Monday, December 10, 2007

In Defence of Texters

Among the drivel that holds sway
Upon the radio today,
I heard a learnéd poet moan
That this new-fangled mobile phone
Would spell the death of English Lit.
By subtly replacing it.
For this new language he called ‘Text,’
About which he was roundly vexed,
Would render spelling out of date
With acronyms that just create
Phonetic words devoid of vowels,
Which chill all literary bowels.
And thus this word upon the street
Would render grammar obsolete,
With adverbs and subjunctive clauses
Lost to modernistic causes.
I know this poet and his verse,
And sadly know of little worse
Existing now in prose or rhyme
Within the pages of our time.
His references are so obtuse
And syntax so supremely loose
That very few can understand
Each Latin, Greek or Persian strand
That emanates at will from his
Well-rounded nether orifice.
Dismissive of both style and form,
So far from the poetic norm
His verses are, that if one chose,
They could be written down as prose.
For e’en the poet laureate
Should manage to communicate
With prince or pauper, stranger, friend,
In language they can comprehend.
And spirit quickly disappears
When writing solely for one’s peers,
Elitest nonsense, masked as style,
Delivered in a breathless guile,
That fools the meek poetic heart
To thinking he is hearing art.
And it is an uncommon truth
That our maligned, phone-texting youth
Are far more versed in every way
At reaching out through words today.
Though their epistles may be brief,
It brings an old man some relief
To see that they have found a cure
For television’s evil lure,
And though frustrated parents groan,
The ever-present mobile phone,
Ideal for communication,
Can’t be used in isolation.
Instead of being cooped up at home,
Their profiles are allowed to roam
Throughout the ether, interact,
“Poeticise” to be exact.
For poetry, to be precise
Is language chosen and concise,
And though the spelling may not be
That found in any diction’ry,
At least the reader knows what means
The writing on those tiny screens,
As very few pubescent writers
Reference Zeus or Heraclitus.
Androgynous and under-sexed,
They’re learning well the joy of text.
Elitist poet, hold thy tongue
And learn a little from the young!
Made the final shortlist of the Swift Satire Poetry Competition 2007

Tattoos – A Conversation

I strolled today with Reverend Spate
Upon the beach at Donabate
Which, basking in the summer heat,
Was, as becomes its wont, replete
With bodies lying stretched and still,
Like kippers cooking ‘pon a grill.
And as we strolled with sandy feet
Around this mass of cooking meat,
The Reverend happened to remark
Upon the etchings deep and dark
Adorning arm and derrière
Of every second person there.
The Reverend, living in life’s crêche
Knows little of the painted flesh,
But learns of life through novelettes,
About which he routinely frets.
“Are these all real?” he thus enquired,
Discreetly pointing, as required,
At anchors, angels, ships and braids
‘Pon upper calves and shoulder blades.
I harumphed like a Philistine
(Tattoos being a pet hate of mine)
And with the smallest nod of head,
Confirmed the truth of what he’d said.
It was a while before he spoke,
And then the lengthy silence broke,
With ne’er a trace of whim nor joke
To ask if these were “sailing folk?”
“Sailing folk?” I loudly snorted,
At the image this imported,
And bending down, I swept a glut
Of clammy seaweed from my foot.
Gnarled old sea dogs telling tales
Of close encounters with fierce whales,
And losing masts and mizzen sails
In terrifying southern gales,
And drinking rum in dockside bars,
And navigating by the stars,
And getting into narrow scrapes
With giant squid, and rounding capes
In rolling seas, lashed to the wheel,
Harpooning walrus, shark and seal,
And walking planks and abject fears
Of meeting ghostly buccaneers???
I gazed around upon the rows
Of tender bodies in repose,
And then addressed the image that
The Reverend had been hinting at.
“My learnéd friend,” I ventured forth,
As we perambulated north.
“I’d venture that these painted clowns –
For want of more descriptive nouns –
Have never slept aboard a ship
Or voyaged further than a trip
To Holyhead and back again
Upon the placid Irish main.
It pains me, sir, to break the news
That sporting these absurd tattoos,
(Which I consider great pishogue,)
Is, at the moment, much in vogue.
It seems that all these little elves
Feel urged to beautify themselves
With celtic or far-eastern script
In inky colours dourly dipped.
Or else they choose to etch the names
Of wives or girlfriends, latest flames,
Which doubtless they will come to rue
When that relationship falls through.
And tattoos now, where once confined
To those more nautically inclined,
Are favoured now by every shrimp
And lily-livered knock-kneed wimp
To show the world that they are tough,
Constructed of the harder stuff,
Whereas in fact, ‘tis a deceit.
To paint one’s skin requires no feat
Of courage, bravery or valour,
For even those of deathly pallor,
Lawyers, tax consultants, bankers,
Now sport little skulls and anchors.
A man is judged by deeds and views,
Not whether he has got tattoos.”
The Reverend Spate (my rant complete)
Perused the sand beneath his feet,
And thus we walked along the beach,
Devoid of any need for speech,
Skirting all those tanning hides
Spreadeagled round us from all sides.
At length, the Reverend glanced at me
(I thought, a little warily)
And then, which I could scarce believe,
Pulled back his shirt’s flamboyant sleeve,
Revealing verses from a psalm
Tattooed upon his spindly arm.
Made the final shortlist of the Swift Satire Poetry Competition 2007

Poor Harry

We’re mourning the death of poor Harry McGrew,
Who died at the age of just fifty and two.
A popular man who we’ll never forget,
His passing is tinged with a lasting regret.
He went for a walk in a breeze strong and stiff,
And ventured too close to the edge of the cliff.
The coroner told everyone that he did owe
A debt of great thanks to his teary-eyed widow,
Who had the whole inquest in fits of loud wailing,
Describing poor Harry’s last ropeless abseiling.
As he plummeted down to a horrible death,
She heard him take one last great lungful of breath.
“God bless you my dear!” he shouted in shock,
While striking a treacherous, sticky-out rock.
“It wasn’t your fault, you must not blame yourself!”
As he rolled off a narrow and down-facing shelf,
And just as he crashed to the boulders below,
She heard his last words echo up loud and slow,
“You’ve been such a loving and wonderful wife,
Please don’t stay unwed for the rest of your life!”
The death of a loved one is sorrow indeed,
But see how the mourning’s now tinctured with greed,
The itchiness caused by the terrible wait
To see if poor Harry left any estate.
Clad in black is the most lacrimonious spouse
Whose father-in-law is not long for her house.
She’s already eyed up a plumber named Roger
Who’s expressed an int’rest at being her lodger.
She’s been getting ideas from wallpaper books,
And bought a small sample to see how it looks,
And poor old Josiah may well scratch his chin –
He’ll have to move out when young Roger moves in.
And see, Jill, his daughter, breaks down in wild tears.
I don’t think she paid him a visit in years.
A house in the country with meadows and stables,
Hats made in Paris and bought for the labels.
And yes, it is true, from the day she did marry,
A card on his birthday was all for poor Harry.
Her husband’s made fortunes in peanuts and soya
And recently phoned up the family lawyer
To see, from an impartial, impersonal view
Just how much of poor Harry’s estate they’d be due.
And then there’s the son, poor old Harry’s great hope,
Who needs an abundance of powder to cope,
An image of Harry in flesh and in blood,
Who moans to the world that he’s misunderstood.
Despite all the handouts and scrapes with the law,
Poor Harry refused to show Junior the door,
But handed him thousands of euro to burn,
And never was offered a cent in return.
The lad now is silently doing his sums
And working out grams for when handout day comes.
And Harry’s big brother is sniffing around,
Attracted no doubt by the smell of a pound,
Arrived in his Merc from his farm down in Clare
(Inherited after a shotgun affair)
But though his great farmhouse lies on a large spread
There’s no space to give poor Josiah a bed.
The cousins and nephews have all come around
To pay their respects and to test out the ground.
The golf clubs, his tankards, his prize-winning trout
Have all been politely enquired about.
But the widow is bullish, she’s well on her guard
To keep all the things for which Harry worked hard.
A rumour’s been started, (they say ‘twas by Jill)
That maybe there has been a subsequent will,
And Junior’s been rifling through letters and drawers,
And offering to help with the financial chores.
And hints have been dropped about what is expected,
And how many thousands may end up rejected.
And Junior’s friend, simply known as ’The Greek’
Has called round to pay his respects twice this week.
Oh yes they will all miss poor Harry McGrew
Who died at the age of just fifty and two.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Tiger’s Roar

