I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Frolicking in the Ether

Frolicking in the Ether

Ailbhe Darcy
The Dead Zoo, by Ciaran Berry, The Gallery Press, 90 pp, €11.95, ISBN 978-1852355685 The “personhood debate” is news that stays news, ready to be puzzled over with each slow birth and slow death. To the expectant mother, the creature kicking inside her, in its infinite strangeness and infinite potential, may seem more fully another person than the newborn infant, floppy and dependent and suckling at her breast; or even than the toddler, imitative and repetitive and attaining each developmental milestone at its pre-ordained time. We fear the slave, the android and the hybrid for what they do to our fragile sense of what’s human and what’s not. When Zeus rapes Leda, it’s doubly terrible and doubly thrilling, because he’s part person, part swan. When Star Trek’s Data repays our sympathy with a flash of clumsy personality, our laughter is half relief. Abortion activists wield posters of foetuses with faces as though these were weapons; portraits of soulful chimpanzees tug at our empathy-strings; but we also make out a man in the moon and the shocked facial expressions of certain houses and electrical sockets. Surely things should be more straightforward once we’re dead. As Ciaran Berry puts it, “the great striptease / that waits beyond this one” is the moment when “whatever moves / the body sheds its cheap dress”. However we had defined the soul or the mind or the person, after death we can agree that it’s fled – whether altogether or elsewhere. And yet, even in the most secular societies, we’re rarely capable of behaving as though the corpse were really, immediately just a discarded garment. Our selves tend to linger. This problem, our troubling sense that we do not make a clean break at death, any more than we get off to a clean start at birth, is for art an opportunity. And it’s at the centre of Berry’s second collection of poetry, The Dead Zoo. “A Mutiny”, perhaps the collection’s most moving poem, conveys the pain that’s at stake. In the poem, Alzheimer’s disease eats away dreadfully at Berry’s grandmother’s mind, blurring the difference between her presence and her absence. Berry compares this horrible betrayal of the person to the failure of a bees’ dance: and we know, surely, where all this must lead – the keeper like a lost god in his white get-up as he awaits the workers that will never return, Auguste D, in…

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