‘But for the red perch in the black stream
my life has been nothing…’
—’Geronimo,’ Paul Durcan
Low fog-bloom of morning across the islands
of Lough Arrow below Carrowkeel
and the passage graves. I’m full circle
to my runaway coach of the sixties,
a rented caravan parked near Abbey Ballindoon
to write poems, and Yvonne, just twelve,
coming faithfully on her bicycle to bring
tea and her clarified heart, a listening
I can still touch these forty years hence.
‘Oh keep it!’ she’d plead for a poem
I was throwing out, as if it were a stray cat
needing shelter. But it was more than mercy
how poems moved her. Every young poet
should wish for such a listener, a bare
and eager companion to trance. What she
must have thought, neighboring war-grief,
my young pilot husband strafing
in Vietnam and no way to compass the unseen
damage. ‘But for the red perch in the black
stream…’ and she—now only a few hundred yards
from my cottage at Ballindoon—asking the questions
about love and death and friendship, her life
eventually cut short by cancer a year after
But that strange aftermath of her letter to me,
discovered after her death, telling me in first glow
she had met her love. The great luck accomplished,
she wanted me to know.
Red perch, red perch it has all been
a re-making in the black stream.
There is a coal tit that pecks every morning
at my windows until I come.
It’s her, I think, wanting in.
Her favorite uncle, Josie, my late love,
gives the thought a chance
and when, day after day, the bird returns,
we don’t call her name, but
like air after flight,
she is there.
for Yvonne McDonagh Gaffney