She came from a town near the border,
Once jungle, now scrub,
Once peaceful, now disputed.
At dusk, as a young girl,
Lying on her raffia bed,
She would hear the lion roar
Its homage to the day, now kissed goodnight.
She would think it was roaring for her,
Afraid that it would poke its strong head
Through the mud walls
And she would feel its warm breath,
Catch the gleam of its sharp teeth
Before it carried her off like a rag doll
Into the cushioned undergrowth.

Now she lives in two rooms
High above the snarling street,
A spear’s throw from the spot
Where Pearse issued his proclamation
Cherishing all citizens.
The vans growl
And the buses shriek
And titanic tussles rise
From the nearby watering-hole,
Cacophanising the coarse air.
Sullen tribesmen stare out from the stairwell,
Decorated, menacing.

She flicks the chipped switch
And straightens the kettle’s frayed cable,
Casting a careless eye
At the dark patch melting down the wall.
A month’s grime curtains the sash window.
Flakes of white paint lie stricken on the sill.

They tell her the tiger is still roaring
And she lies awake at night
Straining to hear it.

Three Trees Leaning

In the grounds of Strokestown House,
Where, every year,
Newborn free verse poetry
Totters out of the open French windows
And gambols with the lambs
On spindly, uncertain legs,
There stand three trees leaning.
Leaning like broken teeth,
Each points not heavenward,
But slightly to the left of it,
As if heaven were a cliché to be shunned.
What caused this angular deviation from the norm?
One could be a maverick.
Two might be coincidence,
But three suggests a revolutionary movement,
Breaking from tradition with an impudent flourish.
The three trees of the apocalypse?
Where should the poet aim? At heaven?
Or slightly to the left of it?
Words flying staccato-like
Through the stratosphere and ionosphere,
Each chiselled like a personal bullet.

Three pillars to the inexact science
Striving obliquely toward literary perfection.
Silvered bark, straight and sleek,
Roots buried deep in the earth
On which druids recited to deafening applause.
Did their words fly to their target
As from three cannons pointed at the invading army?
Did their words find their range,
Or did the lyrical bombs drop harmlessly short
Unheard and ignored
Amid a cacophany of alarm bells?

The villagers of Kap Dan

“This tribe” said our guide,
As we crunched through frosted snow
In our patent Italian shoes,
“Was only discovered in 1884,
When they plucked some shipwrecked Danish whalers
From the treacherous East Greenland currents.”
Unaware that they were not alone,
These primitive beings
Still inhabited an ice-age world
Of flint-topped spears
And sealskinned umiaks,
Invoking forgotten gods
As they battled the harshest conditions on earth
On a daily basis.
In return,
The Danes gave them religion,
Social security,
And deep-chasmed despair.

Wizened and deadened faces bore no animosity
As they shuffled around in a makeshift dance,
Complete with vague chants,
In a demonstration of Inuit culture.
A little girl in a pink anorak with synthetic fur
Thrust a carved walrus tusk into my hand
And held out a grubby hand in silence.

And if perchance we are visited
By higher beings from behind the iceberg clouds,
Will we not all just shrug our shoulders,
Twist the cap from the bottle
And wonder what’s the point?

Young man old man

As a young man,
He thought he’d killed an Austrian in a fight,
Pounded him to death with bearlike hands.
His father, helpless to his awful plight,
Packed him off to strange far-distant lands.
To Tunis and beyond he made his way.
With Nubian women three years he did dwell
Until his father wrote to him to say
“He lives, come home, the world is looking well.”

As an old man
‘Tis now disease, but then the loon was just
A mad old Swiss man, querulous and frail.
A strong mind crumbled into yellow dust
Behind those eyes expressionless and pale.
And though he knew not daughters nor his wife,
He spoke about those women dark and warm
Who cradled him for three years of his life
And drew their veils across the howling storm.


The hum from the distant dual carriageway
Has settled in my ears
Like a thin film of wax.
It paints crude pictures in my dreams
And greases down my hair.
A plane bound for New York or Athens
Buzzes behind a cloud.
A lawnmower somewhere hammers out
Its rheumy rhythm
As birds chatter excitedly.

Where would I find true silence?
In the desert? On the ice-cap?
Maybe only in death.
Would I even hear it if it bellowed down my ear
Through a foghorn?

No miracle needed

Like a yellow blanket,
The size of a small nation,
The wheat field gleams in the sunlight,
Waiting for the crowning hum of harvest
With purring pleasure.
Thick and strong, the ripe ears
Breathe the soil in the triumph.
The farmer stands on a gatepost
And, shading his eyes against the reflected glare,

From Newfoundland to Norway,
Squat trawlers winch in groaning nets,
Setting down their struggling catch,
A writhing mass that slithers and slides
Before the hold is battened down.
The skipper taps his pipe and re-lights.

Five million loaves and two million fish
And still the people at the back go hungry.

James Shaw, Cooldramun

James Shaw, Cooldramun,
It must be great fun
To lie in the earth
Many years from your birth
With a poet next door
Underneath the brown floor.
Are you now best mates
With W.B Yeats?

In Haverhill town square

In muggy warmth, the market square
Is crossed by girls with wondrous hair
And mothers chiding errant tots
And stiffened men in shuffling knots.
Beneath the church’s sandstoned tower
With sentinels to guard the hour
The yew tree and the willow sway
In homage to this rhythmic day
With jackdaws squatting on the roof,
Imperious and quite aloof.

‘Tis Middle England, soft and calm,
Far from war and death and harm,
With cute cafés that sell high teas
And yes, building societies
And betting shops and lifeboat shops
And shops that stock both socks and mops.
But visitor, beware the ire
Exhaled if one should stoke its fire.


