TRAVELS IN THE MIND (1985-1997)
Copyright: Philip Rogers, Lucan, Dublin
|Tracks in marble||
|Ice, rock and fire: Prologue: Heathrow||
|On the 37th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China|
|US Airbase at Keflavik||
|With open eyes||
|Dream of a drawing-board||
|Evaporations on a frosty night|
|No smoking please||
|Passport control to Nirvana|
|Clouds (Flight EI-631 to Brussels)|
|Memories of Poland|
* 1. TRACKS IN MARBLE
the bustle of airports is the same.
Cleaners buff floors. A trolly squeaks -
the one with the bandjaxed wheel
turns up everywhere.
Through tinted windows tarmac shimmers,
spiked with tail-fins,
torpedoed with fuselages.
Yellow vans, patrol cars, luggage trains
and fuel tankers scurry about.
It was only a small track, a pockmark,
a shallow score of death on a marble column -
not worth a second glance.
I eyed the wealthy
a study in studied nonchalance,
with her diamond rings, her black cheroot
bedded in amber and gold,
her silk semi-seethrough blouse,
her skintight leather pants.
All her curves and creases
were anatomical, au naturel
except for the bulge of the wallet and passport
kissing her 'Frisco-handed ass.
I was not the only one to lech.
She demanded attention and she got it.
Potbellied men seemed to tuck in.
Younger bucks stood straighter
or glanced admiringly.
Plainer women looked away.
Was she here when hooded butchers
slaughtered the jet-lagged sheep?
Did she dive under the Uzzi hail,
press those magnificent breasts
to cold marble? Did her nails
scratch through a lacquer of blood?
Did she know that today
is a good day to live, a good day to die?
I looked into her
into her grave, into mine.
She looked away with dignity
and self control.
I looked closer at the marble
and saw many tracks.
Marble is appropriate for headstones,
John Brown. More durable than wood,
John Brown. More etchable than iron,
Adam and Eve, Samson and Delilah, Jack and Mary Spratt.
Is it coincidence
that abattoirs have tile or marble walls
in the slaughter halls?
* 2. HI THERE!
Three hours' flight
across the sea,
shock and nausea swallow me.
Bladder shows that I must die;
woollen kilt keeps head up high.
New York, Hi!
From all parts they
faithful for the great Coven.
Five days' session, work and play,
secret treatments all the way.
Austin, Texas, Hi!
Thirty minute plane
Not to worry they all say.
Angry lady, sassy clerk,
plane's just left. You bloody jerk!
Lee Greenwood in
sets the Country Crowd alight
with "God bless the USA"
(one thousand watts on a Jap PA).
Master Vet on
standardbreds who stand so tall,
pains, disease which them enfeeble
banished by the Chinese needles(1).
Screaming jets at
lights in millions below me;
heading East into the dark;
at dawn we cross the Phoenix Park.
(1) Marvin Cain is the best vet that I know in equine veterinary acupuncture
* 3. ICE, ROCK AND
FIRE: IMPRESSIONS OF
ISLAND BY A MODERN IRISH SLAVE
The metal detector
finds my bunch of keys.
Polite but expert British hands
frisk pockets, armpits, groin,
thighs, back and calves.
Mindful of the murder of their kin
daily in our land,
I submit resigned.
OK Sir, thank you! Carry on!
Boarding pass in my
I board the plane for Reykjavik,
long-armed by duty-free and topcoat.
Cache of Jameson stashed away,
I muse that the men of Island
came for us in another time,
their longships raiding out of the north-west sea,
oars flashing in the sinking sun,
ram-horns sounding doom,
spears glinting blood-hunger,
tunics wet with woman-lust.
Congealed blood and
yoke the Icelander and Gael.
Now we come to them
freely, as friends,
not as slaves or breeding stock in chains,
but in high-tech trawlers,
or in longships of the air,
on a meagre Apex fare.
* 4. TOUCHDOWN
a mars-scape on earth.
Lava stretches grey,
brown and black to the coast,
nibbles the heels
of red roofed fishing villages,
hugs clear blue bays.
How many legs were broken
in those cracks and potholes?
And where's the grass?
Where the cattle?
The joke of Vulcan
pumices the earth,
from here to Reykjavik,
taunts wispy growths
of lichen, moss and heather.
Your hungry soil was fertile,
the loam of the rich and fat,
compared with the brooding
lavafields that crunch
away from those looming peaks.
Who or what can survive
in this barren land?
This land would
the hardiest Kerry goat.
But the light, the searing light -
I never saw light before
until that touchdown -
pure laser light which cuts the retina
with photon savagery.
Here are no factory plumes,
no fuming power-stations
to dim light's clarity.
Those peaks seem just beyond
arm's reach. The blues, the greys,
the browns are real.
And, out there, the
its affirmation of life, of death,
waves, beckons its blue-green fingers,
swirls its white lace petticoats,
enthrals the dreamers who hunch their backs
against the hunger of the land.
Small wonder its people plough the sea instead
in laughing fishing boats.
