Doireann Ní Ghríofa
A Symphony in Grey


i. Stone, Song             
(Schull, May 27th 2017)

Listen. Listen, in the distance, 
a cliff is lullabying the nest
of blue eggs perched on its ledge.
Below, a cave holds an aria
of stone, deep quaver-notes
trembling from an open throat.   

Where the mountain sings
of dark, inner rivers compose
silver sparks. On the summit, 
a cairn chants harmonies
of hands, a chorus
of lift and left and land. 

Boulders drone a low thrum
from deep, deep grey lungs. 
A pocketful of pebbles
hums a hymn of tumble-tilt. 
In the village jeweller’s shop,
strung pearls are crooning soft, 

but their diamonds are always sharp
and drunk, jostling in the moshpit, 
screeching punk. Flint sings of fire. 
Gravel is a children's choir. Listen. 
Listen. Music is set into every stone. 
Once we hear it, we are never alone. 


ii. A Symphony in Grey         
(Inishbofin, May 31st 2017)

A little before 7, a boat leaves the pier
at Cleggan. See it now, how it moves
onto a bay of deep blue, the little heft of it
shuffling sideways through grey waves. 

By a crate of raspberries and cherries
are a clarinet and a flute. Beyond the kegs
and tins of paint, a cello rests in its dark case. 
Their owners stand on deck in salted air, 

sea froth tangling in their hair. Whose fingers
first twitch over that wet ledge? Whose words
cast the accidental spell that conjures them? 
Who is first to glimpse the movement − the boy, 

the violinist or the cellist? Passengers hurry
there, to gasp and stare, fingers rippling the air. 
See? they call, See? Dolphins. Three. 
One a baby. How the ocean conjures them, 

swerve and lift, lengths of silver silk lifted
from a magician’s fist with a flourish. Again! 
Again, this symphony in grey, composed
and performed for this moment alone, 

for this small audience who will soon walk
Inishbofin’s rocks and roads, who will spin  
music from sea air. Come night, they each
dream of an ocean of stone, a sky of stone, 

and in between, a glimpse of a different grey, 
as though a handful of pebbles were
suddenly lifted and skimmed away. 
They are there still, those dolphins. 

Right now, they are rising again
from the sea between Cleggan and Inishbofin, 
silver skins glistening, lit by a sliver
of moon. When they sleep, they dream of you.

iii. and even the birds stop to listen
(Mountshannon, June 4th, 2017)

In Mountshannon, dawn
gathers starlings at the labyrinth  
to sing mornings into being. 

The dark always flees their tune,
letting light move
through that map of stone anew. 

All day, birds lilt here, 
until noon, 
when their beaks grow suddenly mute. 

Below, musicians test and tune;
above, small heads tilt, quizzical. 
The birds perch and listen, huddled snug. 

Soon, dusk will swoop in
on the wings of a thrush, 
lulling the lakeshore into its evening hush, 

but first, the birds soothe themselves, 
let their own song rest, and listen
as the air fills instead 

with the deft tune
of human hands
and human breath.


iv. Dusk  
(Duckett’s Grove, June 13th 2017)

At Duckett’s Grove, the stone
window still holds, though
        its glass fell long ago. 

Dusk light still tilts the same shape on the wall, 
where swallows spill through the window, 
        like something almost said. 

Under the sill, a woman’s lips,
chiselled in stone. A whisper almost
        echoes: Don't go, don't leave me 

alone. At this windowframe, 
dusk once saw another pause  
        to gaze across this grey. Now, 

last light lifts older voices from stone. 
Listen, they sing, insistent as pebbles  
        in a tin. Did you miss this? I did. 

Like fingertips lifted from strings, 
they set the silence trembling.
        At sunset, see a starling sit here, 

to trill its refrain of overheard conversation
again. Again. O distance, how it sings
        to us from this sill, labyrinth of rubble.

Where small forests of moss lift
slender stems from rock, each grips
        a seed aloft, remembering  

a voice, now lost. O distance. O echo. How stone
holds seeds of other days. How we almost
        sense them there, when we turn away. 

Did you miss this? – I did. I miss it still. 
– When we go, will others think of us?
– They will. They will. 


v. The Rounds - St Patrick’s Well at 4AM
(Clonmel, July 9th 2017)

When they come through the night, 
they come bearing light;

their hands all hold
a phone set to flashlight mode. 

How bright, each fistful of light.
How it spills through fingertips, bright,

so bright, vivid as the lichen
that grows gold over old stone. 