The close embrace, the bosomed hug,
The cases hauled out of the boot,
The tightened lips, the helpless shrug,
The watch face no-one can refute.
But though we part, it’s not the end
Despite our deep and voiceless fears.
Though weeks may pass, or months or years,
The day will come again, dear friend,
When once again I’ll kiss your face
And clasp you in a tight embrace
And we’ll resume, as though the chime
Of clocks were not the mark of time.
But now we’ll sing our sad refrain
Until we come to meet again.

Country Lane

An old shawled woman shuffles fearfully
Along the roadside verge
To a neighbour’s cottage,
As the tin bullets stream by
Like machine-gun fire.
She creeps and pauses, creeps and pauses,
Only forging ahead when the coast is clear,
Like a marine in the jungle hell-hole.
Beside her, the banks of
Dandelion and
Cow parsley
Wear their veil of cement dust,
Unnaturally silvered like sprayed wreath-roses.
With rasping breath, they seek the sun,
As a drowning man forces blue lips
To break the rippled surface
Of a world turned topsy-turvy.
The rumbling of the machines in McFadden’s Field
Drone their miserable lament.

Country lane now designated
“Orbital Access Route.”

A bloodstained pelt is mashed into the tarmac.
Fox or rabbit? Who can tell?
It matters no longer.
Certainly not to the opportunistic magpie
That takes its life in its wings
To investigate.
The old woman glances at the blood-splattered fur,
Nods knowingly
And pads on.


Do not dwell on’t dear.
Blow it away like a stray cobweb
Accidentally blundered into.
Don’t let the gossamer threads
Wrap their wispy bonds
Around your beautiful face,
But pluck them off
With a careless finger
And laugh gaily.
The spider in the crevice thinks naught of it,
But will set to work at once
To weave his dangerous chains again.
You are no struggling fly
Frantic with terror.
Cast off the rope that binds you
And think no more of it.

Bird dance

On fine evenings we would stand by the canal
And watch the dance begin.

At first a few stray sparrows, like formation spitfires,
Would turn and swirl and swirl and turn
Above the multinational plant.
More would join and more and still more,
As summonsed by vespers bell
Or a conductor’s baton,
Until a full third of the sky
Was blocked out by a massive cloud
That rolled and fluttered, swirled and turned
Like a giant flag waved gaily.
And we would stand and watch in awe
This great primeval homage to the day
Until as if by whistle called,
The birds dispersed like shrapnel.

When I hadn’t seen them for a while,
I questioned a sad-eyed man sitting on the lock,
Who said:
The owner of the multinational plant,
Compelled to be seen to act
By his shit-strewn employees,
Hired a man with a hawk, or a falcon
(He didn’t know which)
And this bird, shooting fish in a barrel,
Dispersed the flock and broke up the dance
Like a Gard unplugging an amp.

Sometimes I imagine myself a lark
Sitting high atop a purple cloud,
Gazing down with beady eye upon
The streams of cars that conga to this plant
From all points of the compass.
And I wonder how long it will be
Before a hook-nosed man
Besplattered by shareholders’ flak
Puts an end to this crazy dance.

At an antiques fair

Like pleading puppies in the pound,
They stare up at me, big-eyed.
The stallholder turns another page
And crunches an apple.
I stoop down and scoop one
From the brown and battered box.
“The Life of Fridtjof Nansen by J. Arthur Bain”
I read,
Etched in gold print on the rubbed navy spine,
Above a silver print of Fram,
Nudging through Arctic ice floes.
“E.G. Lyttle, 66, Manor Street”
Written proudly in Edwardian handwriting
On the frontispiece.
An age when daring feats of bravery
Still inspired enraptured boys.
Nansen, Bain and Lyttle,
All gone, all but forgotten,
Joined after death by a scrawled fly-leaf.
The bond will break when,
Dumped in a skip.
The broken spine and moulding leaves
“With numerous illustrations and a map”
End their days in landfill.
Would that I owned a bare-shelved carved bookcase
In a Georgian drawing room
Where I could stack authors, subjects and readers
And let them converse forever
In erudite surroundings.
But this is a practical age.
I lay the book down atop the others,
Silently bidding them all a good home.

A war maiden prepares for battle

The warpaint hides her soft’ning jaw,
The spider lines beside her eyes.
No painter born could ever draw
A mask of such complete disguise.
Preparing for this savage war
Each careful stroke is thus applied
To screen what nature cannot hide.

Her armour laid out in a row
Reflects the callous lamplight’s glare.
With steady hands and face aglow,
She dons each piece with utmost care.
The moon lolls by with gait so slow
‘Tis unsure if he moves at all,
Yet she ignores his mocking call.

A strange bird screeches in the night,
The trees sashay with ancient ghosts.
Beneath the wan, translucent light
Eternal spirits leave their posts.
She straightens up, the ancient rite
Concluded like some sacred dance,
With very little left to chance.

She draws a breath. Her bosom heaves
Beneath a lace of stately blue.
Her earrings, like two semibreves
Resound with a foreboding hue.
She knows the fashion that deceives,
Yet still she asks me with a hiss,
“Do you think my bum looks big in this?”

A family reunion

There he lay, pink and fragile,
In the parish of Baltiboys,
Shallow breath barely heard
At the foot of the yellowed microfiche.
“Milesius Behan to Martin Behan and Mary nee Cullen
Twentieth March 1830.
Sponsors Luke Hughes and Bridget Behan.”
I bowed formally to Luke,
As he prepared to launch into another song,
And smiled warmly at Bridget,
Remarking on the family likeness,
As she fussed nervously over the sleeping infant.
Bleary-eyed through months of searching,
I gazed fondly on the calm brow
Of my great-great-grandfather, Miley,
Warm in his rough sacking,
His parting from the Black Hill,
His journey to Dublin,
His marriage to Catherine Byrne,
His life as a nondescript labourer
All ahead of him,
Undreamt of in that new-sprung head.
Then I turned to Martin and Mary,
Proud parents, tired
Through scratching a living on a plot
Owned by the man from the Big House,
And childbirth.
I embraced them in turn,
Like a prodigal son.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Wonderful World of Disney

Coralled along ropes
In the kingdom of hopes,
We shuffle and sweat
‘Neath the blue blanket sky,
And the businessmen sing
As the registers ring
And they count all the plums
In the Florida pie.

The queues wind around
O’er the pink concrete ground
And we’re ushered and prodded
With throats black and dry.
And the drovers are types
Who wear badges and stripes
And disposable smiles
As they wave us on by.

The colours leap out
With a bold, brassy shout.
Like skeet and flamingoes
To heaven they fly
And the poor wilting kids
Raise dispassionate lids,
As their parents mop brows
With a wearisome sigh.

And wheelchairs are pushed
By men wrinkled and crushed –
Sick sons who are feeble
And waiting to die.
Last moments of joy
For the poor, tragic boy
Whose face shows no trace
That his dreamworld is nigh.

There’s no lasting joy here
In this world of great cheer,
Just suspension of life
In one fabulous high.
But down we must come
‘Neath reality’s thumb
When the cases are packed
And we’re waving goodbye.

Executive Toy

Like the showman, trying to keep
All plates spinning on their poles,
The Magician starts to whirl
Tiny orbs around the sphere.
Some go fast and some are large,
While some are clear as drops of sand,
But they all flow round the stage
On elusive nylon threads,
Reflected only in the light
That cannot reach the farthest edge.
No applause, the stalls are bare
For this great game of solitaire.

