Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Five Paths

The focus always on the eagle’s nest
That lies atop the frost-cracked mountain tree,
The pathways to the peak are thus progressed.

Acquire the things to lead you to your quest.
Plain learning holds that old and rusted key,
The focus always on the eagle’s nest.

Prepare to see your fur-clad mind undressed.
Through nakedness that causes shame to flee,
The pathways to the peak are thus progressed.

Beyond the door, the void is manifest.
Just push it open slightly and you’ll see
The focus, always on the eagle’s nest.

Your mind erupts with notions long suppressed,
Volcano blasts that shudder ‘neath the sea.
The pathways to the peak are thus progressed.

At last, you have become devoutly blessed,
The inner mind allowed to wander free.
The focus always on the eagle’s nest,
The pathways to the peak are thus progressed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Slipping into Autumn

Do not lament but hold your chilled cheeks high.
The frozen finger’s crooked but holds no threat.
Embrace the fiery promise in the sky.

Observe the ochre-tinged confetti fly,
Cast down from fingers blacked in silhouette.
Do not lament but hold your chilled cheeks high.

The spirit’s eye is arched. It wonders why
Great Samhain’s robes are stained with dull regret.
Embrace the fiery promise in the sky.

The greatest book is senseless to the eye
When stripped of part of life’s great alphabet.
Do not lament but hold your chilled cheeks high.

Oh blesséd time – your frozen waters lie
To stay the hand that wields both rod and net.
Embrace the fiery promise in the sky.

The busy wren does not curl up and sigh
When frosted earth demands new etiquette.
Do not lament but hold your chilled cheeks high.
Embrace the fiery promise in the sky.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Entombed in snow the shoot still seeks the sun

Entombed in snow the shoot still seeks the sun,
Although it never felt its soft caress.
And thus the plot of winter is undone.

Though dark may be the shadow of the gun
And broken bodies quickly acquiesce,
Entombed in snow the shoot still seeks the sun.

Imprisoned Alpine streams in springtime run
With playful bounds not shackles of distress
And thus the plot of winter is undone.

And still the ropes of tyranny are spun
By those whose fingers blister to oppress.
Entombed in snow the shoot still seeks the sun.

Seek out the light, for even where there’s none,
A distant star will somewhere phosphoresce
And thus the plot of winter is undone.

Each dawning is a battle bravely won.
Tradition never guaranteed success.
Entombed in snow the shoot still seeks the sun
And thus the plot of winter is undone.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tory Island ferry

Báidín Fheilimí, d'imigh go Toraí, báidín Fheilimí is Feilimí ann,
Báidín Fheilimí, d'imigh go Toraí, báidín Fheilimí is Feilimí ann.
Báidín Fheilimí, briseadh i dToraí, báidín Fheilimí is Feilimí ann,
Báidín Fheilimí, briseadh i dToraí Fheilimí is Feilimí ann.

Pitching through the growling tide,
Spies the tiny craft the light
That drops and rises like a star
On speed.

Like a gannet, half-concussed,
Returning to her rocky ledge
Where squawking chicks are huddled in
Their need.

Desp’rate struggle, yet her pledge
Will drive her on through ice shards thin.
For the young, the journey must

Next season, she might well decide
The cliffs that fall from Foreland’s spar
May prove to be a safer site
To breed.

The heron

A scattering of hares
And foolish rabbits, dun
Fur pinballed in sudden light.
Which way to run

As the blinding truck glares?
Snap decisions. Fur congeals
In the black imprint
Of too-recent wheels.

But beware the stranger!
Grey waistcoat, he blinks,
Frozen for a second
In the spotlight. He thinks

He’s in no danger
In the shadows. Is his dish
Now hare and foolish
Rabbit and not fish?

Dolphin watching

The black triangle slices
Through the concrete waves,
Like a prisoner
Sawing his way to freedom.
A flash of black back,
Rubbery and sleek.

Above in an alien world,
We patrol the light,
Pointing and clicking
And laying hands
On young shoulders,
Watching for a dark form
To break the cell roof.

