Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tarmonbarry May 2009

With Cubist strokes, the whistling sun had leant
Into the room and daubed the waking walls
With colour. Lost in delicious content,

My eyes switched open. Somewhere a lusty
Robin announced his news with strident calls
That swiftly unravelled sad night’s dusty

Blanket. Outside the stretching Shannon purred,
Tickled by the fronds of reflected trees
That lined the far shore. Beside me you stirred

Softly beneath the careless cotton sheet,
Like a butterfly inching by degrees
From winter’s cocoon towards summer’s heat.

A moment so true I almost cried in pain,
Knowing that the night would fall again.

But, determined, I lay back and succumbed
And drew imaginary pictures on
The blank expanse of ceiling and hummed
A jaunty tune as hidden heaven shone.


How sharp are now the cleaves upon your face.
The downy hairs upon your softened jaw
Show clear that claims of golden age are base.

Your feeble joints grow weary of the race.
Your back is bent, your slippered feet are sore
And can’t maintain the unrelenting pace.

Ornaments stand proud on crocheted lace
A life displayed in china – nothing more
Is needed to exhume each holy place.

Arms that cradled children in good grace
Now drip with skinny skin and bruise till raw
When lightly held in sorrowful embrace.

Justice flees and leaves no mortal trace.
The runner will not make it to fourth base,
The struggle more important than the score,
The wish to sleep more potent than the chase.


Is this a plant or is’t a weed?
My tender fingers feel the stalk,
Caress the leaf. Should I just walk
Away and not commit the deed?
My trembling hands begin to baulk.
Did I once plant this living seed?
Is’t better to pull out a plant
Or give a weed its murd’rous head
To strangle others in their bed?
Once done, ‘tis too late to recant.
No wonder God shrinks back with dread
And shirks the role of commandant.
The greater good? I give a scowl
And weakly reach out for the trowel.

This morning shone the sun again

This morning shone the sun again.
For three days we had plodded round
The dreary house and peered outside,
Tut-tutting at the teeming rain.
For three days we had fought and frowned
And I had yelled and she had cried.
This morning life began afresh.
I padded to the cherry tree,
Once thick with bulbous pregnant fruit,
But lo! the stalks hung destitute,
As hov’ring wasps buzzed round with glee
And gorged upon the juicy flesh.
Now nothing grows in Babylon.
I called to her but she was gone.

The vicious tempest

The vicious tempest flared up very late,
Too late for her to get her washing in,
Life pulls her like a river in full spate.

The rampant gale unlocks another slate.
She starts and draws the beads up to her chin
And prays aloud the storm will soon abate.

She tries to hide the banging of the gate
That crashes ‘gainst the jamb with fearful din.
The vicious tempest flared up very late.

Longevity does not deserve such fate.
Where is the balm to soothe her careworn skin?
Life pulls her like a river in full spate.

Must God destroy whate’er he may create?
Is justice only consequence of sin?
The rampant gale unlocks another slate.

A crackling spark vaults o’er the soot-thick grate
And smoulders on the carpet with a grin.
She prays aloud the storm will soon abate.

Jesus on the wall does not hang straight.
She reaches for another mug of gin.
The vicious tempest flared up very late.
Life pulls her like a river in full spate.

The furies scream their bitter songs of hate.
The picture on the wall begins to spin.
The rampant gale unlocks another slate.
She prays aloud the storm will soon abate.

When I am dead

When I am dead, erect no marble stone
With random clichés writ in gilded font,
But let sweet earth devour my flesh and bone.

My testament is this: I do not want
My lovely life and death to be proclaimed
With random clichés writ in gilded font.

What purpose serves a stone thus cheaply named,
To summarise in bland and hollow words
My lovely life and death? To be proclaimed

A loving husband / father? Do the birds
Attempt, when some poor wretchéd soul keels o’er,
To summarise in bland and hollow words

His time? It means the living evermore
Are bound by guilt to that one maudlin spot.
Attempt, when this poor wretchéd soul keels o’er

And heads off to his chill October plot,
To countenance the grieving souls that none
Are bound by guilt to that one maudlin spot.

Enrich the soil! That’s how things should be done.
And thus I bid you, do not stand and mourn
But countenance the grieving souls that none

Should to that dismal place again be drawn
When I am dead. Erect no marble stone.
And thus I bid you, do not stand and mourn
But let sweet earth devour my flesh and bone.

One yellow leaf

Clinging tightly to the twig
Like a first day child at the school gates,
The one yellow leaf
Shivers in the stiff November breeze.
Inevitability denied
With irrational stubbornness,
It seeks to reverse the flow of rivers,
Travel backwards in time
And snip the umbilical cord of the moon.

Passing by,
Collar upturned and eyes slitted,
I admire its pathetic bravado,
In the same way that the last survivor
Charges the lines of the enemy
With spear upturned.

There is a need for futility
In a world of purpose.

