Ireland -Three days ago, recently widowed housewife, Eileen O' Hara from Portlaoise, Ireland wrote a short poem amid a fit of woebegone tears. The poem, entitled "The Long Short Goodbye" remembers her late husband Peter O' Hara, her only heart's desire who was snatched from her life for eternity following a tragic car accident three weeks
ago. Eileen was with her husband in the passenger seat at the time. She was wearing a seatbelt. He was not.
The trouble is that, now, O'Hara is at a complete loss to say whether the poem is a profound work of
aesthetic and aural pleasure, or a piece stylistically reminiscent of the sort of angst-ridden fluff a smitten teenager might write to a girl he's too shy to speak to".
THE LONG SHORT GOODBYE
"A weary calm befalls the room
Up springs mist of cloudless gloom
Your wardrobe's hangers's clothesless symmetry
Already aflame with the spider's tactless web
from now onto limitless infinity
I'll share with air a half-empty queensize bed
For where is God his vex withstanding
This wrinkled face upon which lies
the larvae lace of bloodshot eyes
the outpoured grief of wanton cries
All I want God is understanding
of why my life my love has died"
She explained sobbing, "When I first wrote this, I thought it was a tastefully executed eulogy to my darling Peter. Then the more I read it, the more I thought this could have been written by Wordsworth or someone and maybe I should enter it into a competition catering specifically for bereaved widows with strong verbal skills".
She went on, "I was overcome with a combination of, of course, terrible sadness and grief over Peter's death but also genuine excitement at the flowering of my latent self-potential. I thought this poem is so great on so many levels, not only am I celebrating the memory of my one and only through the power of words but I am also, through Peter's posthumous muse, discovering a hidden talent. Could anyone pay a more wonderful tribute to a dearly departed?"
"I surprised even myself with my finely honed literary technique. I even employed a very innovative rhyming
scheme in the second stanza that follows an ABBBAB pattern. I thought if this rhyming scheme catches on, I might even have a whole genre of poem named after me like, I don't know, an O' Hararian sonnet as in like Petrarchan sonnet. I was so chuffed. Where had I been hiding this lyrical talent all these years?"
However, the light of burgeoning literary fame glistening at the end of her tunnel of lament was soon to grow dim and with it the solace she had so keenly felt at commemorating her husband through the beauty of words. She came ot realise her poem wasn't very good after all.
She explained, "My exhilaration was soon dampened after a whirlwind night spent chucking back Baileys Irish cream with my mutually sorrowful daugther Wendy (32 years old) who of course is coping with the loss of a father. I started to think about the poem I had written and feel doubts. Then, with all the subtlety of a drunken letch on viagra, I retired to my bedroom without even bidding goodnight to Wendy, searched my dresser, and found and read over the ode I had written. It was horrible. It was like I had been blind. I felt like such an idiot. The poem, I could see through the heigthened clarity of liquor, was rubbish. It read like a fifth class English student whose discovered a thesurus and is out to impress his teacher and uses words like "indolent" instead of "lazy". I felt like I had cheapened Peter's memory with the amateur hogwash bibble of a dismayed dilitante"
"The following morning I awoke to an earthquake in my head, those Bailey's may be smooth and creamy to the senses but their hangovers most decidedly are not. I remembered I had fallen into slumber in an inconsolable rage over the overwrought pseudo-poetic-requiem I had childishly scribbled in Peter's memory".
O Hara explained how she spent the next hour lying on her bed, her mind fizzing with nascent flashback.
"It brought me to thinking about the events of his death. Suddenly as though riding by magic carpet through the sands of time, I felt myself back in the passenger seat of the car, to the night of the accident".
She recalled chokingly, "We had spent the evening at a friends house talking about life, our children, the way we don't buy the Irish Independent (Irish newspaper) so much any more, just simple everyday things. Peter had had one cherry, I had had two. I remember talking to him jokily earlier that day that the person who drinks the least shall be the designated driver home. We both laughed. Who knew that the laughter of a half a lifetime's affection could echo through such pain and regret? Peter took the keys. I smiled and said, "Well at least take your time". We expected to be home in half an hour for the weather or if we were lucky the news headlines. I never chided him about not wearing a seatbelt. It was something I had learned to accept like his smoking habit".
Eileen describes the immediate aftermath of the accident: "I can't say I remember much of the actual accident but immediately afterwards I wasn't out cold at all. We had hit a tree - it all happened so fast. That said, I was in complete charge of my senses. My neck was effectively paralysed mind you, but I comforted myself that it was probably only minor whiplash and nothing else. In my peripheral vision, I could make out Peter. I couldn't turn my head enough to see how he really was, but I knew there was something wrong. I thought in the corner of my eye, I could see blood trickle down from his ear, a telltale sign of a grave injury. I also could tell he was absolutely motionless. He didn't say a word. He never did again".
"unable to determine... poem's merit"
Eileen has spent the past 3 weeks since Peter's death in a grief-stricken state of idleness, just "moping about the house in a daze" as her concerned son, Robert Patrick put it. That was until 3 days ago when she decided to write the heartfelt poem. Now she's even more at sea with herself - not only is she grieving the loss of her husband but she's also unable to determine her poem's artistic merit.
"Since the poem. Things have gone from bad to worse. I just don't know if it's a great poem or load of old codswollop. It's driving me crazy. I mean yesterday I re-read it for the 49th time and began to think it was quite good, you know wouldn't look out of place on a Leaving Cert (Student Exam) syllabus but I read [it] again this morning and (nodding head wryly), yip, I'm back to hating it again. I think I might have to burn this impassioned verse as it's sending me into spins of hysterical over-analysis".
Relenting from self-criticism momentarily, Eileen then said, "Actually, the opening 2 lines I'm quite happy with "a weary calm befalls the room, up springs mist of cloudless gloom". The phrase "Cloudless gloom" I think delicately conveys a concept that has intrigued me for years, that of "environmental paradox". How can there be no cloud without gloom? Of course it's a meteorological impossibility yet it still evokes emotion, in this case of course, grief. Yeah I must say those first 2 lines I probably wouldn't tamper with".
Reverting to self-critical mode, she then raged, "But I mean the second stanza- Jesus Christ. All that bit about "Larva lace"- what the fuck is that about? It's supposed to describe my bloodshot, tear-filled eyes but why should I be talking about me??! It's supposed to celebrate Peter's memory!! I'm such an idiot. And "spider's tactless web". That's supposed to convey the intrinsic insensitivity of insects in the face of human tragedy but it comes across as laboured and vacuous. God I'm such an idiot. I should stick to endlessly bawling my eyes out and leave the poetry to the professionals".
"help of an expert"
In her state of complete dejected bewilderment, Eileen is now contemplating whether to summon the help of an expert, say a Professor of English literature from a top level university to tell her if her poem is any good or not.
"I might phone UCD or Trinity College later today. Find someone who knows their Keats from their Yeats, their Shakepeare from their… erm… Shakin' Stevins".
Eileen's next door neighbour Kathleen Agassi, 82 years old and an altogether less-educated woman disagrees, and gave her views on the poem. "I thought it was just lovely. It was very moving. I think she's just great for writing it after all she's been through with the death and all. It's a tough oul business. I've known the O' Haras for donkey's shir wasn't I wiping tears from my eyes just reading it. Shir doesn't Eileen pick me up from the supermarket every Friday afternoon after I've done me shopping- we're very close. I have just one question though. What does that word "wanton" mean. Did she make that up?"