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Socrates’ wife Xanthippe was once so angry with her husband that she threw a bucket of washing water on him. The philosopher philosopically noted: after thunder comes rain.
INGRATE OF MY GENERATION
Like most of humanity I take
my clothes off each night before bed.
Personally I throw them along with the day,
onto the nearest chair if there is one,
if not then onto a gaping floor.
You’d think with that, with the uniform -
of my personality gone – that is, me off-duty –
that another day could be shoved out the door.
But no, not only it but thousands of today’s
recent and ancient kin and legacy hunters
flock into bed with me, fussing
like clucking hens over my laxity,
my lack of get-up-and-go to change the world.
How could l treat them like this,
after all they’d done for me?
Typical ingrate of my generation!
I take it in good heart, for if I’m lazy,
I care and recall that wherever I go,
the dialects of rural trains translate
themselves as my partisan language
of acts, the one I will never comprehend,
and the dust clings to my boots,
saying, I belong to you, don’t be facetious,
think of your generations buried beneath me.
l leave, leaving a part of me as hostage.
No, I have not my tongue in cheek, not quite,
but can you really see how such a man could stand
before you and offer himself, when he does not own
to offer, but belongs everywhere, to all, to every time
MAC H I N E B U R I E D
The early shift poured into the works,
some hungover, faces drawn and eyes
sleep-caked, sleep-heavy, their mood morose,
unready for its troubling presence.
It had taken root in the concrete,
a steel Zeus from a mouthful of dust.
Wary, they searched it for a device
that might breathe some life into its steel,
but it was inert and they withdrew,
disconcerted, and deep in their hearts,
afraid. As with the precursors of plagues,
it had come among them unannounced.
In heaven, alias the office,
all ranks were blissfully certain
that no such god existed, demi-
or other, there being no record.
The men returned to work
but in every mind lurked the machine,
which they had christened Colonel Blink.
Then came the solution from on high:
a hole was dug and as the bulldozer
toppled it over the brink, they stared,
feigning laughter; but true to his instinct
a mechanic sprinkled oil on its
complex extremities and they cheered.
The clay was expertly cemented
over, but each year it subsides just
a little and each time a man walks
across it he has a strange feeling,
like an old night-fear from childhood.
Winter, and green apples still unripe.
A madness even in the seasons.
The sun, like an anaemic orange
throws a watery light on an earth
as cold as the linoed bedrooms
of the poor. The seagulls will never starve
but they clash, ill-tempered, in the bright,
tingling air. A cat shivers in
abandoned cul-de-sac, its instinct
to scavenge frozen.
In a musty bed the body of a woman
cold and stiff in death, its stench
clambering drunkenly onto the solidified morning.
Her only grandchild will visit her in two days time
with flowers to brighten her room a little;
a good, thoughtful girl who will age
within ten seconds into whiteness,
like the century
A drunken beggar falls asleep,
wine seeping from wind-broken lips.
Sealed into his swollen being,
he sleeps on a cold bridge and dies.
The wonder of lights on water,
its high Sierras! A closed box
of closed thoughts: the proud dead cock
that never crowed.
I was eight when I dreamt
of a dazzling whitewashed wall
and a river flanked by trees.
Three years later they were part
of our new lives, and we saw
the river wash green weed, and smoke
from the cottage against the hill
betray the direction of the breeze.
The genial owner of the farm
by the river taught us to kill
trout, before he and our father
bargained; and we, in high spirits
when the deal was done, ran back to .
the sparkling water to try our skill.
When all three of us had tired
we lay against a grassy brow,
taking in the feverish blue
of the mountain in mid-summer.
In another month, we would float
through the heat of wheat fields
being razed by a hired machine,
and roam the stubbled earth.
Settled into our first winter there,
we watched the rain race across
the fields from Annagh and Croghan.
The earth had become hostile and bare,
and we knew the chill of loss
as hill and mountain turned to stone.
I can see you as utterly you.
Your laugh is unlike the music
of angels, or the first young thrush
of the day – it’s simply your laugh,
fresh to the earth, and beautifully
free of simile. Look at me now.
Your eyes are not pools of light,
but guileless, flesh and blood eyes
that can break my heart with delight.
