Looking West (1985-1999)
Phil Rogers, Lucan, Dublin
|Ephemeropterae of Lough Arrow||
|Death of a farm|
|To an aged mother|
|The Sligo Maids and the Stranger (+ 1985)||
|A memo to Mac|
|An Irish Fairy Tale|
|Scrap the national plan next Saturday|
|Flowers of the forest||
|The Nixer's Van|
|Esker scene (+ Feb 1988)||
|Listowel Arms, as missiles rain down|
|Daoine le Dia||
|Song from the Dustbin of
a. The Hurlers Pub, Castletroy, Limerick;
b. To my best friends;
c. Webs of belief and reality;
d. A song for Andys canny smile
|Who will carry the Canopy?||
* 1. LOOKING WEST
* a. STUDENT (1)
West-born near the caves of
of merchant stock but savage breast
and instinct for the wild and free,
my destiny was planted early in the east.
Far from the Shannon pot, the Moy
I, twelve years old, was caesared
to the Joycean pain of Clongowes Wood,
to pandybats, dry frustulum, sodality,
drenched in the magical smells
of cigarettes in the Gollymocky dyke,
incense, polished corridors and altar wine,
last week's soup, stale urine,
leather, sweat and locker rooms,
seminal scents to a country boy.
But the sweetest scent
the musty smell of books, beloved books.
They taught me well, those wily
those jays with black forbidding wings,
those crows with blacker looks,
to stand alone, feet on the ground,
soul in the stars and body
somewhere in between,
to think: Cogito, ergo sum.
They failed to explain why not:
Sum, ergo cogito.
Apart from forging inner steel,
their most important lesson
was the use of words, the difference
'twixt lies, untruths and prudent censorship.
Words are things as sure as steel
or silk. Their meanings are precise,
the unsaid more important than the said:
as Lawson slogged me six of the best
for chalking the Latin teacher's chair.
I gritted "Thank you, Sir, for the Correction",
too proud to blurt through hurting hands
"Fuck you, Sir, 'twas Fullam did it".
I could not rat when Fullam shared his tuck
and let me read behind the rearing oak
his tattered copy of the Kama Sutra
or the tales of Madame O.
Fuck you, Sir! the unsaid truth.
Thank you, Sir! the easy lie.
And in sixth year, in the months
the waited-for and feared July,
friendships grew with dawn of understanding.
Jays and lays became my human mentors.
I realised the meaning of vocation,
tried the J-recruiting talk, balked,
felt my oats and knew with sorrow
that a life of black and white
chilled my marrow. That left grey uncertainty,
the world of in-between, the world
of men and women struggling
with what goes between, the world
of books and concepts, challenges and hurts,
of banks and cranks, of thieves and idiots,
of occupations, recreations to infinity.
I chose books and animals.
Later came the love of humans in their pain.
But the bridge to the west was
drowned in the distant Shannon at Drumsna.
* b. STUDENT (2)
Into books and tanks of formalin,
eviscerated dogfish, rats and frogs,
phloem and xylem through the microscope,
Ohm's Law, Murphy's law, Avogadro's number,
Kilroy was here,
amoeba and more microscopes
More books and tanks of formalin
embalming horse and dog,
sides of bacon, export beef in abbatoirs,
up to the oxter in a heifer's arse
trying to feel her ovaries;
falling asleep with half the class
drenched in the summer sun and tedium
under the glass dome of the hall-
some genius lecturing
on the functions of the epiglottis
of the farmyard hen
or the relevance of trichinella counts
in German pork. Christ!
And waking up to hear why the dog and bitch
stay locked together in their matrimonials
or the tabby screams in pain at hers.
In thick Donegalese, Prof McGeady frets:
"Where's me glasses?"
and they on the top of his head.
Striken owners and their striken pets;
white-coated clinics and theatres;
mopping blood and grime in preparation for the world.
Again the isolation of the dark
when classmates fanned to every corner of the land,
to meet only for a brief hello
at weddings, wakes and lecture halls.
Then the fatal illness struck,
the bleak addiction to the need to work.
And the bridge to the west still
drowned in the distant Shannon at Drumsna.
* c. FLASHES (1)
Lost time, sometimes dream-time.
For respite, flashes of boyhood days
in Ballymote, Dromore,
of granddad wielding his giant greenheart
double-handed in the Castle Pool-
the shock to see it smaller since my teens,
that I could wield it now;
of Mayfly on the Arrow river, doomed;
of fiddle and flute in perfect Coleman time,
of thud of bodhrans, clack of bones
lifting hearts and kitchen roofs
in homes around Gurteen.
* d. FLASHES (2)
The west is heaven and hell for
She fills my spleen, liver, heart and lungs,
seeps from my bones, my blood, my openings. In dream,
I walk her hills, fire her gorse, fish her streams.
