“Breaking Bread on Sugar Loaf” by David Murphy
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The hiker breaks bread on Sugar Loaf,
drinks in altitude in evening light,
considers patterns of descent on moonlit paths.
From Wicklow Hills lights of Dublin curve along the bay
— a pearl and amber necklace on black velvet sea.

A ghostly presence startles him, shimmering in the air.
Before him stands a spirit, cockles in her hair.
Nimble lights appear — conjured from the amulet
of a woman alluring and young, yet millennia old.
Aspects of her face pliable — decades, centuries — her
chimera manifold: Iron Age, Gaelic, Viking, Modern.

Two starlights break from her supernatural gaze.
They morph to lifesize dervishes.
Kimonos sashay like lovers entwined.
They dance inseparably, with much in common.
Sorrow cloaks their faces in plumes of palest ash,
clouds of dust ooze from pores —
residue of uranium chalks their cheeks —
paints them white as make-up on geishas.
One raises her oriental eyes to affirm what his brain denies:
“Hiroshima is my twin, and Nagasaki is my name.”

A dancer pirouettes before him in Wicklow night.
He strains to see her face, naked beneath
fiery mantle, submissive to her pain; Teutonic.
Flames burn fiercely and flare all over.
Her fires blaze cold as her ice-bound words:
“Flames engulf me every night. Dresden is my name.”

Raging Dresden retreats — another spirit lingers in her place.
This new soul looks misunderstood: her shoulders holed,
spewing stacks of smoke; arms vertical by her side.
Arm-tops billow fumes of burning aviation fuel.
Down her sides small bodies fall like flakes of skin.
One look at her startled eyes — he knows New York is her name.

She hovers back to swirling orbit; two fresh phantoms loiter,
alive with volcanic ash and pumice. The statuesque flow of
sensual bodies singes heather, stokes up pyrotechnic knowledge in
his brain that of all the cities that endured colossal pain,
Pompeii had a sister — Herculaneum was her name.

Ethereal lights regroup in circles around their host. From their midst
a face ghosts before him shedding salty tears on a sopping dress.
To her right a dancer frolics in the night; snorts and neighs,
kicks legs high — this one wears her hair like a horse’s mane.
He witnesses the mythic glory of a grotesque twosome:
Atlantis the drowned one; Troy the prancing name.

Capering lights draw close; some cities dance with others,
some cities dance alone. Several stand like wallflowers at a waltz,
pockmarked with bruises: cratered or bombed to death.
Others are blotched, gassed, or plagued by pestilence.
A few blackened and flattened; others rakishly thin —
demolished by weapons or starved of food and medicine.
The hiker sees them smile: wraiths of cities great and small
as if to plead: can we now rest in peace?

The retinue re-forms around their host, this woman of unknown age —
the star of their show, they her ingénues on a mountain stage.
The hiker watches them curtsy, welcoming her among them.
He finds himself thinking: why are these cities in league with her?
And what on Earth could be her name?

He glimpses behind her lights of home; Dublin no longer twinkles —
oblique now, fading as darkness falls, his city tilting.
His brain takes in a million faces telescoped from doomed streets,
pleading with him to block out the awful ceremony unfolding
on this sweetly named mountain. There is nothing he can do:
if these repulsive lights are the avatars of cursed cities,
then Dublin, his city…her yellow-white necklace that
curves from Howth to Bray hangs obtuse, sinking into folds of sea.

The city beneath him slips away. He falls to his knees, terrified.
Now truth absorbs him fully, as sand absorbs the tide.


David Murphy’s poetry has been published many times in various magazines and anthologies in Ireland and abroad, including The Poetry Bus, Stony Thursday Book, Every Day Poets, The Shop, Revival, The Burning Bush, About Place Journal, Indigo Rising, Cyphers and other venues. He is also a short story writer and novelist. His latest book, featuring fiction and non-fiction, is called Walking on Ripples and is due this autumn from the Liffey Press, Dublin. Website at davidmurph.wordpress.com.
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