Medbh McGuckian – Cloud Chamber Photograph

photo credit: Michael Kappel


Medbh McGuckian
Cloud Chamber Photograph

Lusitania- missing- a baby girl, age 15 months,
with fair curls and rosy cheeks, in white woollen
jersey and leggings, tries to walk and talk.
Send any information to Miss Browne,
Queen’s House, Queenstown.

I polish the sky which heaven dilates
with a single stray hair from the Greek
word for sea. My years have their own
language, talking about the time
all the time.

Her first full day at sea, after the tugs
at last backed her out into the Hudson,
she carried twenty trainloads of coal
for the single crossing, 65,000 gallons
of engine–cooling water for every minute.

She could not have steered a more perfect
course. Sycamore and satinwood, her internal
pathway almost followed the wood pores,
from south to north meaning. The lightning
mappers picked up messages of thunderdays

of thunderstorm days, of thunderstorm rainwater,
two charged thunderclouds, their feet close
together, their airglow layer soft hail
in the virgin air right up in the eyes
of the ship, cloud flash and lightning crouch.

How fast the field is moving,
he wrote to his Aunt Josephine,
with his grocer’s assistant’s mind.
The lifetimes of the signatures
were low, not rain, not leaves.

In daydreams of nest-engracing nature,
I was wondering what my own eyes
would look like, chipped open
by the resilient corals bleaching white
under stress, laying down skeletons

from sudden towers of life, corals pale
as ghosts gliding, all the while
fighting off seagulls. A broom handle
in the wake, then two white streaks
running along her name in gold letters

on her bows like an invisible hand.
Flashover in wet woods, skin breakdown
above the melting point of brass
or copper-skinned brass buttons
that the gas turned mouldy green.