EXTERNAL AFFAIRS /
The Piper Patsy Touhey plays in Cohen’s Variety Show,
New York, 1905

 

Somewhere between the vaudeville skits and slapstick fare,
Amid the heat and grease-paint of Cohen’s Irish emporium,

When coarse laughter stops and cat calls quieten down,
I stare towards the dark pit that contains my countrymen,

And, striping away jaunty tricks and frilly showmanship,
I play in the style of my father who died when I was ten,

Coughing blood in a tenement amid the maelstrom of Boston,
In a flat smaller than the cabin we left behind in Loughrea.

I’ve told stage-Irish jokes until punters can laugh no more,
I have used darting triplets to backstitch notes that soar

High in staccato pitch before lunging down towards hell,
Like those sea voyage in steerage amidst endless swells,

With no land yet in sight and a famished land left behind.
But now amid the growing silence as I stare into the pit,

I play this slow air for my father and for my father’s kind,
Who close their eyes and recognise their own grief in it.

 

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