In waking pain, I flee there in my yearning
but flee east again in agony to love and save my soul.
Ah, my poor beauty!:
the agony to see her as she is,
no beauty but a hag, a bag of bones,
with scraps of perfect flesh adhering,
as virgin bunting on dilapidated cords.
The west, my goddess, wife and
commands me in magnetic tyranny
as the moon a woman's blood,
and she must heed the pull
in loathing, yet in love, as I must heed her call.
No better friends, no worse
betrayers than the people of the west.
No smoother pints, no more bitter wine than in the western pub;
no more nubile shapes, no more frigid drapes than in the western bed.
And flinty priests lie praying in cold cots,
bless the fruit of unprotected wombs,
damn condoms, pills and sexwhatnots,
and judaspriests, who yield to animal need,
spill their seed in alterboys and orphan girls.
Ah Christ! Ah Lugh. Aaalllooooooo ..
* e. FLASHES (3)
And on the matter of my soul and
I would that my two brother-priests,
(priests forever in my eyes, bedded or not)
release my soul.
After Mass is said, I'd like a pagan rite.
Uncoffin me. I want no burial in pine
to let my rotting body feed the worms.
Let a woman of my age and time, assisted by a younger man
scrub away my mortal stains with holy water
drawn from the salmon pool at Straide.
Lay in my left hand a shard of Ammonite
hacked from Easky's shore
and in my right a Lissadell sea-stone.
Centre my granite stone from Toija on my chest.
I beg you, lay my naked corpse,
eyes open, looking to the stars,
on three rough planks cut in Templehouse.
Let mourners see my nakedness
if they can understand.
Or else, let them imagine I am clothed suitably.
My brothers, I beg you build a
well stacked pyre.
Sprinkle my remains with one small Jameson,
then set the torch. As my body sizzles
and my bones disintegrate, let friends remark
"There'll be damn-all left to fry elsewhere"
and let them say the final prayer
for the sinner heading home.
Sing loud "The West's Awake"
and "The Glendalough Saint".
Sing no dirges or laments,
or I will haunt the singers.
Grind my lumps and scraps to a fine powder.
Hand the ash in earthen jars
to those who'll do my bidding.
And through the day, in ancient Connaught way,
let plates of readied plug, cigarettes and food
be passed around.
Make sure the strangers and the Dublin crowd
are introduced and put at ease.
And, please, don't stint on drink:
make sure there's Jameson and beer enough.
I'll be well desiccated then, so drink a sup for me.
But if there's someone wishes lemonade or tea,
see it is provided. And when the time is right,
ask the musicians to let fly:
let everyone be happy.
Yeats! I envy you your resting
But under Bulben's head
is not the place I'd choose to lie.
There's the Hungry Rock between Coolaney's thighs,
appropriate for one who fired single-cylindered for years.
The Giant's Cave at Keash is big enough to hide
some ashes from a west-struck man.
And then, there's Maebh's cairn
on the Hill of the Kings -
a trickle of ash would not be noticed there -
nor a pinch in the shrimp pools of my fishing days.
All the ash remaining, family
slake in the upper reaches of the Moy at Banada.
Let the spreading of the ash
be done by those I love,
at the time of the setting sun
as it quenches in the western sea.
Let those who loved my worthless life embrace.
Tell those I've hurt in life I'm truly sorry,
for I've stood on toes for the sake of other toes.
If there is spleen between any
let them now embrace twice and kiss
and make their peace.
If there be tears,
may they be in happiness at my release,
in laughter at a ribald tale, told at my expense,
in joy at being in my memory.
If you love me, do these things
but if the wagging tongues and shaking heads mean more,
do the usual. I'll be past caring then.
* 2. HANLEY'S FALLS (1)
Seeking time-lost boyhood, in
crackling, cool culleen,
I picked the ripest hazelnuts until the pail was full.
Trusty briar burning well, fragrance in the air,
I took the easy curve, eyebrow high in gorse,
sauntering the cow track to Hanley's.
There I saw the child, the spellbound child,
framed in the light of Heaven's Gate.
In hypnotic trance the youngster stood
on the elver-flag beneath the falls,
insensible to spray, at one
with the thundering, roaring, endless-foaming walls
of the peat-stained crashing torrent and its rafts of foam,
creamy heads on the brown-black flood rushing by.
A fishing-rod lay near a jar of worms but the fish were safe:
the child had only come to see them play.
Unseen watcher, I shared the ecstasy,
a bitter-sweet eternity some minutes long,
as a dozen silver migrants, maybe twenty,
reconnoitred the falls: first the questing nib,
probing out of the express froth below;
then the mighty jump, electric in the spray -
jewels and small rainbows for us!;
the terrifying pause in the black cascades
which slavered near the top;
the final tail-flick to the pool above.
Some fell back to try again,
or gashed their sides on water-honed rocks below.
