As sun slips lower, I can see
the road-gate and the purple hills across
the county line. But not our pastures,
not the River Dearing: all the mossy
bottomland gives in to darkness first.

Shifting lines of light and shadow dust
the plain with possibility. I work the pump,
I stare into the dusk, imagining
broad fields of corn and sugar beet. The cows
jostle and drain the half-filled trough.

With this handle, I plait ropes of water
binding them to me. I’ve always understood
that cows see auras, nameless colours, blurry
borders for the world. I want to bend and drink
dark water with them, feel my muzzle steam,

and chew each moment twice. But I labour
here, I bend and rise, and night
is flooding in across the fields.
There is no colour left. I slap the cows’ rumps hard
and shout them back into the barn.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Chiaroscuro”?

I was so young when I wrote “Chiaroscuro” and sent it in to Canadian Literature that I don’t really remember the writing process or my intention. I do know that I had visited my Aunt and Uncle’s farm in Ireland for the first time, and was intoxicated by the beauty of their land. Looking at the poem now, I suspect that I was equally intoxicated by the word chiaroscuro, which is as beautiful and misty to my ear as the Wicklow Hills are, rising in memory. Possibly, this piece was simply an excuse to riff on that seductive word.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Chiaroscuro”?

The discernment of poetic techniques is, in my view, a task best left to the reader. My intention as a writer (and I suppose this is the intention of most writers) is simply to do whatever works to engage the reader’s senses so that s/he feels a particular emotion or understands a particular meaning. Likewise, when I read I’m not looking first for recognizable poetic techniques: I’m looking for my heart to be broken. This is not to diminish the importance of craft to the art of poetry. I simply think it is important to recognize at the outset that poetic techniques do not make poetry; human connections do.

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