new zealand electronic poetry centre

F I O N A   F A R R E L L


The Way of the Dishes

Today I followed the
Way of the Dishes.
From Kinvara to Keelhilla
along the greasy road.
The dishes flew before me.
Cups, plates and bottles of
red wine, a joint of beef,
stewed leeks and white bread,
sliced for eating.
I could see them floating
just ahead set upon a white
cloth. I could see the flap of
it, rising to cross a hedge
like a flat fish swimming
through clear water and
me beneath like a small
sprat following.
To follow was not easy. The
dishes rode across country,
taking hedges and ditches on
their white wings, while I was
trapped by my car and the
narrow ways of men. I had
to turn corners and guess at my
final destination.
I saw the dishes fly to a cliff
face and drop behind bare
branches, hazel and ash.
I parked the car and found the
cloth come to ground,  
embroidered hem fluttering
by the saint’s bed.   A heap
of fallen stone.
The saint was a lean man.
He picked at the beef and
poured salt over the leeks,
lest he be tempted.
He tossed his bread to the
sparrows and foreswore
the red wine, preferring
water from his blessed spring.
But his servant gnawed the bones
bare and spread good butter on his
bread. He drank his wine, thanking
whatever power it was that had
sent cloth and dishes, whatever
white hand it was that cooked
this food, and the kindly air that
carried it.
I watched from behind a tree as he
feasted while his master picked and
prayed. I watched his belly swell. I
heard him groan as his starved guts
Within the hour he will be dead and
buried under a heap of stone.  
While the saint will live,  
revered by all for his restraint.
And the feast will grow mould,
the white cloth will rot and the
wine will turn to vinegar in
a tarnished cup.



I have come to the land of
a thousand spades. And that’s
only the one-sided spade.
Think another thousand with
two sharpened sides. Men
walked the roads here carrying
their chosen spade. The fields
were too small for ploughs.
Just room for one man
and the breadth of his spade.
I think of my father and his
three spades: the one with the
square handle, smooth from his
hand. The long handled shovel.
The narrow spade that was the
one preferred to dig the long
shaw . And me allowed to
follow in his muddy track
carrying the bucket and
setting each potato as he
had shown me, with its
green shoot facing the sky.

Last updated 26 July, 2007