I am indebted to Mark Ulysses and his wonderful website for the publication of these two poems.
The Safety of Numbers
How did they ever get around the world
with those old charts, our ancient mariners,
our bold explorers of the unknown vasts?
And did they think Herodotus had fixed
the boundaries with his two awkward lumps
depending south and east of Europe? Or
did Strabo ever lead a midshipman
to shout in loud excitement Land Ahoy?!
They’d heard reports of terra incognita
stretching from the horizon towards the rim
with monstrous creatures over-brimmed and men
with heads that grew out of their armpits,
humanoid fantasticals described
by those who’d ventured – but not ventured far,
in holy fear of falling off the edge
and into God’s great anger at impertinence.
Possessed by incoherent certainties,
unfazed by years of being disbelieved,
they sailed with little but their intuition
as their guide— as still it is with those
defy the safety of numbers, choose
to steer beyond the known with Erikson,
convinced that almost everything that leads
to anything worthwhile is wagered on a hunch.
Keenagh, Co. Longford, c.148 BC.
Eamhain Mhacha’s fame was spreading,
Royal Cruachan Aí expanding
when this timber corduroy track
was laid to bridge these ancient wetlands.
Here, the heavy work of those
who felled the several hundred trees
and those who strained to load the carts
and haul them creaking to Corr Liath.
Here, the skill of carpenters
that split with axe and shaped with adze,
and here the work of dextrous hands
that wove the beds of brushwood mats.
These mortised joints, with tenons tongued
to lock exactly one to one,
were honed before the Inca masons
paved the Andean trails with stone.
A muffled sound of wooden cartwheels
seems to echo from these logs,
and thud of shaft-hole tool to linger
on the silence of the bog.