Go n-éirí an bóthar libh


how to pen {ultimate} tales

or begin to measure that sweep and curve

which slows time to an almost




parable(ic) heights arc to

bend light homeward




we turn


bound to where back was forth


journeys end     it is their way

journey’s end       never is


so to the heart of it


our soft



onion heart


exposed layers

weep tear and tear strip

off colored skin


to paint

whirled and  wild

to bind word to soul

to bring blood

cursing to flesh


to body this ink

to call songs of tides

siren like to lure


then another

to the nib of it


to lay ourselves bare



brightened by it all



to laugh at the bard

in the mirror

while muse smirks

in the corner



threads can be


flayed ends borne on winds

to new ends

we cannot know


we never really do

not really


and here is the courage in it all


despite the gaping chasms

of nothingness

of not know-





we ride on


we do



journeys end     it is their way

journey’s end       never is



to paraphrase the Buddha


‘fuck the destination’



napowrimo 29/30


Go n-éirí an bóthar libh (addressed to two or more people)

Literally “May the road [i.e. the journey] be successful for you”. Popularly mistranslated as “May the road rise to meet you”.

Better to Travel Well

Photograph of Rhumm from Mull by me, words by the Budhha ( allegedly)

Today’s poem brought to you courtesy of this prompt from Brendan at the Imaginary Garden with Real Toads.

Here we are, almost within sight of the end of our month-long journey in verse. What a strange road it has been! Along the way we’ve seen boats, sprouts, physics, children, signs, sketches, Twitterings, villains, rain, passageways, paintings, crows, bogeymen, outsiders and shoes: If months could sing journeys, April in the Garden has been operatic.

Today we are presented with this penultimate daily challenge.

Myths tell us that the next-to-last station of a journey is often its richest, pregnant with meanings which often don’t reveal themselves until we have turned some corner—given up on a quest, let go a loved one, endured through, made it home.

The penultimate is as far as we can get to perfection on this earth. As Joseph Campbell writes in The Power of Myth, “It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”

In the 12th century Dutch version of the Voyage of Saint Brendan—the survival of a tale stretching back centuries to Ireland—St. Brendan burns a book of wonders of the world, saying such things could never be true. Immediately an angel appears and tells Brendan he must pay for his offence against God. For penance he is bid to set sail for seven years to see all the things he had denied, thus to prove the veracity of the ancient manuscript.

Brendan gathers his monks and sails off into the unknown, and his discoveries are legion. There is a heathen giant; a dragon; a fish the size of an island; a magnetic sea; a hermit who has lived in the middle of the sea for centuries; Hell; a siren; Judas; burning soul-birds; a magnificent citadel atop a high mountain; and strange creatures with the head of a pig, legs of a dog and neck like a crane, dressed in silk and who say they witnessed God in heaven before Lucifer’s fall. On each isle a wonder either heavenly or monstrous, hallowed or harrowing.

But Brendan doesn’t know that the point of the tale is that he must return home and write it down—in essence, fill once again the book of wonders he had burned as untrue. In the penultimate chapter of the tale, Brendan encounters a tiny man sailing by on a leaf whose errand it is to measure the sea with a drop-sized spoon. He’s been at it for a long, long time, and Brendan wonders if his errand, too, might be endless.

The saint’s ship is then becalmed in a vast misty sea, the boat’s anchor gripped by invisible people singing below. As no Christians can find Paradise on this earth, so too this is as close as mortals get to finding the Otherworld. The penultimate reveals the foolhardiness of the quest, and yet by doing so magnifies the endeavor. It whispers in one ear, you’re done now, while at the same time exclaiming in the other: But what a journey it was …

Brendan has seen enough; it’s time to write that book. He is boat is set free and sails back to Ireland, setting up shop at a copyist’s desk. When the book is finished Brendan dies, finding passage at last to Paradise.

If our month of poetry has been a journey, what do we find in this penultimate challenge? What is it that allows us to turn our boats finally toward home?

Write a poem that describes the penultimate in some fashion. Describe the door (or island) which opened to (or shored) a final realization. Stay with the turning of things before your vision cleared, the dream before you woke. Do you remember the next to the last kiss? What was in the foreground of that climatic event or turning point which shaped the way you see things now? And looking back, has that moment grown more fraught with meaning somehow? (OK, of course it has, you’re writing a poem.)

With home barely out of sight on the horizon ahead, help us discover what journeys as this are really all about.



41 thoughts on “Go n-éirí an bóthar libh

  1. merrildsmith says:

    I really liked this. I feel like I was journeying with you–or perhaps seeing my own journey–life–poetry–yes, it’s the journey, not the destination.
    Happy Penultimate. 😉

  2. Brendan says:

    There’s a great welcome in this, vulnerable and humbling as it is. To have a sailing heart is surely to have a growing art, and we never do know which door is final until its done with us. Fine invitation to voyage. (PS, and quite a view from Mull. RU a Scot? The Iona cemetery my namesake’s bone town.)

    • paul scribbles says:

      Thanks Brendean. I’m an Irish Mancunian currently living in Scotland. I visit Iona every year for a rhythmical pilgramage. I know Oran’s Chapel very well.The Mull shot was taken last year on a week long visit.

  3. Magaly Guerrero says:

    Oh, Paul, this is beautiful writing. Words and lines and phraseology good enough to eat. My onion heart grinned while I read… I felt its blood warming to the poetry. And in the eye that sees things that belong to all, I saw the Buddha laughing raucously, enjoying your paraphrasing.

  4. ManicDdaily says:

    I’m not sure if the Buddha spoke quite like that! Ha! But I do agree with focusing on process as you do! I loved the idea of laughing at the bard in the mirror while the muse sulked in the corner. Very clever throughout. Thanks! k.

  5. Rosemary Nissen-Wade says:

    My Dad used to tell m,e: ‘Happiness is not a place you reach; it’s a method of travelling.’ (I think it would have surprised and pleased him to know Buddha said it first.) I don’t think your Muse was smirking in a corner this time. I think she was dancing with you.

  6. Glenn Buttkus says:

    It rolls on epic-like, like a canter in slow motion, gathering power & spewing insights as it undulates though both cortex & moor, I really dug it; terrific wordsmithing with metaphysical overtones. ut me in a spiritual state of mind.

  7. ladynyo says:

    Incredible poem, Paul. The journey down the page made me keep reading and the muse lurking in the corner made me laugh. Excellent poem, Paul. One of my favorites of yours.

  8. hypercryptical says:

    Ending, perfect! Sometimes (often for me) the journey is merely loving and living the day.
    Anna :o]

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