The Test of the Bow and Others

Thomas O’Grady

Lone Fiddler, Johnson's Court, Dublin by Fionán O'Connell

Remembering Michael Coleman
Before he faced the suitors in the hall,
He proved himself by plucking high-strung gut
Until it hummed a single note.  So pure
It sang-a ringing, feathered bolt of sound-
That even brazen bucks (their noisy brawl
An antidote for doubt) fell still; around
The walls skirts quivered for the first strong cut,
The larksome thrill of severed air.
So sure,
Then, one man stood above this throng, elbow
Arced, fingers poised to throw them into thrall.
What goddess nodded portent from the door?
He bowed toward his muse, that blood should flow:
Brash bodies moved, then shoved to fill the floor.
He proved himself the master of them all.

Harnessed, yoked, reined in:
for months, head hung low,
body hitched to pain, anvil-
dense, I pitied myself . . .
a horse tethered to a block
of forge-wrought iron flung
from a wagon’s rickety bed.
How we pull our own weight.
Or how it pulls us: last week,
that photo of a fireman
wrestling with a writhing
hydranted hose, a one-headed
Hydra gushing spasmodic gasps
toward the imminent collapse
of all that should not fall. . . .
But does.  Body and soul.
Body and Soul.  A blue surge
of song.  Baritone sax.
A stooped shouldering of notes
from the smoldering reed-rough
depths of a Herculean horn . . .
its swelling bell, its brass-
blinkered pads, its serpent’s
neck coiled back upon itself.
How we bear our burdens.
Steeped in dying, the tumor
on his spine a leaden mass, he cut
his final vinyl wheelchair-bound.
How he purged himself, blowing
sinuous riff-rich lines . . .
Blue Serge.  Then “Dead at 33,”
the morning papers read.


Time devours all things,

I read in a book.But that night

I heard my second cousin

still a din-filled pub outside

Kilbeggan—his perfect tenor

pitch the charm—I took great heart.

The Fields of Athenry he sang,

every body there transfixed

(transported, too, by that tale

of love’s promise thwarted

by pitiless laws) as if the gnawing

fang, the grinding jaw of minutes,

hours—ravenous years!—

had surrendered to a potent spell:

as if enchanted words could help

us dwell forever far beyond

that cavernous maw.As if

in the end, our slates wiped clear,

we might hold at bay the beast

by the door: the barman’s “Time,

gentlemen, time; no more!”—

his “Drink up now, the Guards

are drawing near.No need to go

home, but you can’t stay here.”


Ever hear tell of a man who bet

the farm (& lost) that he’d make

the harvest moon itself mark time?

“To the devil his due.”“He’ll face

the music yet.”“Bowing & scraping

as if to save his damn fool soul.”

Or ours.With any luck he’ll leave

us in his debt tonight.Footloose

& footsore before we’re quits.

Pay the fiddler & call the tune!

Lord McDonald’s.Fill Up the Bowl.

Local talent.Step to it, lads!


Last night, you and I . . .

and Moonlight in Vermont

on the radio—turned low—

that hoary hit from ’52 . . .

Stan Getz guesting on tenor

with Johnny Smith, guitar

and sax in a soft sashay

through a grace-noted grove

of swaying sycamore chords.

The B side of Tabu, I knew,

that tune’s up-tempo beat

more in step with our cast-off

quilt of sultry summer heat. . . .

Yet, how like a rendezvous

après-ski—the log-fire blush—

our slaloming down

the slippery slope of love.

Did you hear near the ending

that slick arpeggiated schuss?


Isn’t It Romantic?

Just You, Just Me

When Lights Are Low

All of Me

All of You

Embraceable You

My One and Only Love

All the Things You Are

My Old Flame

Satin Doll

Stella By Starlight

Angel Eyes

My Funny Valentine

Come Rain or Come Shine

My Romance

My Little Suede Shoes

Little Rootie Tootie

The Girl From Impanema

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

In Case You Haven’t Heard

I Got It Bad

Don’t Blame Me

The Nearness of You

The Way You Look Tonight

Mellow Mood


Old Devil Moon

Fly Me to the Moon

Well You Needn’t

It Don’t Mean a Thing

How Insensitive

Out of Nowhere

Careless Love

Fools Rush In

It Could Happen to You

Ask Me Now

’Round Midnight

Now’s the Time

Speak Low

Softly as a Morning Sunrise

How High the Moon

Groovin’ High

Thomas O’Grady is a Poet and Director of Irish Studies and Creative Writing at UMass Boston.His poems were featured as part of FUSION Magazine’s Celtic FUSION Night.