“Two Poems by Ciarán Carson”, in The Times Literary Supplement (23 Nov. 2007), p.8.

Je Reviens


“Je Reviens”

Nice perfume, I said. Yes, you said, the last time I saw you.
What is it about it? I said. The House of Worth, you said,

1932. My mother would have been seventeen.
It's the scent GIs in Paris would buy for their girl-friends

as a promise that they would return when demobilized.
That some did not goes without saying. I come again,

Je reviens. The overall effect is difficult to describe,
since it seems to develop separately

but simultaneously on two distinct levels, wavelengths
of suggestion and risk as well as definite statement.

One factor is mysterious and woody, with piquant
flashes of herbs, the other a heady rush of flowers.

It is based on narcissus poeticus, a native
of the underworld attractive to ghostly reflections.

Iris root is an essential, ingredient, Iris
a sister of the Harpies, and messenger of the gods,

who ferries the souls of dead women to the underworld,
who personifies the rainbow, the iris of the eye.

How we got from the scent to the Afghan rug I don't know,
but as we sprawled carelessly on its ground of red madder

we began to enter its arabesques of indigo
and purpurin flecked with yellow larkspur of the desert.

At first the pattern seemed to be a Tree of Life,
but then the warp and weft began to shift and shimmer under us,

becoming now a dragon and phoenix in combat, now
a snarl of vines or snakes. Ensnarled and thinking to escape,

we plunged down through the ages till we landed on a field
of Afghan war rug bright with helicopters, guns and tanks.

[ close ]  
[ top ]

“L’Air du Temps”

That whiff of L'Air du Temps I got back then in the wardrobe -
I remember when I first registered that primal scent,

whence the symbolism of the pair of intertwining doves,
and the frosted glass bottle that made you think of Paris

under a cloudless winter sky, as I did of your blouse
of pale pastel blue, so crisp and clean and near transparent.

Then it began to develop waves, and I was standing
with you on a beach as we noted how the laps of foam

mouthed upon one another, how the crest of the barrel
doubled and broke into a shrubbery of jumping sprays.

We got soaked with spindrift and spray, our cheeks frosted with brine,
but we saw the waves well. In the sunlight they were green-blue,

flinty sharp, and rucked in straight lines by the wind, bottle-green
under their forelocks, or the turned-over plait of the crest.

The laps of running comb buffeting the sea wall doubled
on themselves, plied and purled in their folded crash and back-swash,

clocking the stones underwater against one another.
We leaned unsteadily into the wind all the way back

to the hotel. We stood and looked at the waves for a while
from the bay window. We switched off the lights to watch TV.

They were showing the latest news from my native city.
It looked like a Sixties newsreel where it always drizzled,

the police wearing glistening black ulsters and gun-holsters.
When it came to the bit with the talking heads we switched off.

We must have drifted off to the far-off sound of the waves,
both of us thinking of how when taking off your jersey

of rib-knitted wool in the dark, with an accidental
stroke of your finger you drew a flash of electric light.

[ close ]  
[ top ]