Or are they the wardens of the deep,
On watch, lest those strange upside-down shapes
Crash through their crystalled palace?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On Rathlin Island

The merest headflick is effusive greeting.
Stoic faces carved by wind and tide.
O’er the heather, windswept lambs are bleating.
O’er the sound, the mainland stretches wide.

Eyeless houses stare down to the pier.
Rope lays coiled beside a peeling wall.
O’er the hill, the old light, bright and clear,
Proudly bathes the island’s purple shawl.

Mist rolls in like one grey canvas awning.
A stout man hauls an old boat up the beach.
The harbour will be quiet until morning,
Save for just an errant seagull’s screech.

No lights gleam from the mainland. No stars glisten.
The crashing sea, the island’s rasping breath.
Old men cock their heads aside to listen.
Women fear the grasping hand of death.

Capel Island, county Cork

A stump. That’s all there is. No more.
A nippled breast that rises
From the fathomless domains,
While loud gulls in many sizes
Skim like paper aeroplanes.
A stump. That’s all there is. From shore,
She bears her breastbone proudly,
Unabashed and unashamed,
While around her, waves crash loudly
As the sky becomes inflamed.
A stump.
That’s all there is.
No more.
All that exists on Capel Island is the unfinished trunk of a lighthouse abandoned in the 1840s


Shafts of sunlight
Stream out from behind grubby clouds
Rubbing the sea.
The grey rippling plate
Holds steady
As the sun sets to work,
Polishing, polishing,
Till it gleams.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Three birds

When sea and sky roll in an indistinct haze,
When light and dark melt in an orgy of praise,
Where up and down tumble like leaves in a gale,
When a faraway island dives down like a whale,
Then, she says, from her cliff overlooking the sea
That crashes with fury against the dark wall,
Then will come the three cranes to the disfigured tree
Where stands the great bull.
And the three cranes shall call
And the dead will crawl out of their worm-rotten graves
And shake off the earth that has clothed them so long
And filled with the breath of that magical song,
They’ll be drawn to the island across the dark waves.
And she keeps her eyes trained, for she knows they will come,
For her heart beats in time with the mythical drum.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


My mother said the snow fell thick
That Stephen’s morn so long ago,
Although the ward roared like a stove.
Outside, the little chestnut grove
Wore cheerily its hat of snow,
As pink-cheeked children stooped to pick
Up handfuls with excited yells.
And o’er the town, St. Clements’ bells
Pealed joyously the news that I
Was born that day, she used to laugh,
While the cottage hospital staff
Ate threadbare mince-pies on the sly.

Sometimes, while wanting to unwind
Or waiting for the hand of sleep
To cradle me and brush my hair,
I find myself once more back there.
The snow again lies thick and deep,
The building dark and ill-defined.
No tinkling laughter lights the gloom.
I peer inside the darkened room
But all is dead and all is cold.
I tap the frosted pane and scream,
Knowing well I’m in a dream,
But knowing too that I am old.

I’ve not been back, ‘cept in my mind,
Since leaving on that New Year’s Day,
Encased in layer on layer of wool.
And now? The Cottage Hospital
May be a car park or a grey
Apartment complex ill-designed.
‘Tis nothing – just a piece of earth
That once bore witness to my birth.
No ties, no chains. We chose to roam.
The candle grew not to a torch.
It flickered briefly in the porch,
Then blackness overtook my home.

Conversing with gods

I have conversed with many gods
And taken tea and chewed the fat
And listened to their rambling thoughts.

Sometimes, when they are out of sorts,
They do not care to sit and chat
And conversation merely plods.
And then I’ll smile and take my leave
And lay my hand upon their sleeve
And mutter words of sympathy.

But mostly their loquacity
Ensures the afternoon is spent
In bonhomie and merriment.

They never see me to the door
Nor shield their eyes from burning sun
Nor glance along the village street.
They do not raise a hand to greet
The neighbour’s wife. It is not done.
They can’t transgress the one true law.

Their windows, grey and thick with grime,
Opaque now since the start of time
Stare blankly at the passers by.

I cannot help. I must not try.
My job, starch-aproned district nurse,
Is just to listen and converse.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Upon the quay

Upon the quay the ropes are thrown
And grizzled faces squint ‘neath caps
And ponder fish not found on maps
And listen to the wind’s low moan.

