"The Lull": a poem by Maurice Riordan

It happened on the cinder path between the playing fields
and the graveyard one afternoon in October
when all the leaves of the aspen flipped over
and stayed, the way a skirt might blow up and hold
in a gust of wind – except there was no wind,
one of those days when the thud of a football
hangs in the deadened air. But there was no thud,
no sound from man or bird. So I’d swear if I’d looked
at my watch just then the digits would have stuck

if I could have looked, for it must’ve been a time
when time was snagged in its fluid escapement
and in that lull no one can enter the world,
or leave it, the cars stand on the motorway,
the greyhound’s legs are knotted above the track,
a missile is framed in mid-flight, no sound
comes from the child’s mouth, the open beak,
and the shoal of herrings is a sculpted cloud
shimmering under the glass of rolling downs.

At this moment, when the joker palms the room-key,
the punching fist can be opened, the egg slipped back
under the nesting bird, and each of us could scurry
to forestall one mischance, or undo one wrong choice
whose thorn of consequence has lodged till now,
before whatever it is keeps the world scary
and true breaks loose. A squirrel turns tail
overhead, a chestnut rolls to the ground, and with it
a drawn-out scream arrives from childhood.



This article first appeared in the 18 February 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq: ten years on