The Goldfinches

The goldfinches never arrived this year
To feast on our larder of nuts.
Sparrows and starlings
In numbers, the darlings,
Bring plentiful chattering cheer
Swapping tall tales from the fence’s flat struts.
But the goldfinches failed to appear.

The robin checked in on Christmas Eve
And perched on the flaking back wall.
He sat there surveying
The sky cold and greying
Like a wistful and fat semibreve.
Until interrupted by dusk’s gentle call,
He’d no inclination to leave.

The rooks and the jackdaws came swooping in
With confidence in their great size
Aloof, yes, and haughty,
They’re not very sporty
And flee at the drop of a pin.
Like black, soaring shrouds, they near cover the skies
Like the reincarnation of sin.

But the goldfinches never arrived this year,
All painted in yellows and reds.
Do their tiny hearts harden
At the thoughts of our garden,
Or have they forgotten we’re here?
Or did they lie dead in their feathery beds
When the cold hand of winter drew near?


For thirty years his mere existence
Never crossed my mind.
Out of sight through time and distance,
Memory is blind.
A slim youth then, now paunched and greying,
It can not be said
That thoughts of Jonothan came straying
Once into my head.

But suddenly, a name! Oh dare I
Cast my twirling line
Back to those dark waters where I
Thought no sun could shine?
I, attracted to the city
And its neoned names,
Jonothan evoked my pity
For his simple aims.

I smothered in a tiny village,
Gasping out for breath,
Crying out to strike and pillage
‘Ere I choked to death.
Jonothan lived with his father
In a hillside shack,
Never saying once he’d rather
Leave his mountain track.

I caught the village bus the last time,
Never once turned round,
Never tempted by the pasttime
Of my native ground.
All my links I chose to sever,
Freedom unconfined
My old pal for long years never
Crossed my dazzled mind.

Does he still live in his cottage,
Circled by his sheep,
With his lamp of lowly wattage
Dulling him to sleep.
Do the cattle keep him busy,
Shirtsleeved in the scree.
Jonothan – I wonder is he
Happier than me

I wish my feet had calloused soles

I wish my feet had calloused soles,
As tough as strips of air-dried beef,
So I could pace o’er burning coals
And never, never come to grief.
On shingled beach, my sharp-breath moans
Attract the seagull’s mocking eye.
He glances as I hobble by,
Deflated by the smallest stones,
While little children, spades in hand,
Skip lightly o’er the pebbled strand.

And though I search for flat-topped rocks
Whereon to place my tender feet,
I really should wear shoes and socks
To cross this lethal, sandy street.
Too oft I walk o’er shingled shores
And feel each tiny pin-pricked dart
That scoresd its name upon my heart,
While down below the wave-crash roars.
I wish my feet had calloused souls
So I could manage seaside strolls.

A Winter’s Dawn

The blanket torn from off the bed,
The callous cold clamps pallid lips
Upon the startled motherhead,
Flesh naked in her rolling hips.
Stiff and haughty looms the birch
Behind the tracing paper mist.
No grain of colour doth besmirch
The frozen twigs by winter kissed.
A writhing corpse in camera snapped
With bony fingers gnarled in death,
Convulsed in shock, by violence sapped
Of gut-warmth and the spectrum’s breath.
With grotesque grin, it mocks the dawn
It’s fleshless teeth bared to the sky,
And brittle branches cry with scorn
That all souls should prepare to die.
The gripping hoar-frost clings like mud
To ear and nose and sap-choked eyes,
Tight-smothering the living blood,
Endeavouring to paralyse.
In shock, the statued monster stands,
Black silhouette against the grey,
Throwing supplicating hands
Toward the dawning of the day.
Lo! primal colours squeezed of joy
Like berries nipped ‘twixt fingertips
And thrice distilled to help destroy
The hope encased in tiny pips.
With curling lips, the stillness reigns.
No breath to warm the rock-hard buds.
No early-rising pigeon deigns
To break the cover of the woods.

But hark! Away, behind the east,
The sound of distant hoofbeats drum.
What manner of a man or beast
Dare rouse the equilibrium?
At first a paleness, nothing more
That clambers up the startled gloom,
A whisper heard above a roar,
The merest hint of gay perfume.

Behind the wall of light’ning grey,
A thousand fanfares rent the skies,
As darkness braces for the fray,
A look of terror in its eyes.
A mighty roar, the clash of steel,
The whiff of charcoal ‘pon the air.
Blood red runs the savage weal
That glistens through the tunic’s tear.
And then a yell, a sudden thrust!
The dark reels back as though harpooned.
A shaft of sunlight thick with dust
Comes streaming through the open wound.

The hawthorn hedge explodes to green,
The birch bathes in the lucent hue
And, painted in the luscious scene,
A red-eyed pigeon starts to coo.
The battle’s won, scarred night has fled,
The frost is prised off flexing boughs,
And, rising like a figurehead,
The morning dons her brightest blouse.


With the midwinter gripping,
By the stove’s sultry heat,
With the midwife still slipping
Through freshly glazed snow,
Unfocussed eyes squinting,
Cocooned in a sheet,
She gazed at lights tinting
The darkness below.

The mountains subsumed her
Throughout her dour life.
They lured her, consumed her
And rolled her like phlegm.
As dutiful daughter,
As downtrodden wife,
Each nerve, each aorta
Beholden to them.

From the cold social basement,
She’d crane her head back.
A tragic encasement,
Just one of life’s scalps.
But sometimes she’d ponder
Upon a high track,
And I’d watch her mind wander
Back home to the Alps.

A thousand miles distant,
She saw out her days,
But the mountains, persistent,
Would not let her go.
She’d lean on a gate
And she’d wistfully gaze
From the rolled hillside’s pate
To the valley below.

Her cottage was bare
Like a gannet’s rough ledge,
But she breathed the thin air
And gave thanks to the sky.
And up where light flashes,
By an old hawthorn hedge,
We scattered her ashes,
My brother and I.


Through the bus’s grimy windows,
I watch Summer take her seat,
Her sunkissed face in profile,
Children laughing at her feet.
The driver pulls the handbrake
And the bus moves slowly on,
Till its lost among the traffic,
Till the final glow has gone.
Then I turn with misty eyeballs
To the old man at my side
And I clap him on the shoulder
And I fall in with his stride.

Two Red Lights

Two red lights,
Rear headlights,
Keep me safely on the road.
Rain sheeting,
As the dark cloud sheds its load.
Night falling,
Fear calling,
And the trees and barns flash by.
I swallow
And follow
With a panic in my eye.

We started,
In a light and playful mood.
Fine weather,
And a sense of hope imbued.
You leading,
As we listened to the band.
Songs playing,
We swaying,
Sometimes you’d wave your hand.

I’m steering
And peering
Through the metronomic screen.
Gears crunching
And punching
O’er the dark and slippy sheen.
I wander
Far yonder
To the glow of our abode.
Your red lights,
Rear headlights,
Keep me safely on the road.