* 5. GULLFOSS
* a. CAVES AND WATERFALL
The wind whispers
It groans past gaping cave-mouths,
shrieks eerie flute-sounds,
sad siren songs of doom.
Out of dark, tormented silence,
the sad mad monk, anchor gone,
moans "I'm unwed and God is dead".
Howling in despair, he lopes
through brush, dwarfed twisted trees,
savage lances of gorse,
finds the thunder-path,
runs to the canyon's edge.
The frigid daughter of heartless ice,
the white-green writhing torrent, hisses
"Come to me, my husband, my only love".
Ghosts of countless
wait for the jump, the scream.
Praising mighty Thor,
they chant of rock and water,
chorus of ice and fire.
My tired, tired brother,
entranced by spray and foam,
pauses on the brink of hope,
resists awhile, sees leaden skies,
fails to hear Christ's shout,
then topples slowly
arms flailing, branches tearing,
* b. GEYSER
in molten bowels.
His straining wind
balloons up to heaven
through silver boiling ice.
Bursting through domed stone,
it rips apart the steaming sphincter
with whoosh, hiss, flop and splatter.
Our round towers
of granite stone
decay, fall down,
leaving our land
of mystical steam
from fissured stream,
year after year
keeps its watch,
with sun and moon,
* 6. HOFSJOKULL
barren, of bleat or bellow,
silent of whinny or bray,
barren of bark or scratch or shout,
silent even of wings,
blaspheme their Maker,
howl cold curses
to listening sky, satellite and star.
Nothing but lichen,
stunted scrub, limp moss
lives, can live,
on magma-poisoned rock.
Ripple fold of lava,
pocked pumice phalli
cringe in petrified awe
of silent glaciers
which grind their teeth,
slowly, painfully in cold rage.
Brooding rock and scree,
dry mountain stream-bed
thirst for seed-drink,
ice-water from laughing sun,
or warm tears from weeping cloud,
in stony silence,
like that of the proud Irish slave,
mute until her child was born
but even then, mute to her ravisher.
But the barren may bloom
when young life comes,
may smile and sing
cradle-songs of life.
* 7. THINGVELLIR
hub of power,
towers its shaggy head
above green plains of peace.
Writhing her tortured journey
to lake and sea, the waterfall's daughter
flows past the sacred circle of the dead.
Coins of hope and prayer glitter in the depths
of crystal holy water no thieves dare desecrate.
At the rock wall fault,
man quakes this time,
quakes and shudders
at human impotence
against earth power.
But old beards knew
and held the Althing here,
governing by vote. And woe betide
ditherers who could not decide.
Those cave-men of
were statesmen, democrats,
while Europe's overlords
fucked, fought and feasted
on muscle, blood and sweat
of oppressed poor.
light that lasts,
your caves may echo human voice again
when deadly mushroom clouds have passed.
* 8. LAUGARVATN
at sacrilegious man,
who steals her daughter's soul,
rapes her virgin child with blue-black eels
which slide across her valleys, over her breasts,
between her thighs, powder tracks for four-wheeled drives.
Mourning the loss of elfin innocence,
she broods over the windswept lake,
whose red-brown shallows ford the blue-grey deeps.
Wind surfers glide
over yesterday's ruffled mirror
under blustery wind-torn skies.
Fishers, ignorant of spear- and snare-craft,
flick automatic reels.
dance a circle around the lake,
to timid, hesitant applause
of seedy grass. Slope-meadows,
light of calf and anxious cow,
dream of rich manure.
High above the death-marked trout,
a fish-eagle circles the clouded sun.
Bare marsh, thin bog,
hungry for crannogs
and stone-built church,
vibrate in the windows
of the Mercedes-rally bus.
These wilds are tourist-tamed,
just a radio-call from help.
Lean hardy sheep,
long fleeces black and grey,
search for tasty fog and heather
on treacherous slopes.
tussocks and pumice tors
strings of tamed wild horses,
trot-glide along narrow tracks,
wild men saddled before and behind,
proud men fit at seventy years
but a hundred years too late.
Bellies full that evening,
we ramble in happy groups
to the lake-shore bath-house.
Steam-plumes and sulphur-smell
betray old fire-gods below.
In the changing room,
graphics show in stipple
the parts to be soaped and showered
before entering the baths!
Hanging over hell
on wooden benches,
steamed bodies glow and glisten
with cleansing sweat.
Men and women slowly roast.
Children chatter, wipe the window glass
to see their mountain mother, Hekla,
who appears briefly
until steam hides her breast again.
we flop into warm sulphur-water,
its occupants making room.
Whose hand, whose leg, that is
is not an issue in bubble trance.
Bodies, close-pressed head-to-tail
like tinned sardines, relax.
Centred between the adults,
children dunk and play with toes,
their parent's, mine.
Shoulders in ice-air, trunk immersed,
under a near-full moon,
the group is one,
ready for the farewell-night.
