Laurence O’Dwyer
from The Lighthouse Journal

Cover Image - Moonrise, Lofoten

In the Tower, Photo by Laurence O’Dwyer


Contents

 Occupation
 My First Norwegian Peak
 By the Lighthouse Door
 Dynamite
 Slack Line Music
 Barbed Wire
 Si Phan Don


Occupation

Kink and twist, we fish in rubble,
pulling at the tail end of more barbed wire
until it snaps and sunders with a puff.

Red dust like a magic trick: the invasion
of Poland. Hindenburg asleep. I prune
while Julien saws. Down at the boathouse,

a mountain range of plates rises from the sink.
Max is reading a paper about avalanche research.
The pier outside is stacked with trays of glass.

I’m not sure how much weight the boat can take.
We’ll find out tomorrow when we bring it all —
glass and wire — to the recycling centre.

Seven decades after the fact — maybe we could ask
the Chancellor for a little help, a subsidy perhaps
for decommissioning German memorabilia.

I use a hook to pull the trays. The wicker baskets
we take down the steps in pairs. I ask Julien for
a rest at the switch-back. My muscles are burning.

Work done, he goes back to the tower to do a little
sanding of the wooden slats, the wainscoting.
What he always does when he’s tired and needs

a rest from heavy lifting. In Understanding Wood,
Hoadley describes rift grain as occurring at an angle
between forty-five and ninety degrees to the surface.

He calls the definition of the Woodwork Institute
‘bastard sawn’. It is a language I love, lamellophone:
a go-devil, a splitting maul, the oft confused quarter-sawn

with cambium flecks and medullary rays that no rift-sawn
wood can rival. I could go on forever or at least
until the buzz-saw nearly has my own hand cut off.

§

After the two boys had gone to bed last night;
I went to the deck to brush my teeth, thinking

— or maybe I said aloud — Do they ever get tired?
I meant the seagulls and their wheeling caw,

eternally sea-sick. Their nausea comes
from the Greek word for a ship.

But there were no ships in the bay last night,
no Odysseus coming from the waves

to surprise a beautiful Nausicaä. I spat
a mouthful of toothpaste onto the rocks.

The way gulls foul sea-cliffs with guano.
The moon was rising over Lofoten.

I thought of soldiers unloading that barbed
wire for the first time. New as bales of hay.

I bet one of them returned to Frankfurt
where he worked as a chemist, playing

the violin in his spare time. He forgets
the name of the lighthouse keeper’s wife,

her nod as he stands on the pier.
In the morning, Julien’s up and at it —

doing his damnedest to get tetanus
with splinters and wood and fire.

The sink in the boathouse is piled higher
with dirty dishes while Max takes the stove

apart trying to fix the spark of the burner.
The knob of the ring is broken.

We use a dinosaur egg to keep it pressed.
An elegant safety feature — how a stove

senses the conductivity of a flame.
The combustion of gas releases a sufficient

number of electrons to support a current.
An electric circuit thus starts or stops

the igniter, based on whether or not the flame
is lit. Max would have known all this. I didn’t.

I wished he wouldn’t fix everything.
I liked using that egg; was sad to see

it’s legend disappear, even if it was just
a smooth, round stone. The click of the auto-

ignition — the flame, the burn — burner of ships —
wasn’t that the origin of Nausicaä’s name?


My First Norwegian Peak

White wake. Wind-slap.
Speed. The boat is filled
with buckets and trays
of broken glass, long
protruding shards touch
the ribs of the frame
that’s inflated and rigid
with air. The glass seems
to smile at the danger
of so many blades.
Restless and nervous,
the eye shoots out
to Lofoten as we narrow
to the pier. Once moored,
we lift and haul and swing.
Then drive the load
to the recycling center.
Work done, Max drops
me by the roundabout
at Straume. Down the road,
a dry-stone wall borders
a field where a farmer
leans on a shovel. I nod
and ask about the summit.
He points to an antenna
round the corner. No English,
but sound and semaphore
are clear. Up there, turn right.
Something about a false
summit, a ridge that he draws
with a flourish of the hand.
I wave my thanks and carry on
round the corner, over a fence,
through brambles and lichen
that disappear under snow.
It steepens and brightens
to a peak that floats high
above the water with an airy
drop to a horseshoe bay below.
Out in the ocean, Litløy —
our island home — is crouched
behind Gaukværøy.
It seems there should be
some protocol, some shaking
of hands before the survey
of the interior and the ocean,
but everything sings from
its core, precisely because
there’s no contract. The blue
dances of its own accord.
The snow gleams with wavelets
beyond our ability to see.
The green in the valley
is blurred by so many mirrors
of blue. Scrambling down
takes half the time
of climbing up. I make it
to the roundabout. Put out
my thumb. The third car stops.
Greire. He’s from the south
but every summer his parents
brought him to the north.
Last year, he decided
to move for good.
He’s on his way home
from an interview
for the job of janitor
at the local school.
For now, he works
at the hardware store.
He says he’s happy. There’s no rush.
He loves the land, the silence.
Then he adds — you’re from Ireland.
He’d picked up Max the week
before — that’s how news travels
up here. Max being Max he was
hitching with a pair of skis.
He’d told Geire about a new
arrival. If you want to hide —
the worst place to go would be
the Arctic. The more the land
resembles a vanishing point,
the clearer our whereabouts become.

