Plough Monday (Mummers’ Dance)

She doesn’t understand their language,
so they dance
in naked feet and leather boots,
hooded and robed, in cotton shirts
or bare-chested, with fire sticks
and petals on their faces.

Alone, in packs of five or six,
walking widdershins,
fluttering hands
like the wings of rock doves,
dancing poetry in the world of acts.

And it may be that once she did understand.
Eons past, our guttural sounds had sense:
she formed our throats, whittled bone,
the small muscles of our voices /
but time passed.
She lost interest.

So now they jig-step like jesters
at the heart and edges of power,
on the all-consuming
blind and toothless crone.
Throats dry,
with a finger,
they inscribe on her broad, flat palm
the word for water.

from Deirdre Remembers a Glen

Fruitful glen of fish-filled pools
rounded hills of lovely wheat;
the memory brings me great distress,
glen of bees and the wild horned ox.

Glen of cuckoo, thrush, and blackbird,
precious cover for every fox;
glen of garlic, green with cress,
flowering clover curly-crested.

The clear cries of the red-backed deer
under the oak-thick ridge
gentle hinds and they so timid
well hidden in the wooded glade.

Glen of the red berried rowan
fruit fit for every flock of birds,
fatted badgers slumbering
quiet in burrows with their young.

Glen of the silent blue-eyed hawk
glen of the bountiful harvest
sheltered every side by pointed peaks
glen of the wild plum and blackberry.

Glen of the sleek-brown flat-nosed otter
leaping lightly, freely fishing,
many are the stately white-winged swans,
salmon spawning in the stony brook.

Glen of the star-tangled yew
dew-touched glen of gentle kine
glen of the shining chalk-white sun
and graceful women, perfect as pearls.

(Irish, poss. 14th century; a reworking from three published versions)