In the early hours,
my language guttural on their tongues,
tongues loosed by unaccustomed wine,
earnest students ask
"Do Irelanders back the IRA,
I groan and ask
do they back Cain,
do they hate Danes?
We quaff our final glasses,
shake hands, depart
each to our own dark hell.
* 9. REYKJAVIK
Wind scents of fish-guts,
sea-wrack and spray
vie with diesel fumes and chips.
White paint on blue metal, the wheelchair man
rock-rattles in wind, chair-dances
to tunes of bells atop tall metal flagpoles-
street wind-bells in the town of wind.
Sand-blasting, whirling wind
was bane of an ambassador
but gift to this voyeur.
Dresses cling tight
to breasts, buttocks,
thighs, mounds. Fantasies arise
when flaxen-haired women
throw their shoulders back,
smile from pale blue eyes.
Fantasies die when those steady eyes
gaze straight through my soul
and the women stride on home
to flaxen-haired, blue-eyed fishermen.
* 10. ORIGINS
Two drunks in denim,
close in, demand: Give us 100 crowns!
I hesitate, step back.
You rich, fine Sir! 100 crowns is nothing.
(Where in hell is the taxi?)
Where you come from
Denmark, Norway, Finland? No!
Sweden, Britain, Russia? No!
Ah! America? Wrong side of the Atlantic!
They like the game
but forget their Irish blood-
You, red haired Sir,
you come from Australia!
Well... not exactly...
The taxi arrives, thank God.
Sorry lads! I
should have dropped
100 lousy crowns.
In Dublin you'd have shared a pint on that
but only thimblefuls here.
* 11. US AIR-BASE AT
Keflavik, Your soul
sold for coke and junk to Caesar's Pentagon.
Rock on, rock on, Keflavik rock on!
At the third hour,
atop another rocky mound,
the loneliest Man of all, groans skyward: Abba.
He weeps on a sweat-drenched tree but understands and loves.
At the third hour,
atop another rocky mound,
you cut yourselves off, deaf to your past.
Turn up the volume on your Walkmans!
Christ never existed anyway, you say.
Rock, earth-child, rock, that's all there is, you say.
Rock on, rock on, Keflavik rock on!
* 12. WITH OPEN EYES
(To Stein Steinarr, 1908-1958)
your seer's sigh
of the soul-hunger in lonely mankind
wrenched a twisting spasm
from my hardened heart,
wrung mourner's tears
from my misted eyes,
for you and I believe
the joys of earth
to be certified as dead,
except in dreamtime.
The childlike dream
from cock-crow to bat-flight,
shut out or sanctify
the pain of cruel day
and hungry night.
But the awakened see all
- births and abortions -
and, with open eyes, they choose
to walk by soft or stony paths
to waiting graves.
* 13. DREAM OF A
(To Steinunn Sigurdardottir, 1950 -)
Steinunn, was it
the booze in the Buttery,
or a vigil on Lough Derg, or a tumble in the Furry Glen,
that made you dream "that we who seek the truth seek in vain?"
Or do you have the same nightmare every day as I,
when I try to dream my truths alive?
My truths are
colours, vivid, pale, soft,
harsh, warm, cold, sullied, pure
but I'm a terrible painter with a shaky hand.
On my drawing-board colours fade, merge or run
into strange unwanted shapes. My heart jeers me
as the greatest liar alive- one who lies to oneself-
and the self-cleaning membrane retches,
throws up my colours, spews them back at me.
They dribble and gobbet back to the earth,
hopeless, forlorn, like refugees against advancing armies.
They flow as a sluggish river
from bog to wilderness,
mixing, losing identity, coming to rest in stagnancy,
in one large blob of black.
And I still pray (do you?)
"...Thy Kingdom come..."
for it preserves my sanity
until I try to paint again.
I smoked the hemp leaves once,
layered in pipe tobacco-
they made me sick
but I saw grey shapes instead of black.
Maybe some day I'll try mescaline,
paint mushrooms in clearcut reds and whites,
their caps and collars bursting,
their soil-stained stems straining
from tender brown-green moss.
I'll paint a horde of the little people,
of black wit and golden hair,
as they dance in silver buckled brogues
in a moonlit misty rath
I'll just paint one single blade of grass,
the first to peep above the February snow,
or a white-washed cottage with yellow thatch
and blue-grey smoke against the blue-black slate of Clare
and peace and truth and love
shall I paint there.
Or maybe I'll paint
playful in its whorling of autumn leaves,
loving in its combing of the wave's hair,
fierce in its slaying of the oak.
And all my lines will be crisp and clear
except those I choose to break,
make fuzzy or erase
in the moments before the drug wears off.
And still I pray (do you?)
"...Thy Kingdom come..."
in hope that there is meaning,
in hope that we may resonate
to the universal Word/Song/Om,
that we may paint our colours in the dawn
and not need mescaline.
* 14. NO SMOKING
(A leper remembers)
Veiled in flimsy
wisps of cloud,
as silvered Salome before the dance,
the shameless moon
eases her silver fingers
into the terrazzo circle,
dim-lights two stairs-
one up to other spheres,
one down to the concrete street.
