Listowel Saturday*

He would have had something to say
about the Conor Pass that grey morning;
a last look at Dingle mere fancy in the sleet,
and the wind a caricature except for its bite.
The news was full of it, of course,
but it was still a shock
to drive into the town, grey too that day,
and be brought to a pause
right smack bang outside the church,
ten minutes to the requiem.
The last time I’d driven through Listowel,
some years before,
en route to a B&B near Kenmare,
the hardware shop had been
spectacularly on fire
and traffic was stalled
as the fire trucks wailed.
If that outcome was negotiable-
and we were never to know-
there was no equivocating this timeslice:
you can’t cancel a funeral,
at least not indefinitely.
Apart from the latecomers scurrying black,
and the indifferent bell,
the rest of the town was ghostly.
As we drove towards Tarbert on the
John B. Keane Road
we were the only travellers
at eleven o’clock that Saturday morning,
and would be well gone
across the great river
by the time they carried
his body the same route.
The stage was set
on that fine long road
for the third act of a drama
whose first act was tantalisingly
proceeding without us.
In the ensuing days,
of all the words, his own included,
of all the tributes,
it was his wife, a photo,
leaning low and close over his coffin,
gazing through the glossy wood,
her two hands flat on his chest
in a moment of such tender silence,
that was the most eloquent and abiding
even in the farewelling.

*in memoriam John B. Keane, playwright, native of Listowel, Co.Kerry, 1928-2002.