Issue 2: Paul Muldoon

Lines for the Centenary of the Birth of Samuel Beckett


Only now do we see how each crossroads

was bound to throw up not just a cross

but a couple of gadabouts with goads,

a couple of gadabouts at a loss

as to why they were at the beck and call

of some old crock soaring above the culch

of a kitchen midden at evenfall,

some old crock roaring across the gulch

as a hanged man roars out to a hanged man.

Now bucket nods to bucket of the span

of an ash yoke, or something of that ilk…

Now one hanged man kicks at the end of his rope 

in another little attack of hope.

Now a frog in one bucket thickens the milk.


Now a frog in one bucket thickens the milk

as it tries out for the sublime

from chime to birch-wood chime,

a frog thrown in with no more thought as to whilk

way he was geen

from the hussy turned resourceful housewife

than she gave to where in Ayreshire or Fife

her beloved spalpeen

might fetch up as a tatie-hoker,

a tatie-hoker revealing a lining of red tatted silk

to his sack-cloth, so to speak,

just as it’s revealed our stockbroker

is creaming off five hundred a week

while the frog in one bucket thickens the milk.


Now a frog in one bucket thickens the milk

as a heart might quicken behind its stave

at the thought of a thief who bilked

us of our life savings himself being saved.

Only now do we see… How spasm and lull

are mirrored somewhat by lull and spasm

when the nitwit roars out to the numbskull

thinking he might yet narrow the chasm

between his own cask and the other’s keg,

thinking he might take the other down a peg

if not leave him completely in the lurch…

Leave him to ponder if it’s less an ash

yoke tipped by his bucket of balderdash,

less an ash yoke than a cross-bar of birch.


Less an ash yoke than a cross-bar of birch

from the single birch that insinuated itself into the grove

of oaks sacred to Jove

and took him in as from his perch

the nincompoop who’s churning our account

took in the other knucklehead

with the proposal that our aversion to being bled

is pretty much tantamount

to the old crock being averse to paying his ransom,

the bucket where you would search

for the significance of a frog taking the plunge

proving to be less cask than keg, the transom

from which the old crock offered his vinegar-sponge

less an ask yoke than a cross-bar of birch.


Less an ash yoke than a cross-bar of birch

and a birch-wood bucket where a frog breasts

the very milk we feared it would besmirch.

Only now do we see we’re at the behest

not of some old crock kicking the beam

but ourselves. We balk at the idea, balk

at the idea of a frog no sooner opening a seam

in milk than it’s… Surely not caulked?

Only now do we see how it’s ourselves who skim

determinedly through the dim

of evenfall with no more regard for our load

as we glance up through the sky-hoop 

than the ninny who roars back to the nincompoop,

“Only now do we see how each crossroads…”

Paul Muldoon's recent publications include Horse Latitudes: Poems (Faber & Faber, 2006) and The End of the Poem: Oxford Lectures (Faber & Faber, 2006)

Copyright © 2009 by Paul Muldoon, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.