He drops me at the pier.
There’s a bench by a cabin,
red and rusting with a window
that lets no light in.
I’m alone for the first time
since I arrived. I open
a can of beer.
That’s the miracle
and the paradox of living
on a deserted island.
It’s the busiest place I’ve been.
Labouring on the lighthouse
has squeezed us like oranges;
peeled and torn and pressed
to the last drop. When Max
returns I notice that his jacket
looks like an old banana peel.

On our way home, the boat
is as buoyant as cork, lighter
by several hundred stone.
A few shards of glass remain,
a few beads of quartz, devoid
of any danger. The speed picks up.
Sea spray cuts but does no harm.


By the Lighthouse Door

What is the Norwegian for download?
Julien rocks back and forth with his laptop
propped on the súgán beside the stove.

To count each lap from pier to summit,
I set a stone by the lighthouse door.
Lightheaded, I pitch myself down the helix

that winds round the base of the tower,
leaping, two steps at a time, pulling
on ligament and bone — counter-tiller —

more like freefall than running, a plumb-
line torques all the way to the final leap
and bound that plants me on the runway

of the pier. Now slap on the brakes,
kick the boat — turn-around — back up.
Half-way through this ritual, I take

a bucket and fetch some water
for the stove. Bending down, I bobble
and panic as a wave swallows

the last steps of the pier. Unsteady scoop,
I yank the rope — green with algae — steady
the fear. The rings that pierce the snout

of the wall draw tight — now slack.
I haul the bucket up to the boathouse,
shaking and wobbling — briny star-melt,

eons old, spills and sizzles on the stove.
Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen stones. Atrium
peaked and capped. I place the final stone

and am ready for one last freefall, sailing
all the way to the boathouse where the bucket
is sitting on the ticking stove. In a shanty

of mirrors, I ladle steam over my shoulder —
the water is cut with salt and every little wound
sings: What is the Norwegian for download?


Dynamite

Bevan needed a place to winter-out. Son of a carpenter, resourceful to an almost comic degree, Elena took a liking to him — the ideal, the absurd. All manual jobs were his — problems of fish and fire and fowl. Just like Max, who became his understudy, Bevan was determined to take everything apart. The generator, the solar panels, the stove.

At the end of each day’s work, he jumped into the sea for a salt-water shock. Stars in the morning, stars in the evening. A folk tale of never-ending night.

From the pier to the lighthouse, one-hundred and thirty-nine steps. Fifteen times up and down equals two-thousand three-hundred feet of vert. I ran this, yoyo-style, many times a week. Max quoted me a time I never could beat.

When the sun finally returned, Elena brought him to the mainland where he was released like a bird. He cycled to the border with Russia. After a little rest he migrated south, meeting his father just outside of Tromsø. Bevan wanted to show Walt where he had wintered out. That’s why we’re headed to the mainland this morning.

§

A puffin struggles to take flight as we belly flop between the waves. Even in gloves, my fingers burn. Father and son are waiting for us on the pier at Steine. We load the bikes, the paniers, spare tyres.

Back on the island, everything is go. The old gangway — dashed in a storm — needs repair. Winches and pulleys are discussed — alternate strategies are sketched in the air. The whole thing must weight a tonne. The bolts are a flaking burning orange, like the stains below the scuppers of a ship. The I-beam (patented by the company of Forges de la providence — long-since bankrupt) cannot be trusted to hold. Max and Bevan converse about the likelihood — and consequence — of collapse.

§

Over tea, a story from the old days is told: a month after Bevan left, Elena decided that she wanted to deepen the bay; the outboard motor was snagging on the rocks at low-tide.

They gathered on the pier after the reef was seeded with dynamite.

       Should we stand back?

       It won’t be much!

An exclamation mark rose from the water and held for a moment before rocks and rubble came tumbling down.

§

The island is a bakery, a garage, a lab. The boys make muesli, motors and bread. A smooth white stone, a dinosaur egg, keeps the nozzle pressed on the stove.

Bevan studied Java programming before breakfast each morning. Art Ludwig’s Guide to Grey Water Run Off has coffee rings on the cover — it looks like a copy of the Principia.