Central heating fails to warm
the cold, clinical
of this circular stage.
It constrains my feet
as I pace solo
round and round in silent gait
past three doors of 2" steel,
spy-holed to protect the worldly goods
of Lindstrom, Hammer, Bulow.
Behind one door, an inch ajar,
five friends eat Chinese,
laugh at the empty chair.
The addict smoker,
outside their circle,
orbits in see-through wisps
like the frenzied dancer
who circles Herod's floor
lusting for the Baptist's head,
or as the outcast moon
circles its doomed earth,
waiting to return again
to its Atlantean womb.
* 15. TAKEOFF
Farewell sour lava-fields,
sweet fields of home
to sons and daughters
of Gunnar, Magnus, Thor.
But to this islander-
descendant of an Englander,
a hired Cromwell blade-
you are stark reminders
that my home is pasture-land,
rich green fields
fertilised with red
(and also poisoned in its head)
by the ice and fire
of fear and hate.
* 16. EPILOGUE:
12 hours to wait,
I scribble memories.
Ink words flow, solidify
like lava-stones on plains.
Three capital letters - IRA -
defile the edge of a cluttered page.
A placid Englander sees the letters,
looks five seconds in my eyes,
and, wordless, looks back to The Sun,
page three. On page one, the heading:
"8 soldiers dead in Omagh massacre".
I write on, waiting for the Dublin flight.
* 17. MEMORIES OF
they doubled the cost of living
and upped the workers' wages 20%.
The hoary 1980 joke - that Poles pretend to work
and the State pretends to pay them -
is as fervent as the words of Consecration
in the underground cathedral
hacked from weeping coal.
Out dead-eyed men cemented in the lobby!
Out madam supervisor on my corridor!
Let me forget food-queues at dawn,
the half-empty shop windows,
the airline staff
who chatted and filed their nails
indifferent as I missed my flight.
But let me remember Poland
with Irish solidarity -
the lunch-sheebeens in tower-flats,
where worker, professor and guest
drank beetroot soup
and shared a meagre lunch together,
earning the housewife a few black zlotys;
the delicious, double-centred women
with great, giving hearts
and flowing wells of love;
their ardent, moustachioed men,
clones of Burmese temple gods - all hands -
hugging their women and their friends' women
and any other women in sight
with glint-eyed vocation.
See them when they meet, the hugs,
the kisses full on the lips of friends.
See them party in tiny flats, happy crowds,
though church-mouse-poor in our consumables -
booze, coffee, sugar, bread,-
scarcities so razor-sharp
that a pack of Bic disposables
or a jar of Nescafe
and the giver would have to fight
to repel twin sisters from his bunk.
Yet they are richer than the golden king
in laughter, friendship, song
and filthy rich in pride in men of Polish iron,
the two Ws, Walesa and Wojtyla.
* 18. FLYING HIGH
Five miles high on
a long-haul flight
how on earth can a poet write
with popping ears and trembling feet,
senses numb from the hiss and roar,
mind dried out, despite the 7-Up
and nothing outside to be seen
through porthole windows fogged between?
The symbols must come from within.
We crossed Mount
Hekla's dormant cone
and white-grey Greenland's frozen fjords -
snow, rock, ice, spiked like a hedgehog's back
with glaciers two miles deeping,
cold secrets keeping,
past Thule, Eureka (chilly Greek)
in the islands of Elizabeth.
At the pole, religion, politics and dole
rank less than food and coal.
The Beaufort Sea
and Fairbanks in our wake,
we crossed Alaska's wastes, safe berth to make
at Anchorage. Take-off again into the sapphire sky
to fly above the sealed Aleutian Isles
and cross the Bering Sea, Kamchatka to the right,
necklace of the Kuril Isles below,
pearled from old Hokkaido's neck
in the land of the rising yen
and electronic, busy men...
people of indeterminate gender,
irrespective of how obvious on visual inspection!
For not too many males in Tokyo
wear silk kimonos, combs of ivory,
jade or coral ornaments.
Not too many
females wear the blue-black
suits and hats; teeth, spectacles and watch of gold;
tight-cropped heads; carry brollies
briefcases and cameras in black.
Persons busy, busy persons.
Five miles high on
a long-haul flight
how on earth can a poet write!
* 19. TOKYO
* a. AIRPORT (ARRIVALS)
woman with three cases,
too late to catch her bus,
puddles the street in fear.
Her tears are spears of shame to stab the heart
but none appears to see.
Time is the master
and airport transport waits for no-one.
* b. CITY
Hordes, rushing to
monkeylike but no monkeys,
close-cropped and uniform,
blue-black suited businessmen
with knowledgeable eyes
on the march to the cut and thrust
of multinational war.
in black -
cadets in training,
only the katana missing.
The graceful bows and Geisha smiles
of the coal-eyed women
belie the steel within -
fit mates for ruthless men.
bug the icebox.