Pail in hand behind the whins, conscious of my dwindling years,
in childlike joy and sadness, loath to interrupt,
praying she would be safe. She could have been my daughter!
She could have been me!
(1) The Easky river flows from a lough of the same name which nestles in the Sliabh Garmh mountains of West Sligo. It chuckles its way northward through a harsh, wild landscape, to reach the sea below Easky village. Life is hard and simple in those parts. My maternal grandparents, Phil and Mary Connolly, lived within 200 metres of where the Easky river passes under the Ballina-Ballysadare road at Carrigeens, Dromore West, Co. Sligo. Among my earliest memories of childhood are summers of freedom spent in Dromore. Fishing a worm on a light-cane trout rod, I killed my first salmon there at eight years of age. I had no help and no net. It was the proudest moment of my life. Salmon fishing has been one of my obsessions since then.
About a mile below the bridge at Carrigeens, in an untamed setting of rock, gorse, hazel-nut trees and peace, is a spectacular waterfall, unnoticed by casual passersby. Local people know the falls as Hanley's. From the first flood after midsummer's day, salmon, grilse and sea-trout run the river. They must jump the falls to reach the gravel-beds of the spawning grounds in the upper stretches. Saragossa elvers, seeking the feeding grounds of the lough, accompany the Atlantic leapers. They must negotiate the falls in humbler fashion, by leaving the water and eeling up the wet flags and rocks on either side.
Visitors to the area don't seem to bother with the eels but they have no trouble in finding a fresh salmon at the right price if they avoid foolish questions like: "Have you a fishing licence?" or "What is that little gash near the dorsal fin?"
* 3. EPHEMEROPTERAE OF LOUGH ARROW
towards heavy trout,
cruising rocky shallows
by rushy Thumbs.
wavelets licking the bow,
the world is now.
Cities, politics, pollution,
famine, mortgages, the void
far beyond the cupped horizon
of that enraptured man.
a fibreglass Armada
roars around the agitated lake.
Petrol-scum rainbows brown water.
Shallows glint of beer-can silver
where once lunged speckled gold.
Pop-music from transistorised bays,
gives the hills a terrible migraine.
Silage-juice darkens feeder-streams.
fight for the vanishing mayfly,
or die in night-time trawls
for the bloody Northern cause.
Lyttle's ghost drifts his island
Paddy Rogers is also dead.
John Ballantine stalks his slopes no more.
Lake-dreams run dry in the limestone of my head.
* 4. SEA-WIND
(For Sean Hopkins: Sean died in 1999. God rest his poet's soul)
Child-man of wild Belmullet,
life's currents carried you
drowning to the barren city, away from your Blacksod sea.
At weekends you seek water to
hear the seagods whisper,
hear waves roar their anger at the whiplash wind
but gravely pace the beaches of
Howth, Killiney weeping
at the dead remains of life - man's shame pinkly bobbing,
smashed bottles, mullet-sucked
turds. You flee to a quiet Ashtown stream
to hear tongues speak on stone but your poet's ear is deafened
by lorries rattling their loads.
Your misted Connaught eyes ignore
wild cliffs glowering o'er terraces, oak, elm, chestnut concreted in rows,
You summon Erris, twist of silver sprat,
mind-gulls' rippled cries, dapple-cries of islands nestling down for sleep.
Ah, Thanks be to the Saviour
Christ who chose Good Friday to bless
and may His mother, Mary, guard the drivers of the Ballina Express!
* 5. THE FALL
* a. SUNDAY
To a pastorale of lowing cows,
conducted by the metronomic sound
of milk swish-swashing froth,
the collie licked the child.
Laughs became tears when her skull glanced concrete.
No marks showed.
Used to children falling
in the child-enthralling yard,
her mother held her to her breast.
Minutes afterwards, the child ran off again.
* b. MONDAY
Blankness came. She did not
her mother's face. A mewing sound
escaped her grinding jaws
and spasms jerked her tiny frame.
The doctor came and called an ambulance:
"Ann Maloney's boy had meningitis yesterday".
The hospital was understaffed and cold.
The anxious mother devoured her watch
as if it were a charm to bring a nurse.
The smell of volatiles, the moans
from cubicles, increased her fears.
An intern nodded at the magic words:
"suspected meningitis" and sent the mother home.
Three positives confirmed the week before,
he ordered blood tests, spinal taps
and X-rays to be safe.
They hoked and poked
and no-one thought to ask the obvious.
* c. WEDNESDAY
The woman ran two gasping miles
The lines were dead. She cried for help
but no-one heard. She thumbed
the long road, ran the last stretch to the desk.
"She fell, she fell, she banged her head".
"OK Ma'am, we'll pass it on".
Meanwhile, they hoked and poked and the child sobbed.
