The Work of Mourning, by Cork poet laureate William Wall

In the final poem of William Wall's tenure, he reflects on the difficulties of the past two years and our emergence from the pandemic 
The Work of Mourning, by Cork poet laureate William Wall

William Wall, Cork Poet Laureate. Picture: Denis Minihane

In memory of all the dead of the pandemic

 ‘Everything happened too quickly: like a race to death that left us only enough time to pass and wave to each other…’ Jacques Derrida, The Work of Mourning

 i 
In the meantime

 two years of the meantime quarantine
 the in-between time
 time unticking
 the countless lost days years of yesterdays
 passing too quickly
 still here 

two years of lonesome funerals and longdistance housecalls
 surviving days
 and dying days
 two years of something terrible every day
 a quotidian catastrophe 

two years
two years
we’ll tell our grandchildren
we found a way through these two years 

ii
The release

 it feels like yesterday
 the first reported case
 and then a hundred years of missing
 a century in two years
 it’s all over bar the shouting now they say
 we’re not sure what to believe
 we’ll wear our masks and wash our hands 

but we’ll go out again
stand at the bar and shout our round
and down in the snug we’ll hold hands
remembering how it all began
and how much time we’ve lost
in this hectic meantime
we return to the office
for the dead
vespers and matins
the work of mourning begins in the land of the living 

iii 
The work of mourning 

in their presence already always their going
before the pain
before the mourning
in our dreams they were the shadows
we dared not name 

and in the end it’s all we hold the granite obduracy of names
five million and more
each a single sorrow
the going down of a lonely day

a number too great for grieving
the population of a small country
think of this island emptied
as though we all died
this past two years 

iv
Lá fhéile Bríde 

it seems our world
is out of form
twisted a little
nothing quite fits
but from every gap
daffodils escape
bluetits flitter
to illegal gatherings
in the disused drainpipe starlings in flighty murmurations turn
and fall in twos and threes to fish for worms
on the fresh cut lawn
a cock-step in the twilight
and shorter nights
this last vast winter
is a distant memory
every scintilla of light whispers to me
today is lá ‘le Bríde

  • William Wall is a poet from Cork, and has been serving as the city's first Poet Laureate. An initiative of the Munster Literature Centre that is funded by Cork City Council, Wall's role involved writing a poem every month, giving a personal response to issues in the city and county. The Irish Examiner has published these poems, and the works will also be collected into a chapbook to be launched at Cork World Book Festival in April 

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