I’ve never seen twin silver streams
glisten on your pale alabster cheeks –
only ever salt tears, like those
I remember crying before my heart
grew calm and learned to listen.
T H E D E S E R T D I S C l P L E
F I N D S D O N A Q U I X O T E
Catherine is a mad American lady,
beautiful as the sadder poems of Baudelaire.
Dressed like a harlequin at the edge of the desert,
she spoke out of the sun in German, and when I faltered,
stomped off .
Later we drank beer in the shade, where she spat out
I bought her a beer because I loved her wild blue eyes,
her beautiful white, quivering lips; I loved your spindly
gesticulating arms and your penetrating madness,
Doña Quixote. You and your windmills.
– A woman should never support a man don’t you think?
Never never never!
You can see that can’t you, or, are you sick too?
Ah yes, she sighed,
I want a husband to keep me in comfort and style.
Already he sends me my cheque, poste restante.
I’m secure as the gates of hell and
Just swell. And you’re a nice boy. Goodbye
LOOKING THROUGH THE GATES OF MOUNT ST BENEDICT
-why should there flourish such legends?
–To Hell or the Mount, the Hunter roared
in Gorey, and as his hounds sniffed his charge
and began to howl, his frothing horse
stumbled at the bridge
and mentor Satan bid him welcome.
It was the Rebellion Summer of 1798.
Pat Mordaunt, his long legs across our winter hearth,
kept us rapt as the man who defied Hell, and lost.
Purcell, his ulcers beginning to stink,
relished his epic of good and evil
through mute centuries, to Sweetman’s victory.
So as a boy I looked awe-ways through the gates
of the Mount for the still black swan of the lake,
the befeathered soul of The Hunter Gowan
staring in hatred at the cowled priest, the late
lord of a new order, who grew tobacco
and was wont to mould upperclass patriots.
The gates open. A black car leaves.
Hunter Gowan, d. 1798
Dom. Fr. Sweetman, d. 1953
Mount Nebo/Mount St Benedict,
Gorey, Co Wexford.
It’s a wonderful birthday surprise, dear Phenomologica.
Dear, sweet girl, unspoilt though one of The Last Born,
the generation who made it from the womb
into the glittering vista of Eternal Youth. You know,
fondling this triple crystal chart of the mind, your gift,
the great art and armchairs of past and future
available at an idle glance -
I still can’t accustom myself to being eternal.
Back in the dark days of the nineteen-eighties,
when my broken body was a sign of the times,
and the world cowered at the feet of profiteers
and annihilation, I would often amuse myself
by wondering which would blow first -
myself or the burdened globe.
Yet here we are, not only intact
but omniscient, omnipotent, magnanimous
and bored. Gods giving a blithe deference
to the Great Being we will now never, ever see.
LYNWOOD, WET SUMMER
Sixteen rectangles, sixteen window panes,
I see a bank of white roses, and
behind those, an elder tree, its fruit
Beyond that, a wild garden:
apple trees, red roses, pink roses,
hidden under convolvulous -
in the wet summer, and
snails everywhere. A voracious plague,
they seem to crave the lilac,
but the tiny young are on
almost every apple leaf.
The sun breaks through,
lights the crown of the apple tree.
yet unromantically beautiful too.
Cloud, mostly grey,
has dulled the flowers and trees,
the walls and granite steps –
this sliver of the world
through sixteen panes –
for many weeks now.
-A letter from prison to Sophie Liebknecht
I write from a prison garden
alive with trees, my friends the birds,
a hundred grasses, a dozen lichens.
Beyond these walls, my comrades battle
with hunger, war, their own passions,
the shallow politicians and their puppets.
Do not fret, dear Sonyusha, do not fret
for my life and freedom. We’ve worked
long and hard, and already I’m forty-seven.
Their greed will trample the poor for a while
yet, that is evident. You can’t thwart centuries
of tyranny and ignorance at a stroke.
But there are signs, and we must not despair,
and after me you must work to widen the design,
and bequest your vision to others after you.
Before they murder me, by a wonderful irony
they have given me this: my trees,
my friends the birds, my lichens, my grasses.
We will, dearest Sonichka, we will come through.
They say the gaze of Christ
burdened him in his wanderings
through the sunbaked, rain-lashed
terrors of our fathers’ fathers.
