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Scrutiny

In the Summer of 2018 I was visited in my home in the Wicklow Mountains by two people who I hadn't seen for nearly ten years. Both artists, both living in Berlin, both important friends from the past. But each from a different past. They came as part of a project which involved one month travelling the roads of Ireland making portraits and drawing landscapes. 

When they stepped through my door for a six hour portraiture session that would last well into the small hours, it was the first time the three of us had ever been in the same room together. 

Christopher is someone I have known from primary school. We travelled through those explosive years of adolescence together, hung around the fringes of our estate, played music together, growing up nudging each others' shoulder until we unintentionally went our separate ways - in that inexplicable sundering that happens sometimes between close friends.

David I met almost immediately after this time, in a café in Dublin City where we worked into the night, locked up shop and sat in the rising heat of nightime Temple Bar, smoking from the first floor window before entering the current that would take us through pubs and riverfronts and squats, pliable and accepting of what came our way. 

When they met each other in Berlin years later, they soon found that they had me in common. And in a serpentine way, this led them to my house where I sat before the stove, four am, the past, present in the grainy arms length between me and them. Each silent. Each poised over their page. Seeing me through different filters. Through different shimmers of time. And between us three. Communication.

In the hours I sat, silent under their scrutiny, I composed a response in verse to the scratch of their charcoal on paper. And after, as we sat at the table, drinking the last drink, they showed their pieces and I scribbled the words down. To explain the experience. To reflect, in some way, the disrupted ties between us three. The stitched history. Three sketches. Complete. But not finished.

Scrutiny

Over the mountains they come

In an import rental car

Driving on the left

Tourists in their own land

From Berlin

Where they’d met

In a warehouse exhibition

Shoes worn thin

And found me in common

And shared stories

That became myth

Until they come with tin boxes

Full of charcoal

To do my portrait

 

And I sit where they say

My face heavy where

They hang their eyes

Searching for lines

That journey

On midnight light

From eye through hand

Tincture of what once they knew

Sopped up along the way

 

Sit forever

Until I feel the mask slide

Feel my blood flow

Feel my hair grow

To the sound of charcoal scratch

Dirty on the white

One looking, scratching, quick

The other's slow regard,

Falling to deep scribing

The thick paper unseen

Takes the abuse

 

A two am break,

Words usher softly,

I move

In movement, we speak,

And we smoke one

Drink a glass in the night garden

Pissing beneath the stars

Drops pearling the grass

I speak of the ancient dark,

Where poets lay

A stone upon their chest

A day or more,

Travelling through verse

Until the thing was done

Laid out – complete

And we are somewhere else

We return to it

Studied

As my eyes simmer

Around the edges

Burning with the scene

Threaded between them

To the table beyond

To the three bottles

Stood in welcome

One humming amber

With complexity

One straw coloured

Dependable and warming

One sloe-stained

From a Connemara still

A red fucking firecracker

 

And I concentrate

On composing

A verse portrait

In response

Frozen without pen

Without paper

Without room 

To lip the words

Their scrutiny

The stone on my chest

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