Upon the quay, the keen gulls land
And contemplate the marching band
That haunts the pier from dawn to dusk
With instruments o’erloud and brusque.

Among the bustle there are few
Preparing for the daily kill
Who know they populate the view
For those up there, upon the hill.

Upon the hill, they sit and stare
And wonder at the life down there.

The deep end

In the shallows they splash
With weak-muscled panache,
While their mothers watch well
Lest they do something rash,
Like ride on a swell
To the deep end.

Yes the water is cool
In this uncovered pool
And the markings are clear,
So only a fool
Would venture too near
To the deep end.

Step by step, as they grow,
Straining down with one toe,
Till they’re steady of limb
In the unending flow,
Till they’re ready to swim
To the deep end.

The swimming pool

Am I resentful that we stayed around the swimming pool
While the others had a ball upon the beach?
You said you much preferred it at the swimming pool –
Chacun á son goût – yes, each to each.

I said that I’d stay with you at the swimming pool
Although my feet were itching for the strand
I’d really no desire for the swimming pool,
Chlorine-laced, unint’resting and bland.

Love revolves ‘round making compromises,
Sacrificing personal desire.
But don’t be quick to hand out any prizes –
The blackberry lies sweet among the briar.

If I’d have turned my nose up at the swimming pool,
Headed for the beach with all the rest,
Would my guilt have strayed toward the swimming pool?
How was love in such a way expressed?

But, ask, am I that resentful of the swimming pool?
Were there compromises on your part?
Chacun á son goût – the beach or swimming pool?
Neither of us selfless in our heart.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

James Barrett and the Doll in the Corner

(An interesting project coordinated by Kathy Murray to delve into an imagined relationship between the man and doll above)

Ah begod, Jamesie Barrett, you were handsome back then
With your hat on three hairs and you’re chest like a hen.
How you’d strut through the town with a bounce in your stride
And a smile on your lips and a song at your side!
In a town of brown tweed you were every girl’s dream.
In chattering huddles the glances were flung,
Ling’ring too long or with too bright a gleam,
Like the song of their mothers, imperfectly sung.

And you knew and you grinned,
Held your face to the wind
And I watched like an overawed child.

With the priest or the tinker you’d stop for a chat,
At the simmering housewives you’d doff your felt cap.
Oh you were the rooster, all swagger and charm
And I was the girl that you placed on your arm.
My tongue knotted tightly the day that you paused
And crooked a long finger beneath my prim chin.
And what a commotion the sight of this caused
In Hilda Magilton and Bessie McGlynn.

And you knew and you smiled,
Brushed my cheek like a child
And I froze like a rabbit at night.

I grew buds,
You cracked jokes,
I would light up your smokes.
You’d raise my parasol
And you’d call me your doll.

Jamesie Barrett, how I laughed on the day that we wed
And I danced until morning to stave off the bed.
I was young and afraid and the joy turned to tears
And the smell of your body rekindled old fears.
But you held me so tenderly, close to your chest,
Your pulse locked with mine in a spiritual beat
And the breeze swung around till it blew from the west
And out in the meadow I heard a lamb bleat.

And you knew and you cried
As if speared in the side
And I took you and kissed your wounds clean.

I grew fat,
You worked hard,
I hung clothes in the yard.
You’d raise my parasol
And you’d call me your doll.

Winter cracked
And the harsh light drew thick shadows
On the gable wall.
It wasn’t your fault.
I’ve told you that many times.
Just an old friend well met.
I screamed for you as the room darkened.
You found us cold and still on the kitchen floor
In a swimming pool of blood,
Present and future scythed down like yesterday’s barley.

And after the funeral, your horrified stare
When you came in to find me propped up in the chair.
A haunting? No, love, but you broke down and wept
And later you screamed as you fitfully slept.
In time you approached me and knelt by my side,
Recounted each breath of the day that I died
And begged me to open my mouth to forgive,
Declared you no longer desired to live.

But no prayers could rescind
The foul blows of the wind
That assailed our small cottage with fury.

Jamesie Barrett, forty years have sped by like a train.
I’ve silently sat here observing your pain.
The chisellers shout at the bumbling old fool
Who mumbles aloud as he passes the school.
Your time isn’t long now – enough of amends!
You never forsook your unfortunate wife.
Cradle me softly when darkness descends,
In death in your arms, as I was once in life.