The humpbacked outcast who devoured
our sins in the shadow of a Judas tree.
Now that he’s put to rest in a warm climate,
now that our past unfolds like a winding sheet,
the grim truth of our genes flares
across the empty cowl of the scapegoat.
Nestling in the ages, culture reposed
at Al-Azhar, Baghdad and Cordoba
in the subtle minds of Maimonides,
Avicenna, and Averroes, great Semitic sages.
Deranged by hate disguised as faith, Christian
fanatics sharpened oyster shells to scrape
Hypatia’s flesh from her bones. Saint Cyril’s zeal.
The murder of the hapless thinker
was only their ugliest crime.
No doubt when they evicted the scholars
from the Academy for Justinian, their rough
coevals raised a barbarous cup to their work.
The echo of their guffaws once tickled
the ears of Torquemada & Co.
Now it scuttles down an alleyway in Europe
to nudge the daydream of a young thug
who might, in another place and better time
have been astonished by existence
and so have pitied the woman
he is about to beat senseless and rob.
How did someone like Kepler transcend
brutality despite poverty piles and worse luck,
and hold steadfast onto a different echo,
that of a complex universe, the beginnings of God?
While another child grew into a looter
who could smile as the puritanical
fires of hell rose from an Irish hovel
in the wake of Cromwell…
The negative develops in darkness,
the image pales in daylight,
and somewhere between,
our fingers tremble on triggers
which dispatched Lorcas,
Kings, Ghandis, Allendes, Lennons;
which murdered Irish brothers.
Sifting the trace elements of a quiet moment,
smokey newsreel is confused with racial memory
and simmers in the stench of Warsaw, Auchwitz,
the Gulag, Belsen, Dresden, Hiroshima, San Quentin,
Santiago, Longkesh, Portlaoise, Shatila:
the damning legacy of floodlit camps,
of huddled electric terror and death.
TRAIN TO WESTPORT
You start, glancing at the handsome Tanzanian:
his fine, delicate head, his skin the purest silk
which unknowingly brushes against your pitched breath.
Your disquietude moves me, quickening my guess
that you are revealed to yourself by his beauty –
like a currach in an equinoctial storm.
Pity floods me at how vulnerable you are,
half like a mystic consumed by transcendent light,
having waited most of her life, open and pure.
As if to taunt you, he leaves quickly at Athlone
and does not pass our window for a last glimpse.
The train drones to Westport, oblivious to loss.
You spot the sunset falling behind Croagh Patrick,
making of it a blue, slowbreathing pyramid.
Every moment we change
and our bodies become flesh
untouched by each other’s lips
or hands, our voices unheard
by seas breaking in our ears,
over cables on the floors of oceans.
We should by now be strangers,
and I feel new in strange skin,
and want to pose a question
about how I’ve come to know
you time and again, moving
one step behind your blood’s new
images, learning to love
the woman who, by a sleight
of growth, no longer exists.
AND YET AGAIN, FAREWELL
-for Mairéad, in memoriam
The old world is moribund, the new,
a feverish beast, scarred and obese,
but jerking with its crass bravado,
a last, laissez-faire, sexual gasp.
You go to pit your energies against
the tough dream of eluding a dead end.
And we know there is only so much time.
With each shift in the year I lose a friend,
lured away from parochial Ireland.
I drink with you to two worlds or three; drive
lost country roads after the pubs have closed,
or to a film through a timeless snowfall;
or gasping, just catch the last frantic bus
into the stretching shadows of the past.
MANY TIMES, MANY WAYS
Last night I dreamt of eggs breaking.
In this sanitary shell,
time drips from a wound.
Within earshot a woman weeps
goodbye to her breast, a man
to hope. O foolish hope!
In the long corridor,
forbidden tobacco smoke
is scattered by laughter,
the laughter of longer boredom.
Your plant years towards light.
Slowly it grows, like my strength.
Beside me, a man haemorrhages,
and a doctor furiously works,
needing so many mundane accessories
to save something as precious as life.
Nurses, immaculate in white, cluster.
Bloodpressure. Temperature. Pulse.
A pyjamaed priest sits nearby,
reading Agatha Christie; he
flicks another page, sniffs.
Just as I calm, pain unleashes
its iron hand and I can think
of nothing, not even the cradle
of your arms where I could rock.