* 6. THE SLIGO MAIDS AND THE STRANGER
(Publ. Sligo Heritage Magazine, 1985)
I stopped to listen to the women
in the fields near Derroon cross,
Green-eyed Kate of the long red hair,
Bridget Anne of the upturned nose and urchin grin,
broad-hipped, whistling Niamh.
They were easy on the eye
in simple country dress,
forking yellow hay
unknowing of my gaze,
arms bare, separated from each other
and from me
by a three foot ditch
and a single hawthorn tree.
Their young wives' laughter
and their Sligo lilt deceived,
stroked in me a lustful fantasy.
Where are their men, I thought?
Would they be at the Mart
or at Achonry Creamery?
What kind of men would leave
such lively girls as these
forking hay, green-yellow hay,
unprotected in the fields
from the stripping eye, the probing eye,
the tuned ear, the practised ear,
the hungry soul, the callous soul
of the passing stranger?
Good luck to the work! I called.
Their rhythm did not change
but Bridget Anne looked up and smiled,
her strong arms forking still.
The other two kept their heads well down
but I caught the sidelong glance
and the humour in those knowing eyes
as they discarded me.
Then the deep-chest roar of the curly bull
in the hill-field to the right
as he calmly watched his forty cows
nurse their forty curly calves
and the new-mown scents in the August air
gave me the answer:
close to the earth,
no man need fear for his wife;
close to the earth,
the stranger could forfeit his life!
* 7. WORKHOUSE 1887-1987
Forty crevined carts
snake from the Sligo docks.
Drivers tooth-whistle. Whips crack.
Horses of all shapes and sizes
sweat in resignation.
By the bay of Ballysadare,
over the Owenmore,
past Beltra, Skreen, the village of Dromore,
the charity wheat crunches and creaks
on iron-shod wheels.
Inmates watch the road.
Built of limestone and crude plaster,
the workhouse is grim.
The large quadrangle
has two arches, is easy to guard.
Haggard eyes look north
towards the wild sea or south,
up the gorse valley
of the untamed mountain river,
and then close in despair
of rotting away in there.
The only saving graces are
the well and chapel,
springs of hope.
Now the hospital wing stores turf
and winters placid bullocks.
Jackdaws nest in the arches
and peacocks screech in the quad.
Children shout and laugh
in the place of silence and tears.
The well is still sweet
and the chapel
houses a vibrant family,
whose visiting lovers bed down
to dream, whisper, caress or screw
over the site of the back pews,
near the font.
* 8. YERRAH
The woman, growing from the
eyed the solitary oak in the west field,
surveyed the rushy bottoms,
as she had done for years.
The red cow, to her hocks in water,
in-calf to a green defrosted straw,
was near her time.
The black had two blind spins
but her milk was sweet.
Himself was not himself for ages-
he rocked on the tock of the auction clock,
stared mutely at the wall,
or disappeared for hours
to sponge on his misfortunes at the pub.
His gummy father in the sunny corner,
was deep in whispers with the
smiling and trembling in turn.
Her active three-year-old,
played with his Wellingtons close to the range.
As the sun kissed the tip of the
around the cow-shed gable loped
her faithful heavy-antlered stag.
She smiled in velvet prospect
of their equinoctial rut.
In the unshriven stable twice a year
a married dairy farmer from Doomore
breasted her a wad of fifty tenners.
'T would buy book learnin' for the boy,
their child, her life.
She whoopsed her youngster into
straddled him across a sturdy hip,
and snatched the well-scoured bucket from the sink.
"Come, child! It's milking time".
Yerrah, things were not so bad!
* 9. UNCLEAN
White and bare in clay,
mouldering rags of shroud
are all that remain
of dancers and singers,
hobblers and weepers,
lovers and haters
saints and sinners.
On shaded earth,
lepers of the living dead
shake alms-cups, ring bells,
outside graveyard walls.
In blessed Irish clay
Catholic rag and bone
may not be soiled by rag and bone
from the other lot.
In Sonlit heaven, if there be one,
Quakers dance with Hindus,
Buddhists with Catholics,
while humanists and atheists
clap in disbelief.
Yellow slant-eyed saints
with names like Fung, Lin, Wang,
occupy the sunny places
as white-faced bishops scowl.
* 10. ANNE'S CORNER
(For Anne Gilhooly-Wynne - the finest woman in Arigna and the Queen of Ireland)
The headstone, sentinel to
rosaries of flowers,
glints across the valley, reflects two wakes-
wakes that deadened her eyes.
O my strong man, my straight son,
why did ye have to go before me?
She rocks for her man, her only
with his gentle tongue and bull-like frame,
and for her firstborn soldier son,
taken to God at twenty-four,
by the silent sniper of the blood.
A flutter of muslin recalls
the day her man excitedly assembled
the red, brand-new mower and how merrily he mowed,
ploughing at the same time - the guide-plate was upside-down
but she had held her tongue -
and the day that the Yanks and uncle Mick,
complete with stetsons and armed with gum and cameras,
invaded her kitchen, tongues out for her pratie-cakes.