And then, as I screech round a dangerous bend,
The lights that did guide me come to a sharp end.
No shining red glow in the thundering rain,
Just darkness, sheer darkness and darkness again.
My foot on the pedals, I slip down the gears,
Peering round wildly, my mind set with fears.
Have you come off the road, ended up in the ditch?
Or accelerated? I cannot tell which.
Maybe you’ve taken a half-hidden lane,
A shortcut you know through the wind and the rain?
Alone, all alone now, I slow to a crawl,

No red lights to guide me, no red lights at all.

The Ant

Upon a small island within a large ocean,
I went for a walk on a warm Autumn day
‘Cross cliffs that were fissured by saltwater spray
And polished by breezes of circular motion.

I came to the headland that thrust out its chin
With arrogant air to the rippling blue,
And I stretched in the grass to admire the view
And watch the great rollers come lumbering in.

And then by my sandal, I spied a small ant
Ascending a tuber of rich emerald grass.
With each gust he paused to allow it to pass,
And I fancy I heard him puff loudly and pant.

Slowly he followed this gruelling ascent.
From stalk he progressed to the wavering blade,
Which made him clutch tightly each time that it swayed.
A puff of his cheeks and then onward he went.

On reaching the summit, he never gave pause,
But turned and crawled quickly the way he had come,
A pointless adventure, I fancied, to some,
But worthy of thund’ring and lengthy applause.

I smiled at this scurrying insect because,
To him, that one blade at the end of the earth
Was more than the whole of the planet was worth,
And where is the man to deny that it was?


With earphones on, translators start
Producing sense from balderdash,
Nuance central to their art
And mindful of a culture clash.

Their efforts may avert a brawl,
May keep relationships correct,
But better still by far if all
Just spoke the language of respect.

Why I Dream in Maps

Wish-fulfillment is, perhaps,
The reason why I dream in maps.
In ten-league paces, long and crude,
I vault o’er lines of longitude
And, fleeing from the east wind’s moans,
Small islands are but stepping stones
By which I cross the ocean deep
Without the need for fevered leap.
I skirt the continental shelf
With but a pause to bless myself.
Colossus that bestrides the earth,
I’ve minimised the planet’s girth.
A puny wretch by day, it seems,
A giant nightly in my dreams.

The Lights that you see

The lights that you see with your eyes tightly shut
Are the lamps on a mountainous track,
The welcoming glow from the wanderer’s hut
With its promise of brandy and brack.
Perched like a crow on the treacherous slope,
O’erlooking the boulder-strewn gulf,
A symbol of refuge, a promise of hope,
Escape from the ravenous wolf.

The lights that you see with your eyes tightly clenched
Are the lights on your grandfather’s porch,
Where hunger is sated and burning thirst quenched
‘Neath the glow of an old oil-dipped torch.
The coy smell of childhood wafts down from the haulm,
The grasshoppers chirp in the night,
And your grandmother’s bosom is gentle and warm
As it puts howling monsters to flight.

The Wounded Lion

The wounded lion slinks away,
No longer master of the pride.
The hunter once, now easy prey,
Stripped of power, undignified.
Beneath the withered grass he slinks,
Padding out a tortured crawl,
While high above, a vulture blinks,
Its face impassive as a wall.
The race, as always, has been run,
The loser draws a final breath.
And beaming down, the blinkered sun
Smiles smugly on a lowly death.

A Simple Truth

Stride out in a cornfield at night.
High above sing the rhythmical stars
In the heaving and natural dark,
Like pupa awaiting the Spring.
They glisten with dewy-eyed hope
In the comfortable shadows of shade,
Like splatters of snow on a road.

Back in the town they are fewer.
An optical illusion, they say,
Polluted by orange-hazed glow.
There, night is unnaturally bright,
A nervousness clouding the view,
Caught up in a nasty attack.
Perception is blinkered indeed.

Stars thrive in blackened conditions,
And gravitate more to the black.
They huddle like chorus line beauties,
Simpering on the large stage,
Giggling in self-conscious hope,
In front of the great velvet curtain.
One in the eye for the city.

They Played Football at Auschwitz on Sundays

They played football at Auschwitz on Sundays,
While the guards and Alsatians looked on.
As the cattle trucks came
With humanity’s shame,
And the sun in its majesty shone.

With the shadow of death at their shoulder,
With the angel of hate at their side,
They practised their flicks
And did bicycle kicks,
And despaired when a shot whistled wide.

They argued the toss over throw-ins,
They moaned when a colleague mis-passed.
They frantically hacked
When their goal was attacked,
As the hordes shuffled off to be gassed.

Incongruous though it appears,
‘Twas born of a deep-rooted need.
What mattered the most
Was to be so engrossed
That the darkness began to recede.

They played football at Auschwitz on Sundays,
And joyfully panted each breath.
For a few sacred hours,
‘Neath the menacing towers,
They skipped o’er the stretched leg of death.
Published in Revival Issue 3, the quarterly poetry anthology of Revival Press

The Reverse of the Coin

On Christmas Day, the tension ceased,
Brown faces into cackles creased,
And trenches deep disgorged their band
Of soldiers into no-man’s land.
And as they through the dank mist peered,
Brown faces with broad smiles appeared,
And clambered out to meet their foe,
With metaphorical mistletoe.
And cigarettes were handed round,
With photographs, dry, crunched and browned,
And when a football was produced,
The enmity again reduced,
And laughter, talent and fair play
Became the order of the day,
As human jetsam, urged to kill,
United in the common thrill
Of boot and leather, crosses, passes,
Loved by all the working classes.

Nigh on ninety years have passed
Since all those men were shot or gassed,
And I sit in my easy chair
Too far removed to really share
In those emotions that prevailed
When men against the system railed.
It seems an instinct born of good.
Humanity crawled out of mud
And shook his killer by the hand –
Thus far can I understand.

But I, so hypocritically racked,
Can’t comprehend the simple fact,
That on the next morn, war resumed
For men once more with death consumed.


Another Kenyan kid lies dead
As flies buzz round his dust-strewn head.
His mother cannot cut the thread,
And cradles him so gently.
A girl out shopping in Iraq
Is maimed in an unnamed attack.
Her stump is charred and sooty black
And bleeding quite intently.

And mothers, kidnapped in Brazil,
By those who choose to steal and kill
And trample on God’s Holy Will,
Recite the paternoster,
While Arab girls are sold as slaves
By Rolex-clad and gold-toothed knaves,
And rot away in shallow graves
That human peddlers foster.

And we, with passioned howls of rage,
Conditioned by the headlined page,
Disciples of the football age,
Are roused to fierce invective.
Oh, how we shake a righteous fist
At penalties the linesman missed
And diving victims harsh-dismissed,
With closeted perspective.
Shortlisted at the Kiltimagh In Search of Raftery Poetry competition 2006

Homeless World Cup Winners 2004

No cavalcade when they returned,
No crowds in the arrivals hall.
Despite heroic glory earned,
They were not recognised at all.

No marching bands upon the street,
No roofless double-decker bus,
No minister for them to meet,
No press, no waving flags, no fuss.

An unbelievable display
From World Cup winning Boys in Green,
But in the Ireland of today
They slunk back to the streets unseen.

But huddled in their rugs at night,
Their dreams unravelled and unfurled
Fly up above the earth and write
That they are champions of the world.


