All rituals are strange customs of the desperate,
the hard look for meaning, symbols made
of ordinary objects, gestures to grace them.
Consider modern strips of cloth hung in trees
by Colman’s well, colors in touch with the body
of someone sick or dying, the dearly beloved’s
sleeve carried in a pocket up the raw rock slope
to the spring that runs through mossed-over stones,
ferns flourishing big as trees. Flannel rags
of cotton, wool, polyester—the trashed up
forest a desecration of the Holy Well.
A dirty hand dipped and hung each clootie.
A persistent belief in a healing holiness Colman
would have wept to see, knowing all suffer and die.
We’ve walked a short way up from the road
in new boots and rain jackets. Hard to pick a way
through vines running everywhere on big stones,
wet mist dripping from leaf and stone lip,
mouth of rock. Ordinarily impossible to find
this tangled place, Colman’s cave and well,
the oratory he built before Rome imposed
strict rule and order for monastic life.
Here wildness itself claims and reclaims
body and earth, green breath in a bewildering
wilderness. Colman wrapped himself
in deer-skins to keep warm, trimmed wild beauty
to animal essentials. A worried way to solitude,
the hermit-monk’s discipline to let be.
Here under an eagles’ eyrie in the burren
with his mouse to nibble him awake, his fly to mark
his last-read word, his rooster to remind him of time,
Colman prayed, chanted Celtic syllables, meditated
in the morning and followed the evening flight of eagles.
A wall remains, an arch. We settle behind it
in the shade and summon his name. Any word spoken
is resonant. Cameras stop whirring and clicking.
Michael, whose idea it was to bring us to
this place, reads his poem about Saint Colman,
who denied himself all comforts except words,
their warm precision flowing from his mouth.
We’ve trudged up the king’s clattering Road of Dishes,
hardly aware of our noise and desolation.
Winner of Yeats Society of NY Poetry Prize 2015