Do they bug the loo too?
Hi-tech in the lobby:
signed in, ripped off, signed out
* c. AIRPORT (DEPARTURES)
Black eyes stare
underneath steel helmets.
They guard the access gates
with gun and bayonet and riot shield
of tungsten steel. These soldiers
take no crap from anyone.
The entrance to Departures is no joke!
They check the cars and buses
with plodding thoroughness. They are
the Samurai of jet-age Narita.
They could not see
the woman cry, those Samurai
and if they had, would they have shielded her
as a sister loved, or scorned her callously?
* 20. HIMEJI CASTLE
The Shogun built
his fortress well!
The central keep, five tiers of stone and wood,
perched on an eyrie on the highest hill,
surrounded by Himeji Plain,
with unobstructed view to every side
is a fierce, white eagle, landed, preening.
Two hundred acres
two hundred thousand tons of rock, within three moats,
intact since thirteen thirty three
and not once taken by an enemy.
Six thousand Samurai behind those massive walls,
with boiling oil and stones,
longbows, lances, flashing spears
and in the later years, flintlock,
balls of lead, could outlast any siege.
To slap in slippers
with the rustling crowd
on satin-polished corridors,
past state apartments with their sliding doors,
their halls and banquet rooms, their inlaid floors
and see the fertile land below
is to know power, naked, over life.
I heard the screams
of wounded soldiers,
curses and the clash of steel,
weird songs of love and battle,
the glug-glug-glug of sake poured,
women whispering behind their fans,
women pleading "No!" in vain,
the grunts and snores of weary men
and the shouts of children playing.
* 21. KYOTO
To Nippon's ancient
capital on Coronation Day,
the man descended from the Gods was carried with great sway
but through the mighty Solar Gate he strode alone,
to walk in isolation to the sacred throne.
None else could enter by that Gate -
not wife, nor concubines, nor Ministers of State.
Tradition, under threat of death, dictated other doors
according to established order.
When the Crown was
set, the Emperor withdrew
to meditate in lotus-scented air, bedewed,
in stillness and beauty unknown to round-eyed peoples,
the Royal Gardens of the Golden Temple,
that marvel, once torched by a moon-crazed monk
to snatch its splendour from the jealous eyes and Nikon rape
of visiting barbarians.
(The Temple was restored some thirty years ago
to former majesty. Its upper room,
the Place of Peaceful Minds, was clad
with sheets of solid gold, one hundred thousand auric squares
to scale its sides, like those of golden carp
that swim within its shade.)
Late that evening,
with his soul at peace,
he left the Garden to return to Tokyo.
How could he leave such beauty so?
* 22. SEVEN-FOUR-SEVEN
Two Scotches, Hong Kong crab,
German wine and other
topped off with a man-sized hunk
of Danish Blue.
Am I dreaming, is this true?
She smiled the hostess smile
and tried professionally
to please her kind
but showed her prejudice
to dark and olive skins.
Towel Sir? -
from a silvered tongs.
The moist warmth,
fragrant with Chinese herbs,
Anything else Sir?
The boss, a beaming
and portly frame,
resplendent in peacock blue
and a red carnation,
sauntered through the aisles,
confident of his magnificence.
in perfect stereo
swelled the "Men of Harlech"
far from the collieries
and valley Chapels.
Ah! This was first class luxury,
a sky fantasy.
Behind lay Asia,
struggling to survive;
continent of poverty and grit,
of sweating workers in their millions;
of reeking hovels, lurid high streets;
to draw the monied moths;
memories of svelte
anting the night streets,
hustling pleasure or pain for rice.
Below, a shark-filled sea,
junk-dotted. Ahead, an overdraft to pay
but not today.
* 23. TAIWAN
(Publ. D. Spark, Anthology of Veterinary Poetry, 1986)
* a. WOOD-CONCEPTION
O terrible orgasm
of Mother Earth,
awesome power in aeons past!
With mighty roars she came and came,
no pleasure here, no pleading sighs,
no gentle fingers, slippery thighs
but bowels churning with white heat,
gushing, pouring, spewing, heaving
sulphurous molten rock: Taiwan.
* b. FIRE-BIRTH
Her bearing closed
by sand and sea,
alone and unattended, She expelled
Her screaming child through gaping wound
across Her belly.
Up, up it rose from ocean floor
to tower over boiling shores: Taiwan.
* c. EARTH-DEVELOPMENT
Over Yang Ming peak
I saw you born.
Fierce winds and waves and blasting sprays
scraped and shaped your wondrous bays.
On Chunan plains you saved the rice and corn.
From little junks you hauled your nets.
In alleyways you placed your bets.
On crowded streets you hurried by,
by cycles, taxis, nearly killed.
O slant-eyed beauty of black hair and eye,
you caused my semen to be spilled
deluged in desire for you: Taiwan.
* d. METAL-MATURITY
Young girls proud
in a country free,
young men summoning Tai Ch'i,
army alert constantly,
face the threat from o'er the sea: Taiwan.