It’s an image that should be inspiring,
Restoring our faith in humanity,
When the cannon and guns ceased their firing
And goodwill overpowered the insanity.

When the mud-spattered fodder came crawling
O’er trenches so cold and decaying,
Sweet respite from murderous brawling,
Repose from the maiming and slaying.

When the Christmas Day truce stopped the slaughter
With its thoughts of a faraway manger,
And wine was dispensed as if water,
And no-one considered a stranger.

When a football was kicked about freely
Where the blood of lost comrades lay frozen,
Concentration so earnest and steely
On the brows of the players thus chosen.

And the smiles brought some warmth and some colour
To the endless expanse, brown and dreary,
And the flush, sweating faces seemed fuller,
Though the eyes remained ghostly and weary.

It’s an image that should be inspiring,
Restoring our faith in humanity,
But the next day the guns started firing
And the world sank once more to insanity.

Mirror Image

Mirror image on a shaded lake,
Broken by a most ambiv’lent drake,
A duck and seven ducklings in his wake.

Morning webs ‘cross glist’ning rushes spun
Ensnare the pirhouetting flies, undone
Through bathing in the warm September sun.

Willow mourning by the water’s side,
Rooted in calamity and pride,
Resolutely pining for his bride.

Mirror image on a shaded lake.
Would it be a terrible mistake
To plunge with effervescent heart and break

The spell created by the living sheen?
To swim down to the treetops through the screen
Of navy bushes topped by verdant green.

A world devoid of gravity and strain,
Untroubled by the vagaries of rain.
No fingerprints upon the rounded pane.

To dream perchance and never more to wake.
The ancient limestone mountains start to flake.
Mirror image on a shaded lake.

The Louder Girl

They say that she might be a little intense.
Each word that she utters is shouted.
Her energy levels are truly immense
And normal politeness is flouted.

She touches your shoulder to make you pay heed,
Her laughter is quite overbearing.
The lines on her face are expressive indeed,
And she’s somewhat too prone to foul swearing.

She lacks true decorum in all that she does,
Her head full of fanciful notions.
And yet, she’s more normal than any of us
Who habitually mask our emotions.


The cymbals crash loud
At the base of the cliff,
As the whole rhythm section explodes.
The mournful trombones
Emit passionate moans
As the harsh, squawking piccolo goads.

The tubas all blow
From the deep down below,
While the harp sings a mem’ry-filled song.
‘Tis a symphony played
Since the world first revolved,
Never-ending, rejoicing and strong.


The giant child
Wielded the brush like a sword.
The child smiled
And slashed the pale canvas
With flamingo pink.
Carelessly styled,
Flamboyant orange cut a swathe across
Pensive grey,
Not defiled but merging
Like memories.
And then textiled blue
Stabbed staccato across
Unstructured fluffy white.
Too wild
To be hung in a dusty frame
Enclosed by certainty.
Too mild
To resist for long
The dark forces of night.

Greener Grass

A blue formica table,
Scratched by jet streams.
Linear reminders that tomorrow
Life resumes.
Back to billowing grey clouds
That portend rain,
Or a nondescript muffler
That merges into dank concrete.
I am forced to remind myself
Of the soft greenness of my homeland,
Not stark and rugged with ochre dryness,
But snug like my mother’s cardigan.
A beauty unappreciated.

A Gull at Twilight

A solit’ry gull ‘gainst the red of the sky,
Floating above the calm sea,
Still searching for fish though the darkness is nigh
And the light is preparing to flee.

His wings never move as he arcs o’er the bay,
With minimal effort he soars,
Then suddenly drops wih a splash in the grey
As the waves aspirate their applause.

And then he flies off to his treacherous ledge,
With the swell sishersashing below.
And sits and looks out to the earth’s distant edge
Now bathed in a tangerine glow.

I marvel at just how unflustered he seems
Though existence is one constant fight.
Oh how I despair when my faraway dreams
Disappear at the touch of the night.


Sometimes in the mornings, while driving to work,
My mind drifts away on its own.
So I wield my lassoo, bring it up with a jerk
And haul it back in with a groan.

It often drives on past the factory gates
To a lake at the foot of a hill,
And there it will lie nibbling pecan and dates
By the waters so clear and so still.

Far away from the clatter of roaring machines,
Far away from the manager’s curse,
It will paint golden pictures of countryside scenes
Annotated by free-flowing verse.

One day, in the future, I’ll follow my mind,
Drive on past those factory gates,
And find that still lake with its contours defined,
And stretch out nibbling pecan and dates

The Autumn Pool

Another leaf drifts down
And lands silently on the stagnant pool,
Now cool in the depth of Autumn.
A faint ripple and then stillness.
So many leaves…
Like memories they float on the surface
Hiding the cracked tiles below,
Shaken from the once-proud elm,
Now grown thin, naked, ashamed.
The pool is deep and musty,
With a faint smell of decay.
There are no children splashing happily,
No excited laughter in the boyish sky,
Just leaves.

Photographing Smells

You can photograph smells
In your mind
And you’ll find
That in decades from now,
As you plough
Fertile soil,
They will rise to the boil
Like a pot,
Boiling hot,
And by closing your eyes
In surprise
You will see
That an image from childhood develops.

Solar Staring

Don’t stare at the sun, they tell us,
You will go blind.
Medically speaking, the light is so bright
That the retina behind
Will be burnt, so I learnt.
This law is well-defined,
But begs the question, infers the suggestion
That we are taking instructions
From a blind mind.
This law, you see, is unsigned.
Was a man in Kurdistan years ago so inclined
To sun-staring that he went blind?
And was this assigned to his solar observations?
Parents are asked to remind
Their kids to bat their lids,
To glance askance.
This law is enshrined and not confined
To humankind.
Animals too, if you visit the zoo,
You will find have the sun non-aligned
With their vision, a subconscious decision.
However, Narcissus,
As he by the waters reclined, and pined,
Stared not at the sun but at his reflection
Without interjection.
And hour by hour turned into a flower
Much-maligned. So the rule thus outlined
Might apply to the sun or to all things or none
Or to two things combined.
I asked a learnéd don would he comment upon
This thesis, but he declined.

The Yacht

Like a yacht, tacking before a stiff breeze,
Your seemingly innocuous questions
Soaked in sweet flattery
Carved a passage through my defences.
The waves churned and turned choppy,
But you grasped the wheel firmly.
I blustered and blew,
But your sails were so thin to to the wind
They slipped effortlessly through.

Spent, I watched you chart a course
O’er the dancing sparkles,
Erect now, growing smaller,
As your triangular tail grew larger,
Until you were lost
O’er that faint line
At the edge of the ocean.


We drove into Kiltimagh
On one Saturday in June.
It was half past three o’clock
On a glowing afternoon.
On a burning summer’s day,
Such as only comes too rare,
As the flies buzzed round in play
And the cats sprawled in the glare.

Tired and sticky from the drive
From the suburbs in the east,
Baking sun could not deprive
Us of our literary feast,
Where blind Raftery wrote song
Of the hedgerows of his youth
As he tapped his way along
In pursuit of rhyme and truth.

There we bathed in crystal streams
Of bright metaphor and verse,
Deep-submerged in babbling dreams
That the sun could not disperse.
Image washed away the grime
Of the sticky, prickly heat,
In a shower so sublime,
Drops of poetry so sweet.