When I pass, the following day,
It is gone,
Shaken loose and scolded on its way,
To join the millions mashed into the earth.
And I feel that I am nearer
My own time of clinging on stubbornly
Against the odds.

Cherish me

I’m the man at the front who stays standing
When the rest of the church has sat down.

I’m the child singled out in the gym hall
When she can’t touch her toes with straight legs.

I’m the old man who lurches and stumbles
When the driver swerves into the bus stop.

I’m the woman in town unaware of
The red strain on the back of her trousers.

I’m the driver who visits a new town
And finds himself stuck in the wrong lane,
Or stalls at a short-changing traffic light,
Or drives in the dark with no lights on.

I’m the interviewee with a bogey
Stuck to the base of his nostril.

I’m the principled parent who finally
Buys a toy gun for the young lad.

I’m the straight-laced managing director
Who is bursting to go to the toilet.

I’m the self-proclaimed saviour of mankind
Who is nailed to a cross at Golgotha.

The lie

One night, the stars came floating down
Like paratroopers, bathed in light.
They fell on countryside and town
And fields and roofs were clothed in white,
Cold starflakes silent as the night.

They say the moon came down as well
And landed near Trincomalee
And natives set off through the swell
To where they thought that it should be,
But it had sunk beneath the sea.

Three days the starfall cloaked the earth
And then it slowly turned to slush
Till soon there wasn’t tuppenceworth
Between Portrush and Hindu Kush.
And then there fell a deathly hush

As all the world looked up and saw
The inside of a jet-black dome.
No pinpricks twinkling as before –
Just us, squashed in our dismal home,
Our squalid, lonely hippodrome.

And then, when realisation hit,
We marched upon the college gate
With oil-swabbed torches brightly lit
And flung them on mendacious slates
And blocked the doors with burning crates.

And to the media too, for they
Had propagated all those lies.
No mercy. By the light of day
Those bastards were cut down to size,
No more to gloat and moralise.

And then the churches and the banks
And Government buildings and the shops.
We razed the world in armoured tanks
And burnt out forests, deserts, crops,
Then set ablaze the mountain tops.

And soon the whole world was on fire
And night time was no longer black
And raucous voices formed a choir,
As choking ash rained down like flak.
Alone. There could be no way back.


From room to room, our flashing swords
Grapple, the air sliced by each thrust.
To land that fatal blow we must
Show no mercy. We move towards
The stairs. Backwards my love ascends
Furiously fending off my
Unsubtle lunge. My mouth is dry.
I thrust again. Again she fends
Me off and strikes my full-flushed cheek
And turns and runs. Slams the wood door
Like gunshot. I hear the bed creak.
Panting, sweating, I come for more,
But she has thrown away her blade
And taken up her tear-filled shield.
My rash and vengeful fury played
Into her nimble hands. I yield.

The Hayman Doyle

He prowled the house and bastard scrap of land
As though he were a wolf trapped in a cage,
Black bucket in that great ham-fisted hand.

He spat a lot – great balls of pent-up rage
At life beyond the stakes and crude barbed wire,
As though he were a wolf trapped in a cage.

On sweat-soaked summer days, he lit the fire
And spat into the flames, a phlegm-filled shot
At life beyond the stakes. And crude barbed wire

Bound well and gagged the dismal, muddied plot.
And then, in crusted boots, he dozed till dawn
And spat into the flames, a phlegm-filled shot

That fizzled with a sizzling angry scorn.
He hummed a snatch of some forgotten tune
And then, in crusted boots, he dozed till dawn.

With one eye cocked towards the mocking moon,
He brooded on the road beyond the gate
And hummed a snatch of some forgotten tune.

Sometimes he sat down heavy on the crate
That served as doorstep facing down the drive
And brooded on the road beyond. The gate

Lent height when Joss and I used to contrive
To rattle with dull stones that crate upturned,
That served as doorstep facing down the drive.

And then the door would swing. The game adjourned,
We’d run back up the hill, with no desire
To further rattle that dull crate upturned.

With raucous yells that ripped through thickly briar,
He snapped and slavered hard upon our heels.
We’d run back up the hill. With no desire

To follow or to quell our porcine squeals,
Untethered were the snarling, baying howls
That snapped and slavered hard upon our heels.

Unfettered ran the dark and brooding scowls,
Unleashed the pent-up fury in his eye,
Untethered were the snarling, baying howls.

With head upturned towards the mocking sky,
He prowled the house and bastard scrap of land.
Unleashed the pent-up fury in his eye,
Black bucket in that great ham-fisted hand.


