My mother calls me up again, to speak to me of suicide.
Another young man in the west has committed his suicide.
She tells me that I knew him in my teenage years
before I left home instead of killing myself
but I don’t remember him at all.
Every single Irish week ten of us are doing it.
In my old town and dozens similar suicide’s as regular
as weddings are. A plague, a scourge, an epidemic: I’m tired
of public platitudes like these. Not medicine nor scripture
can explain it; suicide at Irish rates is self-destruction
as mass movement, telling us the life we live,
all-of-us, here-and-now, has something
seriously wrong with it.
Here’s a cliche with some life in it –
hope is what the spirit breathes.
Without it soul is drowning, tumbling
towards that bedrock of unfeelingness
we call the final resting place because
we cannot sink beyond it. Nor can we raise ourselves
from death, though each blind atom spinning free from
our decay will blend in turn with all there is
from starlight down to sucker-fish
in matter’s everlasting carousel.
Alive and not unhappy now, and strolling through
my present neighbourhood towards Superquinn
for milk and bread, and chocolates or wine for my girlfriend,
I try to imagine my mother’s distant face
as she speaks to me of suicide.
I image her framed in a darkness
like background in Dutch Renaissance portraits,
empty, yet dense; boundless, yet claustrophobic.
I see her haloed there by grotesque animations, miniature
pop-up-and-dissolve images of young men committing
their miniature suicides:
A young man hanging himself under a fag-butt moon
in a copse of old oaks in a town-centre park.
A young man hanging himself in his children’s bedroom
so his children will find him that way
when they get home.
A young man OD-ing on his buddy’s full phial of methadone
at Christmas in his mother’s living room.
A young man double-barrelly decapitating himself
in a cow shed;
the gun-roar submerged in the chaos of cows and machines.
A young man jumping into a fast-flowing river-
dead-cold-halt after zooming through
a three-day bender.
A young man jogging a dirt track leading up to a cliff,
then lepping off.
The hissing rocks, the witless fizzing of the sea.
The on-off beam of an automated lighthouse,
on, off, on, off; on…
A young man, sloshed, sliding sideways into a choppy reservoir
(two long-moored pleasure boats creaking there) .
A young man choking himself on exhaust fumes
shortly after texting his final message
to the daughter he is not, with good reason,
allowed to go near.
A young man high-speeding his absurdly vroomed-up motorcar
into a midnight bend, staging it as an accident
so as to will the least mercy of a speakable grief
to those whom ceremony musters to attend.
From this bleak cinema inside my head, containing nothing
but herself, El Greco-style cartoons, and a landline telephone,
my mother, who has spent her whole life,
my mother, who has spent her whole eternity
surrounded, besieged by so many vainglorious, self-hating men
trying to get off the planet, calls up to speak to me of suicide,
with her Kerry accent cracking, her truth-parched accent cracking,
always verging though never quite breaking into a keen.
Yes, my mom calls me up every couple of weeks
to tell a fresh suicide I could easily be,
a fresh tomb I should statistically be buried in.
She calls and she calls and she tells and she tells,
as if she was the ledger of death self-inflicted
and I – her firstborn, the poet – a morbid accountant
who must reckon the substance, the meaning,
the worth of all this self-slaughter
but I can decipher no more
than this one thing so obvious and sure:
young men in Irish small towns and townlands,
suburbs and exurbs, flat-blocks and villages
are going to go right on killing themselves
until this life, this incredible life I adore
and which must not be wasted
be made worth living and living
and living again, for everyone.
From Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains, Salmon Poetry, 2014