Thin Veneer

Around the pool, the young boy lumbered,
Shouting gaily, unencumbered,
Though his legs were singly-numbered,
Still he laughed with boyish ease.
And as I woke from idle napping,
On my sunbed, sunshine trapping,
I saw his shorts leg idly flapping,
Flapping lamely in the breeze.

On his hands and foot he bounded,
Like the letter M quite rounded,
And I watched him, most astounded,
As he stumbled on all threes.
And as my peace was interrupted,
And my pleasant dreams disrupted,
A fleeting, savage thought erupted,
Filling me with strong unease.

Why, while I am holidaying,
Far from normal everydaying,
Should this one-legg’d boy come straying,
Like a sudden, sharp disease?
I’m trying to escape reality
At this holiday locality,
Fleeing from the world’s brutality
And it’s tragic amputees.

Thus my mind, when pricked a little,
Gushed a waterfall of spittle
Through the shell, refined but brittle,
Shaped by civilised decrees.
Spewing forth, like gonorrhoea,
Through the flimsy, thin veneer,
Viscous, putrid and unclear,
Hidden for eternities.

And then I shivered, quite disgusted
At the way my mind, once trusted,
Could be, in an instant, rusted
By such selfish thoughts as these.
But my question, rashly tabled,
Begs which of us should be labelled
As the more obtuse, disabled –
The cripple or the ill-at-ease?


A china milk jug, slightly chipped,
Adorned with roses on the briar,
By sea of dust is tightly gripped
Upon the mantle o’er the fire.
I pick it up with idle thought
And leave a circle, clear and stark.
So houseproud once, she now cares naught,
Her mind at peace, befogged and dark.
In hope, I peer inside to find
A window opened on the past,
A stony footpath, clearly signed,
Converging verges, lightly grassed.

A paperclip, contrite and small.
A button, shiny tortoiseshell.
A scrap of paper in a ball.
The broken clapper of a bell.
An English penny, cold and round,
Now tarnished with a steel-blue hue.
A twisted matchstick, frail and browned.

What treasures do old dears accrue!

Oh mother dear, thy death draws near.
Shall I consign these to the bin?
If they should swiftly disappear,
Would you even raise your chin?
But no. I’ll sadly leave them be,
These hieroglyphics so miscast,
Upon the wooden dust-strewn scree
Within the circle of your past.

Old Age

The panting sun can sap no more
But rests above the pallid sea.
Above the tiny, bustling shore,
I close my eyes in memory.
The cool verandah, tiled and white,
Smiles down upon the frantic ants
That rush about, as in a trance,
Preparing for the fear of night.
And high upon my marbled throne,
I play a jaunty xylophone.

The lilting tune is borne upon
The balmy and massaging breeze.
For now the burning heat has gone,
The fronds dance lightly ‘pon the trees.
Old age, I cry, is not a cell,
A dark, enclosed and gloomy place.
The evening sun laps at my face
And oils it in a liquid gel.
And near the harbour, people tut,
Ascending that steep hill on foot.

Stranger on a Train

Like meercats herded on the train,
Packed much too close for poetry,
We swayed as bounded by a chain
In steady, rhythmic harmony.
Body odour churned like glue.
Somewhere near, strange tongues poured forth.
And several strained to catch the view
As we careered insanely north.
A brush of skin against my arm
Cracked louder than a power shock,
Withdrawing hard in mute alarm
As we slowed down for Castleknock.
Furtive glances, slyly thrown
At strangers welded in too tight,
Each one cocooned and quite alone
Upon this nervous evening flight.

Besandalled boy – a Pole or Czech?-
With handbag firmly clasped to chest,
A fearsome boil upon his neck
And eyes that never seemed to rest.
The office girl in worsted grey,
With horn-rimmed specs and double-chin,
The schoolgirl, chewing, faraway,
The one sock slipping down her shin.
The tousled youth with sullen stare,
And hair cropped tightly to the roots
Caressed his molten jaw with care
And eyed a pair of pinstripe suits.

Beneath my high and outstretched hand,
A pretty woman blinks twice, bored.
Feathered lashes, deeply tanned,
Lightly perfumed, shoulders broad.
I’m close enough to see each mark,
Each imperfection on her face.
Each tiny pock screams loud and stark
Like snags upon a cloth of lace.
I have a sudden, strong desire
To run my hand through plaits entwined,
To twirl those strands of blackened fire
And feel the contours of her mind.
If I should stoop and kiss that cheek,
My lips upon imperfect skin,
Would she emit a frightened shriek
At such an unforgiving sin?
Would she slap me loud and hard
Or turn away with panicked shove
And push back deeper in the crowd,
Stung by the barb of strangers’ love?

So I did naught – taboo dictates
Such raw emotion does not flare
Beyond the dull impassioned gates
That fortify each cushioned stare.

I watched her as she left the train,
And joined the queue into the night
To breach the bound’ry into pain
And disappear fore’er from sight.
Undoubted, she will never know
What wonderment her closeness stirred,
Attraction in this leming’d flow
That never dared to speak a word.

I journeyed on – deep-frowned, ashamed
Of how the mere proximity
Of some cheap stranger, lost, unnamed,
Could rouse such torrid thoughts in me.

Wispy Shadows

The tropical sun is a spent force,
Charged too fast around the course.

One time it shone with brash ferocity,
Leaving a trail of burnt flesh in its wake.
Now, pale and wan, lacks luminosity.
No glorious golden sunset
To spray dancing sparkles
Upon the solemn sea tonight.

Grey-blue feathery clouds
Like gossamer shrouds,
Lie in ambush in the west,
An unwelcome guest.
There’s strength in them there whispers.
The panorama spread before us,
We see them lying in wait
Can sense the grisly fate.
We yell from the balcony
But the white horse gallops on
Inexorably on.

We sense the credits starting to roll.

Like a rapidly fading horse
The tropical sun is a spent force.
Three hours ago it would have beaten them off
With an imperious swish of its tail.
Now the wispy shadows creep
Across its surface. Song of sleep
Upon their trails, caressing,
Dressing in the burial shroud.
Now all that remains is a slight sliver,
A last shiver
And then darkness.
Calming. Embalming.

Charged too fast around its course,
Those wispy shadows showed no remorse.

And I, on my verandah, cough lightly


The odour swamped the city streets,
The sweet sick smell of recent rain.
In vain I tried not to inhale
The stale engulfing atmosphere.
The clear, black, eyeless puddles stared
And glared in harsh, reflective light,
As night time cries from far or near
Sprang fearful demons in my mind.
The blind, unyielding concrete giants
Defiantly blocked out the sky,
So high my footsteps seemed to shriek
And speak my name with every pace.
No space to run, no time to hide,
I cried inside and thought of you.

The breaking waves like cameras flash
And splash and kiss our naked feet.
The sweet black sky with timeless lights
Ignites the swaying seething sea,
As we mark out the virgin sand,
And, hand in hand, survey our land
And stand beneath the Goddess bright.
No night has ever smelled so fresh.
Enmeshed in love, our souls explore
This shore where feet have never stepped,
And, swept away in rustling fire,
A choir of angels sweeps us up
With cups of golden harmony.
So we transcend both birth and death,
No breath, no shame, no skin, no truth,
Our youth is ageless as the tide,
Beside the bay, beneath the cliff,
As if this world were newly formed.

