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 atall.
Every single Irish day 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,
for suicide at irish rates is self-destruction as mass movement
and tells us that the life we live
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 park in the centre of town.
A young man hanging himself in his children’s bedroom
so that 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: he exists; off: he does not.
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 car
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
but herself, El Greco-style cartoons, and a telephone
my mother, who has spent her whole life
my mother, who has spent her whole eternity
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,
though never quite breaking into a keen.
Yes, my mother calls 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 calls and tells and tells
as if she were 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-
is made worth living again
for all of us.
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