She sighs, seeing in the muslin
mesh her babies' babies
play in the grey air of Dublin and Kildare.
Day is lonely, night is long,
now that the cattle are gone
and the land set to the stranger.
Voices on the phone bring life
but leave her sobbing afterwards.
She counts the days till Saturday
and makes a mental note to order T-bones.
The back door opens.
"Is the kettle boiled Anne?
Sure, you've the time of Reilly and no worries at all!
You'll not find till June and the holidays,
when they'll be down for weeks
and won't you be going up to them for the Christmas?".
But her corner is her corner -
she'll not leave for long, though it breaks her heart to stay.
The smoke, the chat, the cup of tea
shortens the day, softens the night.
God Bless neighbours! But neighbours must go home.
* 11. FLOWERS OF THE FOREST
Cancer, he said,
malignancy of blood
and bone. In my head
and heart, I brood
for that sharp feeling
on the treacherous edge
of mystery and meaning
but emptiness and pain is all I dredge.
He's gone, he's gone, she cried.
My young bull, my Mars,
my six foot of pride
in his crop and bars,
is but a grey shadow,
felled in his only battle.
I summon his image
in my mental mirror.
Other shadows crystallise,
eject useless words from my mouth
but all I feel
is rage, impotence and grief
for my death in theirs.
* 12. ESKER SCENE
(Publ. Irish Veterinary News, 17/02/1988)
Under a clear blue autumn sky
the throng of friendly people trudged
unhurried to the open grave
fresh on a green esker.
The best clay in the parish
lay in a waiting mound.
Women out from busy kitchens
shopkeepers and nuns,
farmers, doctors, politicians,
men on the dole and neighbours' children
came to pay their last respects.
White and orange lichens dotted
the ancient limestone crosses.
Mosses were soft underfoot.
All the way the people chatted quietly.
Sure, she had a lovely death,
surrounded by the clan and in her own bed
She was a great age, a mighty woman.
I remember ...
And our lads let in a soft goal yesterday ...
Ah, the referee was blind ...
And the cattle trade was back.
At the grave the prayers were
Hands as big as Hymac buckets
dwarfed the mourners' hands
and tall ungainly men
stooped to whisper a soft word.
The rite of condolence was sincere,
as natural as the cudding of the cattle
in the sunlight across the wall.
Pipes and cigarettes
spiralled smoke in the still air.
The spirits of these people
wafted skyward with the smoke.
Death held no fear for them,
only sorrow for those left behind.
"Ye must come up to the
Now, there'll be no excuses".
So we did, with a hundred more,
people who might never make the record books
for work efficiency but who realised
the things that matter most,
who take their time to say hello
and linger at goodbyes. For they know
the hush of the esker mocks the rush of life.
They know and laugh.
* 13. DAOINE LE DIA (*)
wrist-bound with bloody bandages,
tubes drip plasma in your veins.
I saw you guide your sheep, your life,
down the mountain, through the snow,
safely to the indoor fold.
You left two faithful dogs on guard
as you wolfed some bread and soup.
Distracted by a riot in Pretoria,
I did not see the over-anxious collies
circle, circle, nor the crazed flock
bunch in fear, nor your blank stare
at the woolly mound still steaming
and fifty dead from suffocation.
The dogs tongued your hands
wagging happily for their reward.
But I did not see you glide
the carver through the collies' throats,
then through your own wrists.
Poor man! Forgive Me, I should have been there for you.
laughing, shrieking at the moon
from the ruptured womb of inner pain,
you killed your child. Now,
you sob your empty lullaby
and clutch a cushion to your breast
(your phantom Edmondsbury baby).
Poor woman! Forgive Me, I was
welcoming the souls of the slain,
car-bombed to eternity on the Springfield Road.
Poor strangled child,
your knowledge of My world was gurgling sounds
and heart-thumps in the dark.
Bloody fingers found your throat,
sent you back to me before you saw My light.
You will be born again. You will see
your son clutch your giant finger,
the Newgrange solstice, the moon eclipse the sun,
caterpillars munch along a cabbage leaf,
the hawk shadow marsh-land. That I swear!
Listen children! Listen to Me
If I can not be with you
in the crucibles of pain,
know that earthly life is but a game
played under two main rules - His and Mine.
His is self and power. Mine is love.
Make My rule your own,
as best you can - I ask no more!
Then He may break your body and mind
but not your soul. That is Mine!
My mind-children, I speak to you
in tears of love, through the ink of a fool,
so you may realise
that human mind is My finest tool,
the brightest jewel in My paradise.
Long ago I tried, through other ink,
to tell you of sparrows and lilies,
of lepers and widows' sons,
of a burden of love
which would not break your back.
If you break, stretch out your hand.