With milking done
And the sweet warm liquid
Added to yesterday’s bread and peelings
To make swill for the sow,
The two cows would be slapped down the drive
And out onto the road,
Like two lazy sons being urged to find work.
Up the road or down, as they wished,
They ambled, with a calm, unhurried air,
Discussing the soft weather.
On occasions, as I came up from Two Mile Water
For a spot of lunch, I’d pass them,
Grinning in a ditch or in Delahunty’s yard
Or, worse case scenario, Jackie Hagen’s garden.
“Any sign of de cows?” he’d grunt,
Spitting on the range and stirring his thick tay,
One ear cocked to the shenanigans on Harbour Hotel.
In late afternoon, bow-legged and unsteady,
He’d cycle out to put a halt to their mischief,
With a big, sturdy briar and a gruff “Yar!”
And lead them back up for the second milking.
The iron gate would clang shut
And he’d glance up and down warily,
Like a small country fearing unfriendly overtures.

One day visited an earnest man
With a clipboard and a pen
Who talked animatedly about something called
Health and Safety.
The oul’ lad nodded sagely
And spat on the ground amiably
And agreed completely
And helped him reverse back out the drive.
And life went on as before.

Words of love

The words do not flick lightly off my tongue
Like balls of spit that in my mouth are rolled
And then, with practised ease, succinctly flung

Across the yard to land upon the cold
Concrete. From throat or gut or rasping lung,
They must be hewn by axe where seams of gold

Fold beneath the earth amid dullard rock.
They must be grappled with in shadowed light
Deep, deep beneath the grey-eyed monadnock

That bears the brunt. By nature, words are slight
And brittle things. Mere glist’ning baubles mock
The sweat-brow of the poet in the night.

The words do not flick lightly off my tongue.
They must be grappled with in shadowed light.

For stones upon a necklace loosely strung
Are valued for the rock-scarred miner’s plight
And in their flaming lustre can be told
The aching earth-mother’s huge aftershock.

So lock these chiselled words deep in your young
And pristine heart. And later, at the height
Of pain, when I am gone and you are old
And darkness won’t retreat, unpick the lock.

Mountains or clouds

And when the linnet sings no more,
When shadows stretch to grotesque heights,
Sometimes I pause at my front door
And watch the day’s decaying lights.
And over in the blazing west
Where hope bows down in blues and greys
Reclining ‘pon the earth undressed,
The evening sings her hymn of praise.
But lo! Those dark and smould’ring shrouds –
Be they firm hills or wispy clouds?

A mass of limestone looming high
Above the long and fruitful plain?
Or formless vapour in the sky,
The harbinger of big-eyed rain?
As evening folds another day
And stacks it neatly on the chair,
I gaze upon this shapeless grey
And wonder if my dreams lie there.
Or are my mountains merely strands
That slip between excited hands?

What is it thou hast seen, oh Father?

What is it thou hast seen? I prithee, tell me.
What is it that thy aging ears have heard?
Thy terror-racked expression doth compel me
To wonder at what horror hath occurred.
Alas, feared Father, how thy speech is slurred
And how thy twisted face doth now repel me!
Oh, canst thou not spit out a single word
To tell what thou hast seen? I prithee, tell me.

Dost thou know what spectre did o’erpower thee?
What future vision did this ghoul impart?
Are Satan’s flames now waiting to devour thee,
To lick the blackened chambers of thy heart?
Oh, is the fiendish news come that thou art
Soon destined to have fireballs to shower thee?
Oh, transfixed Father, won’t thou even start
To tell what fearsome spectre did o’erpower thee?

The priest hath fled; he had no words to save thee,
To lift thee up to God’s immortal grace.
The doctor blanched in terror as he gave thee
A potion to relax thy rigid face.
The life thou led was scurrilous and base –
Small wonder then Beelzebub doth crave thee.
There is no power through land or sea or space
Will love thy tortured soul enough to save thee.

What is it thou hast seen? My Father, tell me.
Let loose thy tongue! Relate what thou hast heard!
Recount what chilling happenstance befell thee,
What terrifying Fate was thus conferred.
In life, thou rode thy black horse undeterred
Through pleading hands that served but to propel thee.
Surely thy dead conscience is not stirred!
What is it thou hast seen? Oh Father, tell me.
Unsuccessful entry for The Words on the Water competition 2008

A lament for Scaldwood

You wouldn’t call it good land.
‘Tis a small and jumbly copse.
A bad hair day of woodland
Where the creeping concrete stops,
Where the bramble and the briar,
Serenaded by the lyre
Dance a rumba of desire
As the dripping rainfall drops.

Great Scaldwood, once your branches
Bade the traveller beware,
For your russet avalanches
Hid the wolverine and bear.
A great forest to be skirted,
Crow-fly journeys much diverted,
Where red, gleaming eyes asserted
There would be no thoroughfare.

Then with the stealth of taxes
And the filibuster’s frown,
Came the blows of sharpened axes
And the trees came crashing down.
Like a roadside puddle shrinking,
Your great fortress fell, unblinking,
To create a roadway linking
County Meath and Dublin town.

And now the once-great Scaldwood
Where the ringed wood-pigeon crooned
Is but a small, be-walled wood,
Obedient and cocooned.
In this wilderness neglected
The soft rain that has collected
On the thorny arms projected
Falls like blood-drops from a wound.