And we’ll stroll
Hand in hand
Down that vast stretch of sand
And you’ll raise my parasol
And you’ll call me your doll.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


The sun disrobes and folds the day
With care upon the bedroom chair.
Against the dark’ning sky, a sparrow
Arrows homeward down the narrow
Laneway, to the beech tree, where
The bony branches gently sway,
Grinning in the twilit sheen.
I wait beside the creeping lawn,
The torch grasped tight in whitened fingers,
As teasing dusk demurely lingers
O’er my garden. Foul deeds spawn
Great wrath in deities serene.
The hoe leans ‘gainst the shed door, which
Is comforting. I snap the switch.

Like black torpedoes frozen in
A brooding sea of sharp-shorn green,
A score of deadly slugs, or more,
Lie targetting the flower-bed shore
With murd’rous minds, caught in between
The flimsy blades, unsure and thin.
I glance across to where my plants
Sport jagged holes like windows smashed
By mindless thugs.The hour is near.
A loving god invokes no fear.
Clothes unrented, teeth ungnashed,
Fools smirk at happy circumstance.
As Newton postulated, so
I righteously take up the hoe.

The voice

With great passion, you deny me,
When the man with clipboard calls,
While the cord with which you tie me
Cuts a channel in my wrist.
With coarse bandages I’m muzzled
Deep within these cobwebbed halls,
And your voice is low and puzzled
When he asks if I exist.

Confined within this attic
In the echo of the storm,
You can hear my voice, erratic
‘Mong the murmur of the stones.
And you find my smile unnerving
(For there’s no hope of reform)
And I gaze out, undeserving
Of your disapproving tones.

But sometimes when you are dreaming
Or you’ve gone out for the night,
Through the trap-door I come streaming
And inhale the buoyant air.
In the darkness, hear me snigger
With a serpentine delight,
Growing bolder, growing bigger
When I know that you’re not there.

Then I dance the dance of ages,
Unfettered, unrestrained,
Unconfined to rusting cages,
I can stretch my withered limbs.
Whirling round now, unencumbered,
My mobility regained,
For too long, my dear, I’ve slumbered
To your dull and dreary hymns.

Then I hear a car door slamming
Or the light snaps on upstairs
And I know your fierce god-damning
Means your fist is firmly flexed.
So I flee back to your attic
And your glum and nervous prayers,
And I’ll stay there, mute and static,
Till the next time, till the next…

Sunday, May 11, 2008


The jet black sun squats down upon
The troubled waters in the bay,
As each point of the pentagon
Shrugs nervously and turns away.
Toothpaste words shout loud the pain
On smuggled mugs. The silent screams
Drop hard, like stained, sand-laden rain,
Narration of forgotten dreams.
Soon, all the world is spattered by
These droplets thick that so besmirch
The windows of both state and church,
Refracting light from sea and sky.
One day, says Travis, real rain
Will wash away each fractured stain.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Garden birds

In early April, nuts and seeds
Are set out for the final time.
The bush on which the sparrow feeds
Is now sufficient for its needs,
And lusty nature’s in her prime.

I’m spared the traipsing to the shed
O’er crispy grass stuck hard by frost
To make sure that the birds are fed
With fat balls and hard crusts of bread
Obtained at very little cost.

And though they now no longer come
In flurries of fast-beating wings.
It comforts me to know that some
Still flutter by to find a crumb
And listen how the blackbird sings.


Whence one time they fled with dread
And blackened tongues and sunken eyes
In search of just a crust of bread
That beckoned in the western skies,

Now, they return, replete with words
And cheeks that bulge with metaphors
And adjectives that flit like birds
From em’rald grass to budding spores.

Oh Strokestown, verdant and serene,
How silent sits thy bitter past
Beneath the tended sod so green,
Now free from scorn and pain at last.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Time to go

It’s time to go, Larbowski thought,
As yet another jet of steam
Shot just outside the spaceship’s port.

He tried to catch a fleeting dream
That flickered somewhere in his mind.