I understand. I made my people, strong and weak.
When the cupboard is bare,
the weak may get the burden of the strong,
a wrong statement, a computer error.
If you stumble or go down, or you can not pay,
return the statement! Simply debit it to Me
and start from scratch.
My security is infinite and your overdraft
will cover anything you need.
That, I swear to you through the ink of fools,
for fools are close to my Heart!
They confound the wise through lifetimes
of kings and dynasties, through aeons
lasting no longer than the blink of My Eye.
Fools are daoine le Dia (*) indeed.
(*) People [watched over by] God - a Gaelic term for people with serious mental or physical handicap
* 14. WHO WILL CARRY THE CANOPY?
Four polished poles, brass
crossed in place of spear-tips,
support the canopy, a love-act of nuns who wove
their potent spell, through weeks of silent prayer
and whose virgin blood from needle-pricked fingers
tinged silk and linen, gold and silver braid,
heavy tassels and embroidered cross,
The ritual of the canopy, centre
of honoured feasts,
goes back before my time. Through swept streets
on June days of Corpus Christi, it sways past altared doorways
past coughing aisles, fisted mute on Maundy Thursday.
Flanked by four bearers, men conscious of their role,
the priest shelters in its shade. The gleaming monstrance,
rays blazing from its white core, blesses the people, bows their heads.
In our town, bearership is passed on from father to son, unquestioned.
My grandfather, my father and my
brother, in turn, carried the front right pole.
Polished shoes, good suit, white camphored gloves,
right hand over left, always over and the world was in its place.
Down the years, the measured tread of auctioneers and publicans
teachers and shopkeepers- their faces solemn, eyes ahead-
is funereal, buries any hope of change in parish thought.
The faith of our fathers is
living still in those streets.
It falters, slightly out of step but no more so
than forty years ago. In my hall- and this is no laugh-
is a blown-up photograph- The Rock, Ballymote, 1910-
a load of hay, waistcoated men ten ass-carts, pony and trap,
dark youths, cloth-capped, one barefooted, in knee-britches.
A dog wriggles on his back, itches in the sun. Two others copulate.
Roofs of thatch and slate, dungballs on a dirt street.
1988 sees cars and concrete, phone and power cables,
new generations, old fables, computers and television masts.
But the peoples' mind fasts the lenten fast of 1944
or 1910, eating fish as before in the Fridays of the mind,
fish caught in Roman waters, waters they claim as their own.
(That fish is off to my taste, left too long in the sun,
mishandled by the mongers. How I long for Galilean fish
and the quiet voice of the Fisher of men. But I digress).
Each long procession wends past the old monsignor's grave,
neat in its railed-off plot. The Mons gets mental nods, glances
and forgiveness, from the over-thirties. He would like that.
Thumbing his purple cummerbund, he would radiate his pride,
his joy, to see his canopy, his flock, still going strong,
high-dyked by seawalls of Sligo rock against the running tides and shifting sand
of the seas of change which eat the hearts of Dublin and New York.
But a crisis has arisen. A
decision must be made.
One pole of the canopy needs a new bearer. The old one
can't manage any more and his sons refuse their birthright
and daughters in this town can bear children, or grudges,
crosses or bruises, the Gifts or the Host itself,
but not canopies. Now other families dream a dynasty of white gloves
and wait for the PP's word.
* 15. SUBURBAN PRISONER
Last weekend I tramped
carefree miles of river-bank
for one five-pounder. The price
was high- sweat, itchy toes
and back aching from six foot dikes
Barbed wire ripped the crotch
of last year's clothes,
tore the bag of the net.
far from running water,
the fourth pint on an empty stomach
addled my head.
I thought those flashing images
would never see the light of day -
crazy salmon suiciding in the west
to Brendan's bait
and him with a tired right arm
from hauling the silver leapers
and me in concrete-land, hungover,
too far away to ease his load!
I yearn to flee from concrete
to the wild virgin green
of my ignorant youth.
But I stay in my self-imposed jail
* 16. THE HUNTER
(For Brendan Friel - a hunter supreme)
In youth he took them as they
with catapult, forked stick and snare,
with bow and bag and trap
and stone placed in the burrow at arm's length.
Whistling softly through his teeth-
uneven as the landscape which he penetrates-
now on eager winter days with gun and dogs,
he roams his hunting ground
the marshy bogs, the swamps, the silent woods,
the heather-covered slopes,
at peace with furred and feathered animals.
Mallard, pheasant, duck or goose,
are in his sights by instantaneous reflex.
Boom! Boom! His brain replays
the memories of deadly shots
but unhurt birds fly straight on course
allowed to live, to bring him joy
on yet another hungry day.
But the silver leaper lives in danger still.
At hours stolen from life's jail,
from mid-March to September's end,
in snow, sun, rain or hail
he stalks in silence by a river bend.