Lime of the outhouse, seed of rhubarb wine — everything is a chance to run electricity through the algal bloom of our clowning. Eager for bubbling sap, we make homebrew to counter the monotony of tea. The kettle boils. I make another pot. All of creation is tired.


Slack Line Music

Pushed along by mist and rain,
I run past Per Anderson’s general store
or what remains of it. A few stone walls
behind the beach. Beams long since gone.
The village of Tarvågen has retreated
beyond the afterglow of creation.

§

Hitching from Lund, Max pushed thirty
kilograms of gear before him in a trolley.
He recalls: the jiu-jitsu champion of Sweden;
the man who tried to hang himself —
saved by the voice of the lord our god;
the famous petrol station where
they sold more buns than gasoline;
a caution from the police for hitching
on the slip-road of a motorway.
Meeting him two hours later, somewhere north
of Uppsala, they were impressed:
You travel fast, you and your trolley!

§

After work Julien sets up a slack line on the pier.
I sit beneath the rocks by the solar panels
as he balances over the page that I’m trying to read.

Arms rounding to an O above his head.
Reaching the ledge, he hops off and plucks the line.

If adventure has any kind of music
it is that note, puckered and improvised —
battered and plucked like a double bass.

§

It is late when I get back to the bucket
simmering on the stove.


Barbed Wire

Eyes! he shouts as a shard of glass whizzes
past my head. We’re digging out reams
and reams of old barbed wire; it’s double-helix,
prickledraad, in Dutch. Unwound, it stretches

from the island to the mainland and back again
Insert, delete, repair. The gods love torture,
open wounds. They glut themselves on despair.
But Julien is singing; pendulum pull — he drops

his axe and twists a chiral weakness. It snaps
in his hand like a rusty fish-head. We have bucket-
loads of the stuff. I trust his violence. The wire
is brittle as dried blood. I’m sure the gods hate him,

but they can go fuck themselves. They volunteered
to sit on their arse; he volunteered to work.


Si Phan Don

Every fast food restaurant longs for elsewhere.
I’m writing this from a kebab joint in Sortland
where the owner is watching cable news from
Istanbul on his laptop; he tells me he’s from
Alanya, former stronghold of the Ptolemaic
Seleucid, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman

Empires. There’s a painting of a river raft
on the wall — somewhere in China. By the window,
another painting — New England dusk and snow.
Eternally elsewhere, we rattle along the groove
of the world, a needle drifting into the vinyl
of the ocean, until we’re lifted up

and set down at the beginning of a memory,
a song: a church in Nyksund where a model ship
floats on plumb-line tackle, invisible, clear and strong.
A ghost ship. By the door, a double-helix leads
to a balcony where there is a ladder to another
room with a ladder to another song. I ring the bell.

It brings me to the Mekong — four thousand islands —
a riverine archipelago. On the far bank, a golden
Buddha, poorly lit. A radio crackles. Wind picks up.
Monks begin to scurry about the earth like ants
as the monastery percolates with rain as black as
coffee. A gong is rung. From my perch

I watch the dark where the river should be;
on the far horizon the tungsten flash of lightning.
Old photographer! Crack of incandescent bulb.
A sepia portrait clatters against the bamboo wall.
A curtain flutters by an open window. I’m worried
that it will crack and fall. The only glass is the glass

in the frame, and pressed against that glass,
the patriarch standing stiffly in a suit and tie —
colonial like Ataturk — pinned as a butterfly;
a dragon lurks in the silk of his daughter’s dress.
He longs to send her to Paris. Insists on speaking French.
Even in Laos, especially in Laos, they long

for somewhere else. In the morning, my notebook says:
Pineapple and coffee; blades of green tufted grass
in the water. I wonder if I can make it to the big island.

It’s not clear if this is a river or an ocean.
Four thousand islands. Si Phan Don. A creation myth.
I’m paddling hard though there is no sign of any current.






Laurence O’Dwyer holds a PhD in paradigms of memory formation from Trinity College Dublin. His first book of poetry, Tractography (Templar Poetry, 2018), received the Straid Collection Award. It includes his Poems from Haiti (Mudlark Flash No. 66, 2012) and Poems from Lapland (Mudlark Poster No. 140, 2016). He has another Mudlark Poster too, Poems from Litløy Fyr (No. 158, 2018). In 2018, he was a visiting scholar at the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of The Rensing Center (South Carolina). In 2017, he received a fellowship from The MacDowell Colony. In 2016, he won the Patrick Kavanagh Award for Poetry. He has also received a Hennessy New Irish Writing Award.

“Si Phan Don,” the last of the The Lighthouse Poems published here, received the Listowel (Co Kerry, Ireland) Writers’ Week Single Poem Prize (2019) and was published in an anthology produced by that festival.


Copyright © Mudlark 2019
Mudlark Flashes | Home Page