I snapped the bolt in splintered wood,
And stood there panting on the mat.
The patterned paper, tired and stained,
Arraigned around my single room,
Formed gloomy shapes around the wall.
The pall of smoke and long-cooked food,
Accrued through countless tenancies,
Hung sleazily o’er linoed floor,
Like wartime gas in trenchant hell.
The yellow moon was struggling
To sing it’s way through dirty glass.
But, as I lay down on my bed,
My head was tendered by the dream
Of teeming waves and supple sand.

To See Leonie Again

One month. One deadened month had passed,
In which no playful sunlight fell,
Since sweet Leonie breathed her last
And plunged me in a gateless hell.
I’d stroked her cheek upon the bier,
So cold to touch, devoid of breath,
Cocooned within her tragic death
From love and waste and morbid fear.
And, in my blind, oppressive trance
I cursed the slap of circumstance.

But then, one morn, a colleague came –
Oh puppeteering alchemist! –
With potion, amber as a flame,
To cleanse, said he, my darkened mist.
And I, with neither care nor heed,
Drank deeply from the proffered vial,
While he, with easy, pleasing guile,
Observed the fast-descending mead.
And as I gulped the bitter draught,
I spied an old abandoned raft

That bobbed and wavered by the bank
Of some foul-smelling, hateful stream,
While somewhere close upon my flank,
An old man cursed my devious dream.
Upon the swaying craft I sprang
And loosed the moorings from it’s side
Submitting blindly to the tide.
And in my heart I felt a pang,
A tremor swathing through my veins,
As though enclasped by ghostly chains.

Across the nitred dark I flew,
While deep below the flimsy boat,
Half-hidden from my trembling view,
Swam shadows black as creosote.
And lo! a smould’ring coast appeared,
And high upon a craggy rock,
Clad in a charred and smoking smock
Arose that figure once revered.
With writhing hair and blackened eyes,
Leonie uttered wretched cries.

I tried to turn, to move my limbs,
But terror held me petrified,
As all the while, those hellish hymns
Like lightning crashed above the tide.
And when the prow defiled the shore,
A great three-headed dog appeared
Behind a poplar, black and speared,
Emitting a triumphant roar.
Then as I cursed the crimson moon,
I fell into a blackened swoon.

Loop Head March 2006

Down the nave of hard-clung moss,
We stepped in awe of Nature’s church,
Fearful lest we should besmirch
The grandeur of the one true Cross.
We gazed upon the vaulted sky,
Meticulous in white and grey,
A charcoaled dome ‘neath which to pray
To those that make the mountains cry.
And as we crossed the fissured toe,
A choir of seagulls circled round,
Augmented by the crashing sound
Of waves upon the cliff below.
Great hallelujahs harsh and shrill
Soared skyward in a wall of praise,
And set the winter sky ablaze,
Like beacons burning on a hill.
And to our right, a cleft of rock,
Hewn wildly by a giant’s axe
Withstood the ocean’s fierce attacks,
A calm, untroubled monadnock.
And in this chapel, barred from man,
Great gannets perched on narrow ledge
And mocked us as we neared the edge,
As only true believers can.
And suddenly, it all felt wrong,
Like heathens at the Ka’ba stone,
We felt so utterly alone,
Amid the bleak, unrhythmic song.
And thus we turned and hurried back
Beyond the lonely light-topped tower
Away from that majestic power,
Back to the winding tarmacked track.


Here they come, with sweeping dawn,
Swooping down from roofs and trees,
Congregating on the lawn,
Feathers ruffling in the breeze.
Like grim policemen, in a line,
Spread out along the rose bed edge,
With solemn, unperturbed design,
They march toward the privet hedge.
With darting beaks, they probe and prod,
Lest something should be overlooked,
Each waiting for a sudden nod
And wriggling flesh supremely plucked.
And then a cry! (“I’ve got one, Sarge!”)
Held high in triumph to display
A struggling sliver, pink and large
That never felt the heat of day.
A few fly over to inspect
The earth that yielded up its find,
Forensics, hoping to dissect
Some pattern, as yet undefined.
Then all resume their fateful search
And leave no blade of grass unturned,
While rooks, atop their rooftop perch,
Wait for the hunt to be adjourned.
With fluttered squawk, the lawn is bare,
Checked and crossed out from their diaries,
Proceeding on to God knows where,
Eliminated from enquiries.


With skin like bark, alone he dwelt
In one-roomed cottage on the hill,
Upon his head, a faded pelt,
A relic of some sacred kill.
With gun in hand, he’d prowl the tracks
That didn’t show themselves to us,
Responding to the forest’s buzz,
And robin’s call and twiglet’s cracks,
Pausing, rigid as a yew,
Until his prey came into view.

For thirty years, he’d worn a suit,
A pen and ledger were his tools,
Never rising to refute
Philosophies of earnest fools.
Until my grandma, soft and old,
With cheery eyes and floured hands,
Slipped slowly ‘neath encroaching sands
To leave the kitchen bare and cold.
And then my grandad muttered grace,
And packed a solitary case.

His beard was soft as thistledown,
His eye as sharp as wild-rose thorn,
A careless fox his golden crown,
His kingdom all the sounds of dawn.
He taught us how to wait for trout,
And how to stake our runner beans,
And how to darn our faded jeans,
And how to sweep the hen coop out.
But oh, the arrogance of youth,
When we condemned his solemn truth.

They found him by the river bank,
A large log lying in the rain,
Paralysed all down one flank,
Though thankfully devoid of pain.
And in the ward, he’d grasp the drip
And yank the needle from his arm,
His face a chalky mask of calm,
His fist an iron, wrench-like grip.
And in the fitful hours he slept,
My father hung his head and wept.

His wooden will prevailed at last,
Beholden to no living soul.
The priest’s dull words flew idly past
The coffin stagnant in the hole.
The cottage door hangs like a drunk,
With branches thrusting through the roof,
A pensive crow looks on, aloof,
Upon a nearby poplar trunk.
This crumbling house, up on the hill,
A mausoleum, dark and still.

Easter 2006

Behind the lace portcullis of her curtain,
Alice gazes out upon the day,
Pallid eyes unceasing and uncertain,
Shrinking from the rancour of decay.

Born upon that Easter Monday morning,
When men marched to their doom on Sackville Street,
And Pearse read that proud, heroic warning,
And led his gallant band to sweet defeat.

Her mother, tired and weak in the Rotunda,
Shivered at the echoes of the guns,
And heard denunciations of the plunder,
But only wept for mothers and their sons.

Patriotic dogma to remember,
Proclamation chanted out on cue.
Hearts enchanted to a dying ember,
Ashes disappearing up the flue.

Like a mournful sentinel stands Alice,
Armed with but a pair of frail eyes,
As a world of bitterness and malice
Bangs upon her gate with raucous cries.

Hidden are the ones that we should cherish,
Spirits camouflaged by chintz and lace,
Better that the Irish nation perish
That we should fail to recognise her face.