Instinct as powerful as that which draws
the leaper, beautiful in speed and grace
from Arctic ice to Dromadajoyce,
still draws him to the salmon pools
with purpose, deadly, singular.
To see him at his craft is
almost sacred. He succeeds where others fail
to tempt the silver tiger from behind its rock
or from the corry and its gentle flow.
His canny eye can spot
the slightest twitch of a distant hare,
the fish-scale hidden in the grass,
the merest kiss of fish at bait.
See the thumping power-strike
sinking the single hook,
the screaming reel,
the bucking rod,
the leaping fish,
ploughing through lily-pads,
underwater branches, snags,
trying to break free
to no avail:
the hunter knows him all too well.
Then the long, slow haul to the yawning net
and the ritual salute:
"The poor bugger should have kept his mouth shut".
Five pounds or twenty-five, it's
all the same-
the whisky bottle or the flotsam branch
strikes twice behind the eyes
and the trembling silver body goes
to join the others
shaded in the yellow gorse.
This oft-lived scene
is burned deep into my brain
yet every time is new
and there's tomorrow too.
Each hunter has a stalking
which yields up meat and fish
but the hunger of the hunter
is not the need for flesh.
It is primeval, wild, subconscious need
to lose the self in unspoiled land,
a cry of pain within the soul
to be at one with Nature
and, thereby, be whole.
* 17. THE HEALER
(For all Healers who can heal others, but not themselves)
The healer snored on the kitchen
two bottles empty at his side,
flecks of spittle on his lips,
four days of stubble on his face,
slack mouth gaping wide.
Blue-moulded crusts of bread insulted
the love-work of woman in Carrick lace.
He twitched. A smile broke through his drunken sleep.
He saw his patient play and dance,
a winsome girl of seventeen
wheel-chaired in to him,
her back and legs in agony
and he had merely used his hands
to get her on her feet again.
Her father, grateful man, had left
the ancient gift, two amber-coloured bottles,
water of life to most
but poison to this tortured ghost.
The whiskey bottle or the feed of gin
were this poor creature's only sin.
Self-judged as useless, worthless dross,
self-sentenced to slow suicide-
the penalty of one who cannot love the self
despite love shown by others-
he drank, his penance, cursing every drop.
But the drunkard heals the people in strange ways
when the Son dispels the alcoholic haze.
* 18. DEATH OF A FARM
(For John Hanrahan and to all the Davids who feel powerless
against the Goliath might of multinational companies)
(Written in 1985. The last stanza was added after the unanimous judgement of the Supreme Court, 5/7/1988)
Five centuries of children's
echoed through the autumn air,
bouncing off the farmhouse walls,
rippling over NET-urea pastures,
envied acres of the Golden Vale.
The laughter stopped,
hammered silent by the auctioneer.
The children's birthright once was heaven-
clover meadows dripping milk,
cudding cows groaning their contentment,
woods of oak and sycamore,
straight lines of wholesome crops-
until the farmer and his family saw Hell.
It started when the farmer smelled the wind,
a dizzy wind which made him ill.
The heavy cows began to lose their calves-
abortions, stillbirth, sudden death.
The toll continued year by year-
illthrift, carcass after carcass
to the hundreds and the experts baffled.
The farmer thought pollution was the cause-
the waste of a nearby factory-
but all attempts to prove this failed.
When illhealth plagued the family
and crops began to fail
and moneylenders squeezed him tight,
hope left, as pigeons batter, clatter out of trees.
He went to court, a lone voice fighting international might.
The outcome, ruin.
The debts were enormous, all credit dried up;
the only choice to sell the stock-
he could not see them die.
Auction, Farm for Sale...
To see his lovely cattle sold
brought tears to weather-beaten eyes.
The hammer rose and fell,
Ferguson tractor in good working order
What am I bid? What am I bid?
A family's livelihood
Just a few quid, just a few quid!
Will children's laughter echo
Hanarahan, poor Hanrahan
Another Irish rabbit screams,
skewered on the talons of the hawks.
But, as the hawks shrieked,
about to rip raw flesh,
a Supreme hand tore them off,
hooded them and clipped their wings
and salved the rabbit's wounds.
* 19. MAYDAY VALENTIA
The lifeboat ploughed through
thirty-foot seas, slewed
a cork on crests and troughs
towards the Mayday call.
Yellow-skinned men cursed the storm,
blew hopelessly on purple fists,
peered through spray-veils for lights
and thought of their undrunk pints.
Words crackled from the radio.
The weary skipper swore and crunched
his fist into the compass brass. Bloody knuckles
swung the boat for home. False alarm lads!
The hull-cracked tanker crawled
to shelter in Bantry Bay
but left again in storm force twelve
to grind aground off Baltimore.
Fin and feather soiled in oil
for the crass stupidity of man.