One by one, they lift light
to an old path;

when they come
through the velvet night,

they come
bearing light.


vi. Echo, Overheard in a Carrick-on-Shannon Garden
(Carrick-on-Shannon, July 12th 2017)
(after Ovid's Metamorphoses Book III) 

Even here, as dusk lifts a new sound, 
even here, her voice abounds. 
Listen: how she follows each cord
with her own note, how she chime
in reply to drum and keyboard. 
Oh Echo, we know 

how you wept for faithless Narcissus, 
how you knelt alone on the forest floor, 
pillowing a cheek in leaves and loam.
You felt yourself sink, Echo, 
first hips, then elbows. To ripples
of quartz, your veins paled, 

and slowly, your gaze shed its shame, 
hardened, began to change.
What was once a chain of pale vertebrae
turned grey, and you became a boulder, 
touched only by fern, slug and rain. 
The forest was felled. A town grew instead. 

Houses were born. Now, every year brings new
voices to town, and still, we find you here, 
Echo. Wind carry sweet clutches of soil
so that in the clefts that were once your hips, 
hillocks of moss now grow soft. 
Sparrows drop seed to spring bluebells 

and snowdrops by your stone feet. 
We hear you, Echo. Here, by the tree, 
your whisper sounds soft and clear, 
for you are here, still, in stone. 
We call "Hello? hello?" and listen −
for your reply. It comes, low. Low.


vii. Warriors Rise in Waves
(Árainn Mhór, 23ú Iúil)
(after Terry Riley’s ‘Ancient Giant Nude Hairy Warriors Racing Down The Slopes To Battle’)


Calm, 
that cold path, cast
over ocean by a sunlit shaft.

Harmless. 
Postcard-pretty. 
Until those sudden notes, 

the rise of violin, 
bass, clarinet, cello, 
and seemed a gentle shimmer 

swerves
suddenly to show
the reflected glint 

of an army
speeding over the ocean,
war-boats sliding down each wave slope, 

the glint
of a thousand arrows,
growing close, closer, so close 

that we can
almost make out their glare, 
their scuffed knuckles, rough 

beards, the shine
of bare chests, there. 
We can nearly hear their oar grunt-heave,

nearly see
the silver carvings
of their shields, the fierce 

glint of teeth, 
their fearsome
silver spears. Yes. They are here. 

 
viii. Quarry Men
(Daniel O’Connell Church, Cahersiveen, August 3rd, 2017)

Count them, count them, the men
who unbound the mountain,
who split it with explosives, 
ho lifted pickaxes to rip its stitches, 
who split and spli and lifted it.

Count them, the men
who unbound the mountain
who warred with i, who shoved it, 
shovelled it, who left a dent
when they leant into its heft.

Count them, the men
who laid down their heads
and dreamt of the mountain, 
carts shackled to horses’ backs, 
hooves cobbling a clatter-chant. 

Count them, the men
who revised the horizon with only
human strength, who hollowed a peak
and brought it south, to build
a spire high into the sky.

Count them, count them, the men
who unbound the mountain. 
Count them. 
Count them. 
Crown them.


ix. Stone Ancestress
(Kilkenny City, August 16th 2017)

Easier to imagine her
in the distance, as a lone
standing stone, her shoulders
notched with ogham, a stole
of lichen-gold and moss spore
draped over a gown of silver stone – 

but even here, in the city, we hear her hum. 
Listen. She is here, still: in stone lintels, 
in windowsills, in the flight of castle steps
worn by centuries of footfall, she is in them all. 
Even at the top of the tallest city carpark, 
she is locked in that megalith of processed rock.

Listen. She sings of the travels of gravel, 
of rivets and rivers, of liquid concrete
grown rigid. How she was exploded
from mountains, quarried and carried, 
cut, crushed, lifted, dumped, cemented, 

stuck. At dusk, 
she lullabies the city to sleep
so quietly. The moon slips up unseen.
Street lights shine in puddles, 
and our ancestress rests. She sleeps in shale. 
Her eyes fall closed, goniatite swirls
embedded in old city stone.


x. Today, Buried
 (Spike Island, September 16th 2017)

Somewhere nearby today, 
buried in clay, 
there is a stone. 

Steadfast, 
alone, 
this single stone. 

If you dig, you will find it,
I promise you this, 
a grey twin for your fist.

Tugged from the ground, 
it will be dark and cold
as your other life, that shadow-world 

you sometimes felt near, 
but never chose. 
No need to fear, anymore. 

Dig. 
Find it, 
this stone of yours, 

wipe it on your coat, 
lift it high
and see 

how its line of quartz
is so bright just there, 
where it thwarts the grey. 

Today, today. 
Hold the stone close
and think of your days. 

Not many remain.