EXTERNAL AFFAIRS /
Seamus Ennis in Drumcondra

 

I see him leave that flat we shared
And walk down Home Farm Road,
Black coat buttoned against the wind,
A countryman’s hat pulled down,
And in his hand a battered case,
Containing the set of uilleann pipes
Found in fragments by his father
In a sack in a London pawnbrokers:
A jigsaw nobody could piece together
A hundred years after they were crafted
By Coyne of Thomas Street in Dublin.

He carries his case like a secret dossier
That no passer-by could decode
As he boards a bus into the city
Unnoticed among the evening hordes.
Times are hard, our flat threadbare,
He survives on tins of steak and kidney pie,
On meals that he cooks at odd hours,
When he tells yarns and truly comes alive.
There is rent to pay, a meter to be fed,
Afternoon visits to the local launderette
Nights of wind rattling the rotting windows,
When he spreads his coat over his bed.

This is the price of making music,
Of living the life for which he was born,
He is on his way that night to perform
For little pay to a meagre audience
In the back room of a Dublin pub,
With a television blaring in the lounge.

Ignoring the jarring cash register,
Three dozen people sit, transfixed,
By a set of reels learned from his father
Interlaced with grace notes and tricks
Picked up from pipers who are ghosts,
Who died recorded only by himself,
Who never learnt music, wrote nothing down,
But carried the tunes in their minds,
Knowing that with their own deaths
Dozens of nameless reels would also die.
Ennis plays with due respect for the dead,

In his one good suit, a white shirt and tie.

 

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