night
in grief for what’s long lost –
what I alone have won, I who will not die.
Draped in ebony-black
I stand alone against your darkness,
winds that shriek the curlew’s call.
I know they howl to me of death
but to them I must not yield,
to them I will not fall.
I who ride through time and space,
my horse’s route no loner stone-blocked road
nor slow-rising hillside,
I, who all must pass and face
to know my honour
and my pride.
Not even when this battle ends,
when daylight reigns and peacetime calls
will I rest, I will outlive the dawn.
I wait for it with sword’s embrace,
my eternal wrath guarding the West.
My war rages on.
For all who mined in Arigna
I am the wind that blows through the mines.
I breathe into you and yours
as you work towards the Earth’s core
and carry the love and words you’ve left behind
on days spent digging for life.
You leave your own to battle
with the face of coal, wage war with stone –
your foes smothered by explosions of rock,
bullets that streak like stars slain in murderous skies –
prostrate under the weight of water,
your daylight forbidden by sumps and gob.
Your weapons are not the sword or gun,
but clips and caps, the hutch your cart for
those now lost, greeted only by the foreman’s truce,
their funeral procession your trek into
that other darkness, the wounded day’s retreat.
Camouflaged by falling night, you escape into
your other life, before you pause in thanks to Him,
embrace the sanctity of the votive light
then let it fade into the distance,
wait for the new day’s dawn.
Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star.
I am the grieving waterfall.
Through the mist-rain you’ll see me
from forest, road or heathered hill.
Though I am surrounded by others,
none fall harder than I.
In the North I rise to descend,
straddle borders of grey ridge and seashell,
my drops the residue of Ben Bulben sorrow
on lands still mourning a stolen child.
With my own pearls of sadness,
further I fill this earthen valley;
my infinite tears echo all who are lost,
grief is a torrent no one can hold back.
My barite-speckled cliffs are a stoic heart
hardened by drought but gnawed at by time.
My moss-green hair is stroked only
by life’s murderous hand.
My cliff face is so steep
that none who climb it survive.
Humanity’s heartbreak flows so deep
there is always more water to cry.
The world’s more full of weeping
than I can understand.