The Refuse Gatherers

Underfoot there is nothing new, only litter’s slow
reversion to muck – a bread wrapper,
a chocolate box, a coke can – all the garish slogans
wearing thin – with print ink and photo

plastering a wet pavement. We sweep the leaves
into a truck, take them to the wood
and give them back. Draw breath beside the Dodder,
our thoughts following the source and course

of forgetfulness proposed by the river,
our histories and griefs lulled where we gaze at weir
and waterfall, the torrent’s frothy race
over stick-and-pebble installations – bird figures,

bare-domed Buddha men left by artists
to some toppling end. Grey-lit in the glittery shallows,
a heron, stooped motionless. Suddenly
she plunges, all neck and beak, provoking a splash.

The waggling fish is held aloft, adjusted,
swallowed head first. And, just as the heron stretches
to a squawky take-off, panicked words
burst from our cab radio: somewhere a bomb,

a shooting, the thin skin of civilisation
sundered again, the sprawl of fresh atrocities let crawl.
We square our shoulders, push through
the automatic nature of each task; the heron’s guzzle,

the mind by which people moseying
along a pavement are broken and torn – these happen
over in our thoughts. And, always
with them, old remembrances we can’t get past:

a child sinking into the steaming gullet of a side-street
in Bucharest, a cardboard box ripping open
of a morning in Dublin – the sheeting
rain, the softening frost – to reveal a perished vagrant.

Patrick Deeley