Ailbhe Darcy grew up in Ireland and currently lives in London, England. She has published poems in a variety of Irish and British journals, including The Stinging Fly, The Wolf, Chroma, The Burning Bush, Revival, and Brittle Star. She also writes critically and co-edits an online journal of new Irish art and writing, called Moloch.
Only don't, I beseech you, generalise too much in these
sympathies and tendernessesremember that every life
is a special problem which is not yours but another's, and
content yourself with the terrible algebra of your own.
Henry James, in a letter to a friend
We are sitting in the kitchen
up to our pits in the Sunday papers
when my father says that things never used to happen
when he was growing up. He means
the black crawly crawly Darfur fly, man
on a leash, girl with burns, crumpled machinery
at Inishowen; and he means Matthew,
who died yesterday at last of madness.
My father and I at the eye of the panopticon,
two of Prometheus' descendents, bound
at the centre of a shrinking globe. Sometimes
he used to turn the television off, newspapers
would grow angular holes
where bloodshed had been. Now it's I
want to fold origami cranes of the papers for him,
build bonfires of television sets.
It circles us, the noise, all the same. When people ran
from the falling towers, they stopped
to buy disposable cameras, stood
with their backs to the towers to watch
the house of cards fall over
and over on shop window TV screens. No wonder,
perhaps, that you with your too much of gentleness
wanted out, and we did not stop you.
Your friends expect to weigh forever
what we could have given
against what we could not change.
What kind of algebra would it take?
Matthew, love, I carry myself with care on Mondays.
I lie to hairdressers. I walk. I carry a notebook
to write down feelings
in case I need them again. I pretend
to be someone else at traffic lights. I stay clear
of mirrors, newspapers sometimes. I live
as best I can. I do the awful maths.