* e. WATER-DEATH/REBIRTH
O little jewel of
may your people live in peace.
May they never have to see
obscenities as Nag'saki!
May the West learn
what you teach:
hard work, honour, family,
pride of self and history: Taiwan.
* 24. ON THE 37th
ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING OF THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
Between the Park
all the lights were red.
Frustrated traffic crawled.
Steering wheel guided by a practised knee,
I scrawled - ideas spun, as clothes in a Zanussi,
rough as they emerged,
but unsorted and unpressed.
Think of them in their crumpled state,
glistening with drops of autumn rain
before they went into the drier -
far better that way - half formed and clamouring.
A purple-faced man accelerated past,
Was the mating or the meeting
to be that great?
Ming Ming and Ping
Ping were gone
but over the well-trimmed Embassy lawn,
echoed the crunch of clubs on skulls.
Kaleidoscopes of bamboo-shoots, green and tender
and dissident shoots, scarlet and brutalised
floated in the air against a sea of blood
and righteous bullets.
Feudal lords, sated
and peasants ground to poverty and blank despair
whispered from the Ballsbridge trees.
Sweat dripped from heat-struck oxen.
Terrible diseases fought each other
to be first in the land.
A rapist laughed as he buttoned up
but his mouth became a giant O
as his severed head was shown to the crowd.
More warriors clashed among the flowers
before they petrified. The unlucky ones
lost their arms in a Dublin hospital
but the arm of Wu Song-Fook,
severed by an unguarded band-saw,
was replanted to his living trunk
by a macro-team of microsurgeons
in a Shanghai hospital.
Opium the religion of the people no more.
The opiate receptors, deep in the brain,
now explain the potency
of tiny needles in the skin.
Miracles of ancient sciences,
the needles, moxa, herbs,
help the hopeless cases.
The soldier, paralysed by a stroke,
drives again the army truck.
The polio child walks without her braces,
which recycle endlessly.
The dumb speak.
Miracles of our science
irrigate the fields, yield four crops
of living rice. And paddyfields yield
fish and ducks and not a Paddy poacher to be seen.
We try to understand but fail,
our superior politeness wearing thin.
Chinese fiddles and strings
create their weird cacophonies,
background to the high-pitched and bass
voices of the Beijing Opera.
The artists move as if on strings themselves.
Are they mindless marionettes
or experts far beyond our dreams?
We strain to catch the meanings
where there are none for us.
Twirling his fourth glass of wine,
a shrewd observer mutters
that it is all above him.
Good on you mate-
there are others less perceptive!
The gulf of
slightly when we realise
the discipline and method
behind the sounds and movements.
Control, control! A game of mastery
with different rules and codes from ours.
The dawning as the black eyes smile
into the puzzled blue:
THEY are Chinese. They are CHINESE.
This is their way, perfect in its form
More images mirage
Slender women run on unbound feet,
free and equal with their men;
laughing children point at the bearded ones;
workers meditating at the factory lathe;
Tai Ch'i in the streets,
control of mind and body,
bees in the hive where there is no queen;
one thousand million on the march to peace;
a flawless pearl, sand-itched from the Yellow River -
love, respect, morality and strength,
a fearsome combination, backed by boundless hope.
To the next thirty-seven years
and their kaleidoscopic clones,
Kampe! Kampe, Ambassador!
Between our heres and theres a bridge is built
but treat your rebels without guilt!
* 25. SPARE RIBS
Over the radio
came the voices of men
who live above the pigpens.
The boss is a kind man -
others must live on the street.
Eight hundred families
squat in car-crate houses,
built over the pigpens
in a Bangkok abattoir.
To survive, they butcher pigs
through the screaming night.
During the hot Thai
they sweat-sleep exhausted
beside their women.
Their pallid children thirst
for hope and need more sun.
Their bewildered eyes slide
from Coke and Seiko ads
to the thrusting V and breasts
of a neon Go-Go sign.
They see white-men,
with bulging flies and pockets,
buy hungry yellow flesh
for the price of a sirloin steak.
They see white-women,
bejewelled and becameraed,
herd their pampered daughters
eyes averted, past the sex-shops,
to buy yellow art and silk
for the price of a manicure.
Barbecue sauce to
I switched off the radio,
chucked a stripped spare rib
onto the pile of bones.
Belching, I grabbed another.
* 26. AUSSIE ARCHITECT
* a. THE THREE SISTERS
the setting sun postponed farewells.
Grey mist concealed the chasms
clefting our earth for miles below.
Untamed as the dinosaur, chaotic native bush
grew thick on ochre soil.
Three Sisters towered proud and red,
mystics meditating on the silence,
three virgins together, unmounted and unmountable,
a rare thing in that land for either sex.
Atoms in the vastness of the place,
we felt our spirits rise, connect.
Then we knew the Aussie Architect.
We worshipped in silence.
* b. THE LAWSON PEOPLE
the Lawson crowd,
community of broken minds and sane,
of loving people, people needing love,
in age from four to four score,
from all religious groups and none.
