A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford

by Derek Mahon

A disused shed.jpgLet them not forget us, the weak souls among the asphodels.
— Seferis, Mythistorema

(for J. G. Farrell)

Even now there are places where a thought might grow —

Peruvian mines, worked out and abandoned

To a slow clock of condensation,

An echo trapped for ever, and a flutter

Of wildflowers in the lift-shaft,

Indian compounds where the wind dances

And a door bangs with diminished confidence,

Lime crevices behind rippling rain barrels,

Dog corners for bone burials;

And in a disused shed in Co. Wexford,

Deep in the grounds of a burnt-out hotel,

Among the bathtubs and the washbasins

A thousand mushrooms crowd to a keyhole.

This is the one star in their firmament

Or frames a star within a star.

What should they do there but desire?

So many days beyond the rhododendrons

With the world waltzing in its bowl of cloud,

They have learnt patience and silence

Listening to the rooks querulous in the high wood.

They have been waiting for us in a foetor

Of vegetable sweat since civil war days,

Since the gravel-crunching, interminable departure

Of the expropriated mycologist.

He never came back, and light since then

Is a keyhole rusting gently after rain.

Spiders have spun, flies dusted to mildew

And once a day, perhaps, they have heard something

– A trickle of masonry, a shout from the blue

Or a lorry changing gear at the end of the lane.

There have been deaths, the pale flesh flaking

Into the earth that nourished it;

And nightmares, born of these and the grim

Dominion of stale air and rank moisture.

Those nearest the door grow strong —

‘Elbow room! Elbow room!’

The rest, dim in a twilight of crumbling

Utensils and broken pitchers, groaning

For their deliverance, have been so long

Expectant that there is left only the posture.

A half century, without visitors, in the dark —

Poor preparation for the cracking lock

And creak of hinges; magi, moonmen,

Powdery prisoners of the old regime,

Web-throated, stalked like triffids, racked by drought

And insomnia, only the ghost of a scream

At the flash-bulb firing-squad we wake them with

Shows there is life yet in their feverish forms.

Grown beyond nature now, soft food for worms,

They lift frail heads in gravity and good faith.

They are begging us, you see, in their wordless way,

To do something, to speak on their behalf

Or at least not to close the door again.

Lost people of Treblinka and Pompeii!

‘Save us, save us,’ they seem to say,

‘Let the god not abandon us

Who have come so far in darkness and in pain.

We too had our lives to live.

You with your light meter and relaxed itinerary,

Let not our naive labours have been in vain!’


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