the fence and wall, the town divided the way a clock is divided by time as the Lough cuts the one o’clock hour from its face. All the missing trains. Parking lots chock-a-block by eight surrounding savage, seventies architecture where foxglove breaks pavement with a will unlike the old Irish backstory. The Apple Store shining like the church of all things modern. Mute factories brittle with webs of broken windows where workers once walked down from East Belfast with overalls and pails then stepped up late afternoon to the rail for a few jars before slumping uphill home in the long graying of dusk to wives whose day was made of muscling water into flax at the river’s edge. Dockyards abandoned with the want of urban space. Piers slapped by the seawater wake tossed by the hulking ferry that glows white as it churns up the lough. Dog-faced seals that raise their untroubled heads to watch the ship pass through the gunmetal gap the sea plows through these Antrim hills, fields divided stone by stone on either shore.
Up landfill hill where the groundwater seeps at the base of the mound have long turned to mud-red rainbows of iron and oil with the dog early and below us the snow holds on in avenues through the still bare trees, snow made ice by the weight of passing feet and shadow as the grass nearby sheer waits for Spring with a kind of patience the dog doesn’t share.
She sprints across the field and toboggans into cold puddles atop this pile of trash grassed over and made marketable for the subdivision nearby—galaxy of redwings and fairy houses children build beneath boreal oaks, dwellings of discards, sticks and moss, and roofs of purple tiles made from mussel shells dropped by gulls onto the rocks by the river to break them open and reveal their bodies of orange and glue. She sprints and sleds on her shoulder across the hard ground into gathering pools of old snow and rain that have nowhere to go but down, down and through into this warren of then-and-covered-over- and-turned-to-a-field-where-one-might-walk- with-a-dog-some-day-in-early-Spring. Down into the midden of our discards—tricycles, refrigerators, oilcans, drums, newspapers, glass and the false limb of a man abandoned, alone with its leather straps. A horse’s skeleton approaching the flatness of fossils. That old Ford no one could start. Two guys shoved it to the top of the road that led to the cliffs above the empty quarry this hill was once, released the brake, and watched the slow caterwaul of metal as it tore itself apart trying to find bottom.
Jeffrey Thomson is the author of four books of poems, including Birdwatching in Wartime, winner of the 2010 Maine Book Award and 2011 ASLE Award in Environmental Creative Writing. Birdwatching in Wartime is currently being translated into Spanish and Russian. He has three books forthcoming in the next three years: a memoir, Fragile; his translations of The Complete Poems of Catullus; and a new collection of poems, The Belfast Notebooks. In 2012 he was the Fulbright Distinguished Scholar in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Poetry Centre at Queen’s University Belfast, and in 2015 he will be the Hodson Trust-John Carter Brown Fellow at Brown University and the C.V. Starr Center at Washington College. He is currently professor of creative writing at the University of Maine Farmington.