Colm Tóibín’s first collection of poetry Vinegar Hill, written over several decades, explores sexuality, religion and belonging through a modern lens, across themes including politics, queer love, reflections on literary and artistic greats, living through Covid, memory, mortality and a fading past. Here he gives voice to a rueful Eve as she looks back on her life with Adam in the shadow of the Almighty…

 

i.

I say blue when morning begins
And indigo when the night sky
Hardens over us, pinned with stars.

I say moon when its shape appears
In the disappearing light. And I say
Hollow when I look into my hand.

So much taken for granted now
That I am chased by shadows
When once I noticed only

What was solid and complete.
I dream of Adam’s voice.
Was that a panting sound or a sigh?

 

ii.

At first it was head to toe
Until I wanted his breath on mine.
We examined each other,

Like a folded-out map of ourselves,
Fingering, puzzled by
The differences between us.

We tried it this way and that,
I was the impatient one, I have to say.
Strange, we both had a bright idea

At the same time. After that, it seemed
As though we were created to couple
In this sweet new way. It was hard

To do anything else sometimes,
So the trees suffered, burdened
Down with fruit, and the fields,

And some pale animals that emerged
Now and then, and the snakes
Hanging corkscrew from low branches.

 

God admonishing Adam and Eve by Domenichino (detail), c. 1623–25. Musée de Grenoble/Wikimedia Commons

iii.

I saw God watching Adam. I saw
The eyes popping out of God’s head
At the sight of him

As he fucked with what we later learned
Was wild abandon. I sympathized
With God’s jealousy, his pain,

But wished he had not
Displayed such obvious self-pity.
You see, he loved Adam.

Once I watched as
They fondled each other’s hair.
From my vantage-point in the tree

I then saw the two of them
Wondering how they might
Do what we had done. I have to say

It was obvious to me.
Odd how they couldn’t work it out.
Nothing bothered Adam, but God

Was not pleased, to put it mildly.
I learned that he would have been
Happy to be with either of us. Or

Even with both. He hated being left out.
That was the thing. I liked it
When he licked my neck.

 

iv.

But, in the end, I bewildered God
More than all creation. We spoke,
But he was never a good listener,

Preferring the sound
Of his own voice
Even when he whispered.

Since he wanted us so much
The decision he made
That we should leave

And that he would be happier
Alone made no sense.
But try telling him that.

 

v.

I laughed later
When I found out the etymology
Of the word ‘paradise’. In all reality,

Paradise was nowhere much; we were
Baked by the sun. Days were long
And there was nothing to do at night.

 

vi.

Mornings here are lovely, on the other hand,
And the world’s words, I never tire of them –
Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit

Would I like to return, you ask,
Just once for a short visit
To re-live old memories?

No, but I would like yesterday to come
Again, wash itself over us,
Fondle us with its shredded beauty.

 

vii.

In his temper that day, when God told
Us what time would mean, I understood.
I saw the days longing for each other

In a future ready to forget. I alone,
I saw, would register each one,
Like something to be forgiven

And then held up, a bright example,
As we were, when we came into the world,
And lived our disappearing days.

 

viii.

Adam died two years ago, a night
When the moon was sickle-shaped
And thunder-clouds had cleared.

I was glad of that. I wanted
Adam’s fading eyes to see the sky,
Linger on the thought of what we tasted,

A beyond-place that had no end, that might
Have bored others, but we tolerated it
Because what else did we know?

What else do I know now?
I know that God learned to repeat
The word regret ad infinitum

Until silence fell. Then he changed.
I wish I could comfort him,
As the world wears out.

from Vinegar Hill (Carcanet, £12.99; Beacon Press, $22.95)

 

Colm Tóibín was born in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford in 1955 and now lives in Dublin. He is the author of ten novels, including The Master, Brooklyn and The Magician, and two collections of stories. He has been shortlisted three times for the Booker Prize and has won the Costa Novel of the Year and the Los Angeles Times Novel of the Year. He is Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University and Chancellor of Liverpool University. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. He was awarded the David Cohen Prize in 2021 and the Rathbones Folio Prize in 2022. Vinegar Hill is published by Carcanet Press in the UK and Beacon Press in the US.
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Author portrait © Laura Wilson

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