AC-DC, gay and
each attempting to create a loving centre
through rebirth of the psyche and the flesh,
experienced in pain and fear,
from parasitic comfort of the womb,
gasping into worlds unknown.
They kissed us
welcome, took our shoes,
plied us with organic food and wine
until our bellies groaned.
Then their Muse directed
a dissecting play which stripped
the tight facades away,
uncovering the smiling id.
The dance began. The disco beat
of heavy rock, the pounding sound
of music wild and primitive,
vibrated through the rooms.
While children to the music skipped,
their grannies swayed.
Young and old cast off the shackles of taboo,
releasing self-expression, sensual delight
in having bodies which could move
and feel the rhythmic pulse of life.
We danced alone, or men with men,
or adults whirled the youngsters.
Proud women writhed hips, their breasts unbound,
their eyes half-closed, as in Salome's dance
indifferent to their partner's sex.
We grinned in
satisfaction at the world.
Oh! Joy of being free to free the self
and share with others!
Each one was included; cosmic love exuded,
pulsing louder than the throbbing sound
which blew the mind.
In that dance, too, we knew the Aussie Architect,
worshipped in joy.
* 27. OTHER TRAVELLERS(*)
A cold coming we
had of it,
top-up with antifreeze at New Inn,
Murphy's haberdashery in Cashel
stocked with opposition's lines,
Guinness lorrymen on strike,
the Royal's radiators out with airlocks,
and the bedroom damp.
A hard time we had of it.
A cold coming we
had of it.
First we left the tinder bush,
our friends, the storks and elephants,
giraffe, gazelle and springbok,
zebra, snake and smirking hyena,
to mob the cloudless sky and cross the sands,
the filthy waters of the Med,
to fly polluted Turin skies, the suffocating Rhur,
to pass the acid clouds of Scandinavia
and breast the leaden mists of Cong.
The Irish summer was atrocious,
rain and wind battering
our heather homes to flattened wrecks,
our rushy haunts wing-deep in floods,
hay floating by and the cold,
the bitter draught, silencing our crake.
A hard time we had of it.
(*)The first and last line of each stanza are from The Magi by T.S. Eliot.
* 28. TRAVEL CLOCK
a cheap travel clock
ticks the passing of my life;
of my childrens' dreams;
the human laugh and cry;
the beauty of orchards in flower;
the end of heavy pregnancies;
of my wife's shoulder-pain;
the hardening, the softening;
the clogging of arteries;
the cruel wait of cancer patients;
the injustices of warlords;
the hopes of thinkers;
the melting of glaciers;
the extinction of salmon,
of thoroughbreds, of stars.
Time, in our
flows onwards, only onwards
but what if,
in the parallel dimension,
it is reversed
and we could find a warp,
a mouse-hole, a person-hole,
a fucking great big Arch
of Triumph between the two.
* 29. UNIVERSES REFLECTED
* a. FLOW
planets, coldly orbiting,
attracted and repelled in silent dance
around two lonely suns, hurtle onward
with their suns
collide with a sixteen-pointed star,
cruising too hungrily to enter Eden.
Blueprinted by a
eighteen sparkling planets realign.
We have ignition! H2O is formed.
The flow is fierce,
the tides are strong.
The Artist claps in glee
as the seething sea pounds puffing holes.
From its heavings,
from its froth,
live erupts unstoppable.
* b. EBB
pools at the high-tide mark
swirl, dart-twisted by stranded fish,
their water of life break-dancing
to elemental rhythms. Salty source
and final leveller of seer and fool,
sea-fields grassed with bubble-weed and wrack,
sliding ruin of the careless foot.
Mines of gold and
crab and shrimp, joy of urchins
dangling threads for treasures
and the treasures released unharmed.
Winkles, algae, plankton
teem in landlocked space-time.
Birth-grunts of dinosaurs imprint
on cliffs and human stains dissolve
in salt-spray. Water-born lifetimes
of centuries, years, seconds,
riff the surface, sink
But mirrors reflect
and images of glory reappear.
* 30. EVAPORATIONS ON A
Naked, lying on by
I leave a track in frosted grass,
a shape like those in stone
in plundered Mellifont,
a corpse shape of no permanence,
for in the morning,
new frost will have fallen,
all traces of my passing gone.
Steam evaporates along my length
into the cloudless autumn night.
I peer through sweat and tiredness
into the depths beyond the Plough.
Distant traffic growls.
Up there, nothing seems to move
but the wing-lights of a jet.
The Club Class are getting
free drinks from cool hostesses.
The hoi polloi, curtained at the back,
go without, or pay.
In my garden I am free.
Lying in state in an open coffin of frost,
unmoving but moved, I hear
the thump of heart, the russ of leaf,
a distant guffaw, a dog urinate
against my gate. I think of mink coats,
leopard skins, designer clothes;
of electronic dildoes with timed jets
and latex dolls with lubricated apertures,
posted in plain brown paper parcels
to lonely ladies and gents;
of golden torcs on wrinkled necks;
of platinum and gem ironies
on Parkinsonian fingers;
of an unplaned pine box
with four top nails and no nameplate.
