Monday, May 30, 2011

Steepily deepily sleepily down

But where was Doyler? Many evenings, after his deliveries, [Jim] pushed through the wind of the Point, down into the Forty Foot. In the dark, if he was certain of his solitude, he brought out his flute and played to the waves the music Doyler had learnt him there. Slipjigs mostly, those winding minor-keyed melodies, that seemed to say to him, sleepily on and over, sleepily stop - and on again; sleepily slow but surely, steepily deepily sleepily down. He'd pull his collar up round his neck and watch the Muglins light. It seemed as unlikely as sunshine that he'd swim to that island. 

That come the spring he'd go with Doyler and struggling against the stream they'd rise to those rocks, upon whose face they'd lie, and under the tumbling clouds all would be made clear.
All what would be made clear, he was not sure. There were words in the back of his mind, or in the sea that circled his mind, whose articulation, like his father with the Gaelic, his tongue could not get round.

He sometimes felt if he would close his eyes and dip below, he might catch those words, they were drifting there in the flotsam, and he could say them now, if only to himself, and he would understand what it was that troubled him. Troubled and thrilled him, so that they were the same sensation to feel, trouble and thrill, a single trepidation. Yet it was not right he should understand now. Only when he was ready, when Doyler would bring him to the island, only then was the time for understanding.

But as soon as he got this far, he started over, like he was swimming in his mind and had touched the raft and now must head for the cove again .. For it might so be nothing would await him on the island. Yet the hurry of his heart told the lie of that. And there were words in the back of his mind or in the sea that circled his mind which, if only he would catch them, would tell the truth. And his heart didn't need to be told but knew already .. 

Next day the news came that the British had evacuated from Gallipoli. "Without Single Loss of Life," the papers trumpeted .. Still Aunt Sawney would not hear of a card in the window. The black bordered the house instead.

Jamie O'Neill
At Swim, Two Boys
Scribner, 2001©


  1. Ahh, dear Laurent! One of my favourite books you have quoted here and with such wonderful illustration!

  2. As regards the illustration, Dink, I think of what fun it would be to create one's own for this text: bringing out our hapless best, of course, against commercial photography. Next, as regards the occasion, a sort of day of commemoration in this country, I did think of you as I selected a narrative of youth at a critical phase, against the backdrop of Gallipoli. But, as you imply, the book is very much less limited than that. I agree with everything you imply about it, knowing the strain of identifying a favourite. I want other readers to know what you already do, that O'Neill spent several years as a night porter in a psychiatric hospital, while conducting research for this book - not that this 'discipline' is relevant to the text, but to show what a man will learn by that kind of giving, to enable him to give this. It is a glory.

  3. has this guy written any more gay books? i read this and became a rent boy!!! tomas!

  4. I must say, we have heard of great literature, enfeebling people's morals, but never until now that it could turn one into a Republican! You must take care with this capitalisation of labour that you are pursuing; we tried it down here for hundreds of years, and found it ruinously counterproductive. But, need I say, diverting. As to whether O'Neill has penned any other gay books, it's necessary to paraphrase the entry of yesterday, and wonder whether he's penned any at all.

    I appreciate the humour of your inquiry. You are Canadian, I think? That would make 2 Canadians on the same posting; what an interesting federation you must have up there. And cooler, too, I shouldn't doubt.