To celebrate the opening of the exhibition Lithosphere by sculptor Eileen MacDonagh, at the Visual Gallery in Carlow:
Steel & Stone & Sticks & Styrofoam
We stand outside, and catch with straining eye
Bright stainless fingers reaching for the sky
And muse, perhaps in wintry afterthought,
That The Medusa Tree has somehow brought
Its chilly gaze to rest on flesh and bone,
This six-hand reel of dancers turned to stone.
And over there, seduti in terrazza
The camera of some vile paparazzo?
Ah, poor Medusa, mythic beauty queen
You suffered much for that one bout of spleen…
We vow to make amends, this Imbolc tide
And warmed with Brigid’s fire, step inside.
At first, we are transported back to school
When igneous described the daily rule
And hear the teacher quizzing us which rock
Was pretty much the toughest on the block?
We stop before the reddened oven grill
Of granite test bed for the diamond drill
And think of that first joyous chink of light
On miners trapped within eternal night,
Then read the seeming ogham in the face
Of standing stones and find the nerve to place
Our fingers in the notches for the cleave,
Each Doubting Thomas wanting to believe.
The next will bring us farther back in time
When all was number, composite or prime
And of the five Platonic shapes, their peer
icosahedron is the model here:
And this recalls the old role-playing game
Dungeons & Dragons, where the final aim
Of seeing off the monsters must rely
Upon the throw of twenty-sided die
And now they are to hand, both big and small
(we’re tempted then to roll one down the hall)
How apt that twenty faces can cohere
Twelve vertices to calibrate this year!
Meanwhile, up in the attic smaller boys
Are woken from their dreams by all the noise
They struggle to their feet on spindly legs
Stone heads and feet connected by stick pegs;
We fear they will some day pontificate
As solemn building blocks of Church & State
With truss and buttress, parliament and nave
All pledged to Kali, India’s Queen Maeve?
Too fanciful, they’re all tucked up in bed
And when their children’s story has been read
Instead of sleep, egged on by double-dares
come slowly creeping down forbidden stairs
As if they know about the big event
Cathedral promise that seems heaven-sent
Where geometries of space and time conspire
To send our spirits floating ever higher
A magic forest of Medusa trees
Where we create our own mythologies.
Cold steel transformed to nimble styrofoam
Reminding us that we have feet of loam;
They are the shadows of our school Debs’ Ball
When all the girls are beautifully tall
We choose our partners, risk one upward glance
Await the summons: Music, Maestro, Dance!
© Iggy McGovern 2012
To celebrate 300 years of The Medical School at Trinity College Dublin:
A Tercentenary Ode
The enterprise begins, of course, in verse
A Scholar’s scorn of English, much less Erse;
Virgilian, the fragment spared the flame
Has ninety-five hexameters proclaim
The right to plumb the depths where Nature hid
In days of passage tomb and pyramid.
One hundred pounds of Widow Parsons’ boon:
Laboratory and Dissecting Room,
In unadorned red brick, two storeys high
Though lacking drainage and water supply;
Professor, lecturers, Anatomist;
Three King’s professors added to the list
Are funded by Sir Patrick Dun’s estate
The balance building in 1808
The hospital that proudly bears his name
To close a century of growing fame.
The second opened with uncertainty
The absence of expected poetry
Reflects the swift departure from the scene
Of parliamentary friends in College Green.
Stokes and McCartney, once “United” men
(but judged the sword less mighty than the pen)
Pushed on, in proof they never ceased to strive,
The New School opening in ’twenty-five.
McCartney never shy to lend a hand
Or shovel with cadavers in demand
Might lead to Graves (forgive me!) first to bring
The students to some bedside tutoring
And thence his protegé, the younger Stokes
Among the first to value stethoscopes
And just as swift as Haughton’s hangman’s drop
A golden century comes to a stop.
The third, despite the rhyming repartee
From scalpel nib of St John Gogarty,
Must see the College altering its stance
Towards another kind of governance,
That sea change separating two World Wars
When Medic staff and students earn their spurs.
In aftermath, like battles then are joined
As fierce competing acronyms are coined
And hospitals are merged, but from the flames
A Centre, phoenix-like, rose at St James;
The Biomedical Sciences Institute
In this centenary year then followed suit
Where students witness at first hand the quick
Of teaching and research that is Physick
A treasure trove of scientific wealth
The patient in the very best of health!
With opportunity on every side
What better end can poetry provide
Than this, the College poet’s sweet refrain:
Begin (something insists), begin again!
© Iggy McGovern 2011