You come, bringing the warm gift
of yourself, speaking without need
of words, caressing without need
of hands until you leave,
reluctant, with a sidelong glance.
Suffering and parting will come
in many ways, at many times,
but with you in this interlude
there is meaning, if incongruous,
and our lips are moist
with the glair which binds it.
This bed upon which I lie
has taken so many bodies
upon it, that it’s fit
to hitch up its sheets
and lean its backrest
against a dimly-lit lamp post.
-Do you want a good time, handsome?
I can fix you a petit-mort
before you know where you are!
AN INDIAN DREAMS OF THE RIVER
I can no long smell freedom on the river.
A woman’s life is always hard, but at least
I had my teeth, then. My smile was famous
in the village.
They have polluted my river with the burning leather
of their jackboots.
At night, when the fireflies eat my brain,
I think of how they broke my husband,
bone by white bone.
Curse by obscene curse they raped me,
clutching José’s eyelids open
to see our shame.
I cannot eat fish anymore because they remind
me of their eyes.
Sleep comes like a caravel of conquistadores,
gleaming Toledo bayonets flecked with blood.
FORETELLING OUR MEETING AGAIN
How tall you are, as I hobble to greet you,
arms wide as the universe. How long has it been,
my true and lovely friend, the months falling
like leaves in a dream? Too long but no matter,
and now the ache is purged, everything is changed
except what will never change – the smooth stone
of our secret: silent, unperturbed, timeless.
When I meet you will I be much older
(with wrinkles and unreliable organs)?
The habit of need will have caught me out,
as always, falling for the roadshow, perplexed
at so many scarves being pulled form the hat.
It will be good to find you vital as ever,
laughing about your next trip to the coast,
to the mountains – it’s of no importance where,
the value of the journey being in the journey.
I will go with you, oblivious to passing time.
YOU WITHIN ME
I read page after page and see nothing
but your face, word after nulled word.
I have the absurd urge to vacate my skin
and pour your molten essence into its mould,
so that never again would I know estrangement.
Usually I love the lawless present, give space
its due and needless, restore self to myself.
But in these intense days, on obsolete maps,
I search crude alleys and mountain paths,
though I know I will only find you within me.
I match my longest memory against your tears,
your briefest smile with my caught breath.
So many scattered parts of us are as one,
as five thousand days or one make a life.
Into its finally proud expression, I piece
your body together with loving care, and see
your mind race free with a tiger’s grace,
its chains broken by the weight of continents.
Your hands shape figures from amorphous mass,
as they shape the intrigued cast of my long story:
it is a woman crouched at the root of a tree
it is the beseeching ghost of a childhood pain
it is rain hurtling earthward, regardless of need
TOM MOORE’S ROMANTIC DANCEHALL
‘Tis distance lends enchantment to the view
and robes the mountain in its azure hue.
It was inevitable that his birthplace
would become a pub, a liquid island
dreaming of lost causes, and the cause
which should have been won, but was not.
Nietzche, who foretold this wizened century,
had it in for the likes of Moore and Byron,
bosom pals in a parlour for fun and games.
Their atrocious luck was that two world wars,
a thousand revolutions, television and the web
and a billion deaths from hunger and the bomb
saw to it that Nietczche and Adorno got it right,
and now what songs there are are cynical and stark.
Yet I walked past Moore’s birthplace every day,
and his name is etched above the door in gold
and on the hearts of dancers in his dancehall.
Moore lay dying when the Great Famine struck,
as the Apocalypse crashed in upon the Irish,
but while few epicures have heard of Lalla Rookh,
what Tom symbolised survives in the Irish manner.
It’s what makes us seem like innocents abroad.
At the astounding moment you were born,
did I suddenly feel a rush of nerves
and know that part of my fate was sealed?
I was probably in love with a local girl,
and driving cows through a miserable field.
And later, when in turn you reached the age
that is between us, in your klassenzimmer,
you weren’t to know of my existence – and drunk
on newly liberated Spain, I had no hint
that there was space in my life reserved for you.
Thus it unfolds, in what may be a modern fable:
how your path should find its way to my life
before continuing on to distant chosen places,
like a bird unerringly finding its seasonal
home, which it has known since time immemorial.
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.