The purple ocean fizzed and crashed
Against this island ill-defined,
As soot rained down and lightning flashed.

This continent, this vast domain,
Where exploration first was urged,
Had shrivelled to a tiny grain
Of sand that soon would be submerged.
The screaming wind howled loud with pain
As land and sea and sky converged.

‘Tis not the planet of my birth,
But still my halting breath is caught
To watch the death of Mother Earth.

It’s time to go, Larbowski thought.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The band wore red suits

The band wore red suits
And the singer’s teeth shone white,
Matching well his tell-tale roots.

Cheesy songs all night.
Sunday evening painted brown
In a small provincial town.

Worked hard through the week.
Now the make-up, well applied
Fosters elegant and sleek.

Dresses swirl with pride,
As they lose themselves perchance
In the movements of the dance.

Beer bellies stretch shirts,
But the lightness on their feet
Echoes fine the twirling skirts.

Pulsating with heat.
More duck than gliding swan.
I look enviously on.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Time’s Joke

The skin on the back of your hand, dear,
Lies fleshless and loose from the veins.
Like a frog staring hard on the sand, dear,
It rests, contemplating it’s pains
On the cloth of Swiss lace
In a state of pure grace
Adorned by that dull, tarnished band.

Your fingers are trembling lightly,
An aura of ice haloes round.
Your nails have been pared back contritely,
Now grey as the shale in the ground.
The hand I first took
Never shivered nor shook
But grasped with a clench of delight.

You don’t catch my heart-searing gaze, love,
Your eyes are like buttons of steel.
This pointless addition of days, love,
Won’t touch very much that you feel.
But I still catch a trace
In your soft, worn-out face
Of the girl smiling out of the haze.

Do you remember Felicity Connors
And the time that you swam round the bay?
How you both put the fright’ners upon us
Near the end of that bright, cloudless day?
And your hands looked so old
With their ridges of cold
And I rubbed till the wrinkles were gone.

I’ve no towel that can warm up your hand now
Lying speckled and white by your cup.
This chapter’s unheard and unplanned now -
Each day we are making it up.
Just two elderly folk
Who can’t laugh at time’s joke,
Coming close to the edge of the strand.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

On Jackson’s Bridge Lock

I sat on the footboards in midge-ridden heat
And sighed at the pleasure of dangling feet
And gazed at the splash-thumping water below
From the lofty-eyed perch of my gallery seat.
And yes, I was God and the Lord of the Flow,
Welling up at my back in an ocean of woe.
“I’m Canute, turn ye back, for my peace is complete!”
And the lip-lapping waves murmured “Let it be so.”
And thus did my world, so minute and banal
Slip away in the heat of the Royal Canal.

The hours had flowed gentle since leaving Twelfth Lock
Past hawthorn and bramble that hid Castleknock;
Clonsilla, where moorhens did silently glide;
And Leixlip, asleep at the head of the clock.
And always this handrail stretched out by my side
That brooded so long ‘pon my every stride.
Hewn from wet marshlands or blasted from rock,
Uncaring, it seemed, of the toe-tapping tide.
And long past the grey, chiselled walls of Maynooth
I rested awhile, contemplating the truth.

Like the swish of a tail, did my hand flick the spate
Of food-frenzied flies that did whirl and gyrate.
The sun bathed my brow and my heels idly tapped
A pulse beat against the great riveted gate.
Behind me the waters hypnotically lapped,
Beside me the barley shone strong and sedate.
Far away in the distance, a grey heron flapped
Along these calm contours so carefully mapped.
O’er the hill to my right in a hymn deep and glum
Swam the westward-bound traffic’s insatiable hum.

Was it midges or cars that buzzed constant and loud?
The sun shuffled into a solit’ry cloud.
I hauled myself up with a sigh long suppressed
And a beady-eyed raven blinked slowly and bowed.
Rebolstered and buoyed by that much-needed rest
I resumed my intransigent, rhythmical quest
Toward the deep haze that dropped close like a shroud
‘Pon the narrowing water away to the west.
And so I departed that welcoming lock
And followed the towpath that led to Kilcock.
Shortlisted in the Inaugural Attleborough Poetry Competition 2008. One winner, the next nine highly recommended.