I begin to giggle quietly, then louder
until laughter becomes hiccoughs
and hiccoughs involuntary farts,
like those of a draught-horse forced downhill
by a heavy load. I become a wolf-howl,
the primal scream rising with breath and steam
to mingle in the clean night air,
as incense in a vast cathedral.
I am acolyte and thurifer,
idiot child of the ageing Earth Goddess
and her ageless Impregnator.
Purged, I shamble
back to sanity -
children's squabbles, sauna's heat.
* 31. FULL MOON
Led by a tall
Two columns of tunicked men,
men of leather and steel,
were tramping back to base,
yearning for food and warmth,
earthy women and wine.
They tramped the straight paved road,
heads bent in the English rain,
shields and spear-tips glinting,
short-swords slapping at their sides.
Snatches of song, curses, jokes
echoed from cobblestone
into the hostile air.
"Give us a
In the insulated glass room,
the drummer cracked a joke
and the band rehearsed a bit.
The recording light came on.
The sound-man ran the sliders;
the cue-man's finger fell.
Hup... two... three... four....
Drums and keyboard thundered;
voices and guitars screamed out
the pain and isolation
of the teenage junkie's hell.
The green light flashed
at the cymbals dying ring
and the manager signalled:
"Got it first time!".
On seeing the video replayed,
they grinned in disbelief:
"were we really that good?".
century Manor House
straddled the old paved road.
The two columns of tunicked men
marched straight through the billiard-room,
heads bent as if in rain,
shields and spear-tips glinting,
short-swords silent at their sides,
their lips moving as if in speech,
ghostly images of men,
once of leather and steel,
of curses, blood and passion,
now past all yearning.
* 32. PASSPORT CONTROL TO
(I went forward,
passport in hand and stood before the barrier.
At His Buddhic back lay Nirvana, before Him, the Great Ledger).
"Well, my man,
what have you got?"
"Fire in my belly, light in my eyes."
"Not enough, my man.
So have the struggling millions.
Anything else, my man?"
"I have a dream, a long-term plan,
the will to make it work,
balls and brain and skilful hands
and they act as one.
Let me enter Your Kingdom."
dream, my man, in tears
or alcohol. It is the dream
of the doomed Indians of Amazonia
who dart their meat in diesel forests,
of dole-queue wretches signing on,
of freedom-fighters' manifestos
penned in sacrificial blood.
Dreams, my man, are but uprooted trees,
rolling flotsam on the torrent-waters of the mind.
They have no place in My Kingdom".
you heartless bastard,
I will dispense with dreams!
I know nothing worth the knowing.
I am but a matrix of minerals
thinly webbed in a finite pool
of radioactive water,
a tangle of hope and hopelessness,
a nothing in a sea of nothingness.
Keeper of the border, let me pass!"
He stamped my passport and wrote in the Ledger:
|Duration of stay:||Permanent|
Smiling a wintry
smile, He pointed to the barrier.
"Cross once, anytime you want, unless I call you first."
* 33. CLOUDS (FLIGHT EI-631
It was a peaceful
flight. My heart
sang with questions. The clouds:
I'd like someone to explain why clouds
form, roll, line, puff and sediment on air
like Arctic snow, pure, crystalline yet not;
why they merge so peacefully
into the blue beyond, above the hustling crowds below.
And, as seldom felt before,
I felt wonder, wonder like those
who watched Kennelly's child, the tightrope girl;
we willed her, willed her, not to fall.
Though I'm a driver who drives hard,
I felt great peace in utter no-control
and put my trust in a pilot never met,
never tipsy with: I hope
he loves his wife and she no other man.
Trust is stupid in our time,
yet so crucial for our kind.
And now the mental block: poor Kavanagh,
I see you sit beside me, stare
out the window into space when nothing comes.
And then, from
Vargas comes, also never met,
a stranger, colleague, on the Internet,
who also seeks her wonder, like the child in me.
I told the story of the purchased wart,
how 10 pence paid by neighbour did the trick
when all the other tricks had failed:
the needle, styptic stick and the Holy well,
potato juice, dog-lick and hawthorned snail.
And Vargas trusted
(really not) the Celt to try.
One dollar did I pledge, half for the neck wart,
half for the armpit string.
And now I sing aloud this song of praise,
for on the yawning aftermorn the Email came,
"Phil, there's something going on:
neckwart's half its size, keep going man".
Ah wonder, wonder, I exclaim
as clouds stream from my brain
to gently cotton-wool away the armpit string.
I sense strong musk, sweet woman perfume
from the forest black beside the golden breast
(with Vargas for her name, that has to be).
Now I'm a man at sea in clouds of mystery
and my Helper, Wartman, smiles in glee
as fragrant clouds scud back to him:
Clouds are Wartman's vital energy.