‘The Royal Canal’ by Janice Fitzpatrick Simmons

The Royal Canal



The worst fear I have
is travelling through a grave-
the dark in which somehow your eyes
still see the light. We came to the gates
and you left the barge with lock key,
to open those gates for me-
the gates held shut against me,
the gates where Odysseus
summoned his dead to presence.
And there I was at the gates middles aged,
driving Charon’s boat across the Styx
What a wild panic! The barge steering
itself against my will.
You were straining with the machinery
to let me through. How could I let you down?
Anger at my fear fed me now
so I mastered the barge, drove into the lock
and held there while the gates gonged shut behind me.


Thomastown Harbour mellow
warm spring evening on the Royal Canal
with you. Blackthorns and willow blossoming
on the banks. This the warmest spring that I remember.
A canal boat, you and me,
hard physical work- tired and rewarded
by experience. The small dark cered moorhens
in their nests; mooring sometimes au sauvage- in nature-
Thoreau and Walden Pond – this journal
and notes of how I love you.
The dawn chorus of birds is many voiced,
so many voices for us to hear and hear again.
Here is our journey with a purpose.
You and I on the canal that moves on,
moves slowly toward you and slowly toward me.

Swan Alone

A swan without a mate
followed the barge along the canal.
She was a harbinger
of what it is to love without,
for now she loved the barge
and followed its movements.
Following first from a distance and behind
I watched the growing light gather round
her whiteness. Then in an ecstasy of wings
she passed low over the boat-
her curving body and the audible
beat of wings ten feet above me. Me the girl inside
was caught by tears for you my lost mate.
And here I was on a barge with a man I love
who leaves me mostly on my own
but not now coming from Westmeath’s
Thomastown, through Hyde Park,
the Cappagh Bog. The swan floated in the light
of a rising clay-red sun burning
the frost to a ghosting mist leading us on
to The Hill of Down and then rising she was gone,
returned to her own mysteries.

Lost Things

Shimmering pink sea water
in the sand flats and out further
tractors, oyster gatherers bending
to their cold work- a little cold
in this room too, so the children
not children build me a fire
while I watch the sun go down
thinking about lost things
and the future with or without you.

The Royal Canal Sequence is © Janice Fitzpatrick Simmons, from Saint Michael In Peril Of The Sea Published Salmon Press 2009.

fitzpatricksimmonsjaniceJanice Fitzpatrick Simmons

Her collections are Leaving America (Lapwing, 1992); Settler (Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare, Salmon Publishing, 1995); Starting at Purgatory (Salmon Publishing, 1999); The Bowspirit (Belfast, Lagan Press, 2005); and Saint Michael in Peril of the Sea (Salmon Poetry, 2009).

A former Assistant Director of The Robert Frost Place in New Hampshire, with James Simmons she was co-founder and Director of The Poets’ House/Teach na hÉigse, most latterly located in Falcarragh, County Donegal.

She lives in Donegal.


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