I

Ali
              seems everywhere these days.
I had such a strange dream last night
                            (just this last night).
It’s still part of me,
              fresher than yesterday’s snow.
                            I was at home
                                          and my Dad was there,
he was really here
              and I even felt the old familiar
                         tension.
We were driving to a supermarket
              and he told me to go in
                         to get that bread.
                               Your mother said you’d know the one.
I was searching the shelves
              when a dark second later,
                            I was on the train with a friend,
we passed bridges at Ringsend—
              I could see them through the window,
                            past her head.
I kept repeating,
              It would be easier if he were dead
                            because I do remember the removal,
                                   the funeral,
the cremation, but oh…
              we haven’t scattered his ashes yet.
                            She looked me in the eye
                            and said, that’s it—that’s what it is.
You can’t let go till it’s done.

 

II

Last week I read
              The Tao of Muhammad Ali
                            in one go, trying to devour it
to fill the void and then,
              on a long, long walk
                            in this strange place
                                   I swear
I saw Dad walking in the field
              walking alongside me a good deal away.
                            I remembered that
when I was nine
              he sent me to school with a story to tell
                            how before the Liston fight,
                                          Ali declared that,
The sun ain’t gonna shine no more.
              No one laughed
                            but I bore their ignorance proudly
                                          as only a nine year old can
and though later Dad said—
              You rejected everything I loved,
                            It was not true.
You see,
              I’ve been trying to put it all together—
              Dad, Ali, the sudden death
of a neighbour, his seventeen-year-old son
              who is left,
                            the robin I saw that morning
                                          before we got the word,
              so alive
against the grey January fields,
              and then later,
                            finding it by the gatepost
                                          and not wanting to look
and see the damage
              the car had done because
                            it was still a small handful,
                                          warm,
                            and in all this, all that rings true,
              all I have to hold to
is the full moon I saw the other night
                                          and that line of Tess Gallagher’s
                                                        on Carver’s last night:
                                                                      The moon shone like
the last beat of a mad man’s heart.

 

III

Maybe I’ll stick with the story
                            of the neighbour—
it seems more manageable
              than my own
                            sprawling grief;
my landlady asks if
              I want his old armchair—
                            I’d need to see it first,
but she hesitates,
              not wanting me (or anyone)
                            to see the state they’d lived in,
or more, that his son might know
              I’d seen.
                            She’s kept a fire lit
                                          in case he comes back
from his aunt’s and on an impulse says,
                            Come on and no one’ll see.
                                          We go in.
She leads me into the grey cottage
              and the cloying smell of damp
                                          assails us.
              In the bedroom,
by the double bed they shared
                            the wallpaper is dark and peeling.
                                          They never lit the fire,
she says, made do with the electric.
              She’s packed the dead man’s clothes
                            in black plastic bags,
                                          and plans to paint
so when the son comes back
                            it’ll be a different place,
                                          different
to that which he shared with his father
              for eight years.
I look at the chair
              through the bedroom door, decide not to take it.
As I leave something catches my eye,
              the wall is papered with clippings—
                            Evander Holyfield in victory,
                                          arms upraised.
The young lad boxes.
              He’d come home and wake his Dad
                            if he won.
                                          When he’d lose the man would say,
              Sure, even Cassius Clay lost sometimes.
Even Ali?
Even Ali.