UNRELIABLE ASSUMPTIONS (by Vernon Scannell)

Hand-in-hand, smiling as they stroll,
The elderly man and woman pause to nod
Back at the municipal geraniums
Before resuming their unhurried trail
Towards the caf‚ near the swings and slide.

It would be easy to assume that this
Old couple had witnessed the dear, swift flight
Of fifty years or more of matrimony.
Not so. They met a month ago, or less,
At the Darby and Joan in Mercury Street.

It is unwise to make assumptions from
Observed appearances and signs. The roar
Of honking laughter from the Red Lion snug
Might mask distress, could even hide the dumb
Misery of absolute despair.

When my old friend, George Carmody, was seen
Leaving All Hallows after matins that Sunday,
And yet again at evensong, one might
Guess that he, improbably, had been
Converted, late, to Christianity.

But no, as Carmody himself confessed,
He had followed down the street a girl in frail
And flowery dress, sweet brevity of which
Revealed the longest, loveliest bare legs
That ever made eyes pop and breathing stall.

Those sleek and beckoning limbs had led him there
To lurk in musty shadows near the font
And watch the holy shaft of sunlight coax
Her hair to fine-spun gold, while bluish air
Was stained with rose-breath, wax, psalms’ bready scent.

For most of that long summer Carmody
Was seen on Sunday in the sacred house.
Though there for heathen reasons, might not he
Have found in sermon, hymn and litany
At least a rumour of God’s love and peace?

Well, no. Each Sunday, breathing pious air,
He had never felt more hopelessly alone,
And gazing at her aureate head would groan
Beneath the heavy sadness of desire,
Learn nothing that he had not always known.

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