The Cask of Moonlight
Whether The Cask of Moonlight is exclusively a homage to Barcelona or a homage to love is debatable, but it is also neither here nor there because Wexford poet Patrick Kehoe, in his second collection, doesn’t disassociate the conjugality between both, and what is primarily of importance to the reader is what the poet achieves with the tools laid in front of him.
A city can inspire a version of love, but Kehoe’s love is akin to Neruda’s, sourced in the memory, which is not still born in a freeze-frame, but tidal in its harmony, a sort of attic without a roof, where the poet feels comfort revisiting, where ‘to search is to restore the dulled print of an old film.’
In The Cask of Moonlight, the beginning is not marked by a word, but by light: Kehoe’s world is framed by a celluloid border. Repeatedly he invokes the smithy of light to smooth the passage from the nebulous mise en scene.
Consider the shadows in Walking Near La Floresta, which are ‘alive as light in a clearing,’ consider the people walking to stations in Imagine the Rooms at the end of a day, ‘starved dusk’, consider in Swim Without Thinking, ‘the alien sun in its vacant lot,’ or in Canaletas, the Fountain, which opens with the Hemingwayesque ‘once there was light slipping.’
The poet’s light, like memory, is free from injury, which is why a key adjective, from the outset, is inviolate.
The absence of the life force of light is also instrumental: in Violent for Your Furs, ‘tidal dark wonders where to beach us,’ the domain of light in Hands is transient and in The Plaza at Vic, the square ‘is bathed in the blue milk of dusk.’
But memory and light are segued umbilically.
From Gold Leaf City:
Through the open shutters comes
Memory’s sandy slattern breeze.
We emerged into the yellow light
Of evening and stood transfixed.
For the poet, light is chiaroscuro, the gradation of contrasting tones, but his light is never as harsh or as dramatic as deployed by an artist. It has none of the aggressive voltage of Caravaggio’s light, a tenebrism of tension. On the contrary, the poet in the Barcelona section of The Cask of Moonlight, a collection made up of four distinct parts, with their own individual tone and bite, where the poet’s eye is alert to the epiphanic minutiae which leaves no shadow, no scar of dew or rain and yet, like Rilke, he pursues an unselfconscious train of thought.
And so, tenderly and beautifully, Persianas closes with a drifting note of a scene, made cinematically epic by the poet’s sweep:
What used to be my room;
A few leaves on its branches
As if to say ‘not ready yet’
Or ‘that was a long time ago.’
The poet in The Cask of Moonlight, in compressed narratives of predominantly short poems, is never less than in tune with the moment, never less than intuitive to the significance of motif and metaphor, not in a strictly literal sense, (The jade sea before us, our days/Are beads of ice in the sun/Greek dance under milk dust of stars, from Jade Sea), but in an evocation of the lives of others – lover, father, mother – distilled from a highly skilled tapestry of memory and muse, but always lovingly, always with the pulse of a drifting leaf.
‘The motorist was the father, the passengers
Were wife, or mother and their son:
The young blade and his cool haircut
The drool-light of dawn departing.’
These are poems incandescent with love, a love made indissoluble by the poet’s commitment to story-fragments of verse, pared down to the bare essentials, a reminder to us why poetry is in its element with the affairs of the heart; Kehoe makes the emotional resonance of his memory, of his observations, freighted with relevance, and potent. Always potent.
The Cask of Moonlight is one of two memorable collections this year (Sebastian Barker’s The Land of Gold) which richly weave magical verse from the epic themes at the core of a life’s journey. Kehoe’s world is a ‘Persian blue sky breathless with falling stars.’ There is ecstasy and there is loss. I hope that when the poet next reads these poems, he refrains from explaining them. They require neither justification nor elucidation: silver tributaries from a concealed oasis.