It’s Christmas Eve
and we’ve lined up our grievances again:
birds on a wire, pearls on a strand,
like the empty glasses on this table
in this tatty little bar.
Arrayed like empty glasses, they are, our grievances,
in this tatty bar in the Ormeau Road;
the bar with the cheap whiskey and the cheap ale
and the little electric Santa with the flashing eyes.
(Just nudge him in the belly and off he goes.)
Every Christmas Eve we meet here;
and we line them up, our grievances, here, just like this.
Just like the empty glasses we’ve strung along the edge of this table.
This is what we do. We line up our grievances and we compare them,
hold them to the light,
take them into our palms and weigh them, carefully,
like walnuts, or figs, or almonds.
I sometimes fear we’ve become those old men who can’t hold their Guinness,
those embittered old men—all rheumy with their loose vowels
untethered to their choppy c-c-consonants—
those tired and tiresome old men we could not abide
when we were young men.
This, I fear, is what we’ve become.
And this is what we do.
We carry our grievances with us everywhere,
rattling in our pockets—little netsuke, chipped yet made
smooth and grimy-beautiful by the fingering, like a rosary.
We are each of us anxious to share every one, again and again,
like children who’ve collected shells on the beach at Bangor.
“Oh! Another lovely seashell! Now run along, dear.”
There’s no Mummy here now to gently, obliquely,
question the currency of our babbling talk.
This is what we do.
We did it last Christmas Eve.
And at innumerable Christmas Eves before that.
And at Mummy’s funeral all those long years ago.
And at Da’s.
We spread our grievances out on inky squares of velvet
and examine them with our jewelers’ eyepieces,
these galling gemstones of our shrunken lives.
We know their every contour.
“I recognize that one.”
“Of course you do.”
This is what we do.
“Pay no mind to those young men over there,
watching us and whispering.”
“In the corner?”
“Yes, in the corner.”
“Yes, let us just ignore them.”
“They have no idea.”
“No idea at all.”
“Indeed, they haven’t lived at all. Pay them no mind.”
This is what we do because it’s come to this.
And when last call is finally upon us,
then—as we do every Christmas Eve—
we gather them back up again, our grievances,
and put them into our pockets,
and wander out of the bar and into the black, Belfast night,
a spectral rattle of netsuke trailing behind us.
“I gave those lads a sharp look on the way out.”
“You old dog.”
It’s a perilous meander along Sunnyside Street to the King Bridge.
“Mind where you’re putting your feet. If you turn over your ankle
I can’t carry you all the way to the hotel in Chlorine Gardens.”
“I’ll be alright. You’re not so steady yourself, you know.”
“We mustn’t slip and tumble into the Lagan, our pockets heavy and distended
like Virginia Woolf’s. We’d perish. Truly we would.”
“You’re speaking figuratively, of course.”
“Of course. Figuratively, and without consonants.”
“But I still understand you. Can you understand me?”
“Oh, yes. I can understand you. All those vowels. Every one.
I understand you perfectly.”