* 20. TO AN AGED MOTHER
(For John Nicol, a colleague in UK)
* a. WIFE
In youth, the sturdy lass
an able partner to her man,
farmed productive land,
The pair merged, like Arctic hares in snow,
into rustling meadows, yielding loam.
Their fledglings grew relentlessly
to fly from the timeless place.
To her, each parting was a little death,
each welcome home again a great rebirth.
* b. WIDOW
It took ten men and two slipped
to raise the tractor from the drain.
She tore her hair and screamed her grief
when weeping neighbours brought
his broken body home.
The empty nights of anguish drained
her tears and energy,
drowning her joy.
The stock was sold, the house, the land
and she, a country soul,
moved mutely to a two-roomed flat,
in a steel and concrete city
of anaemic hope.
Her wealthy children showed their poverty
in hurried visits, Christmas cards,
gifts of useless gadgetry,
bottles of good Scotch.
So she pined for many years,
whiled away the time
with television, radio
and senior citizens' events.
* c. FEAR
Her greatest fear
was to be found incontinent and paralysed,
shame-huddled on the stairs,
with shit and piss all over her
stenching the air
but worse, to die alone.
She'd wind her clock at midnight
and fearfully seek sleep.
and smile to see each new day's dawn.
The heater coughed at noon today;
by one, the room was cold
and she was frail and frightened
with none but the cat to scold.
Her eldest son would visit soon
with a cylinder of gas
but who'd be there to pray with her
When she would gasp her last?
* d. THE PRAYER
Dearest lady, don't be
even if your bowels leak
for Christ Himself, when screaming "Abba ..!"
soiled the Wood.
That scream sanctified
your pain, your fear and mine.
Dearest lady, don't be frightened love,
we will not die unseen.
Even if there is no human help,
the Mother of the Crucified, our Queen
will surely take us by the hand
and lead us home to Him.
* e. GAELIC CURSE
Ten thousand curses on the heads
of those who spurn their mother.
Ten thousand more upon the heads
of those who cause her needless pain.
May they pay the Judas' price when they grow old
for God Himself has sworn that oath!
May demons twist your eyes and mind;
may gangrene rot your tongue;
may torments shred your viscera
and cancer eat your lung;
may clots your heart plug with such pain
that you will scream for death
if you a mother in old age
cause heartbreak or regret!
* 21. A MEMO TO MAC
(With apologies to Dermot Morgan. Dermot died some years after this was written - may he Rest in Peace)
|Memo to:||Shay Mac Rary (Mac the Knife), Brussels.|
Phillips, BSc (Nat.), (UCG), Principal Development
TEACASK Office (Western Region), Sligo.
|Re:||Operation Gapeworm (2) - A Supplementary Plan For National Recovery|
|(2) Syngamus tracheae:||The Gapeworm is a nematode parasite that lives in the windpipe of domestic fowl. The (tiny) male spends his life in permanent copulation with the (large) female.|
Mac, A chara,
A 10-Point Supplementary National Plan, Operation Gapeworm, is attached. The Plan is based on a projected 10-fold increase in international tourism, mainly to the West of Ireland. It could be integrated into the Existing Plan for National Recovery, in a last-ditch attempt to salvage the Irish economy.
Operation Gapeworm proposes:
|A.||To classify Syngamus tracheae as a protected species. The plan aims to reverse ERAD's disease-elimination programme and to put ERAD and the Greens in charge of conservation of the species|
|B.||To develop national infrastructures to allow national/international participation in the in our ancient sacred syngamous rituals|
|C.||That Syngamus, properly marketed by Bord Fawlty, could be worth millions to the National Economy.|
Background Research and Details of the Plan follow. My professional advisers in TEACASK and Badman International are certain that this package would put the National Economy on a sound financial footing for the first time since the foundation of the State.
Please discuss the implementation
of Operation Gapeworm with the Boss. Albert and John should be
involved directly from the outset.
Mise le meas,
Roger MacPhillips, BSc (Nat.), (UCG),
P.S. Mac, Please tell John that the massive injection of Gapeworm revenue could remove the need for trout Rod-Licences West of the Shannon.
OPERATION GAPEWORM- BACKGROUND RESEARCH: Syngamus tracheae, the gapeworm, is a nematode (roundworm) parasite that lives in the windpipes of domestic fowl. Severely infested fowl can suffocate and die, due to complete obstruction of the airway. In milder cases, the head and wattles may turn blue (cyanotic) from shortage of air. Afflicted fowl gape, gasp, wheeze, shake their heads violently and "cough" pathetically in attempts to dislodge the parasites.
The Syngamus male is the original little squirt, a past master of the lazy art of Carezza. Zoology students know him as the zany idiot (ZI for short), as he exists in a state of suspended animation, in permanent coitus with the female.
The Syngamus female is much larger than the male. She attaches to the mucous lining of the trachea or bronchi and she sucks for sustenance. Because of her size and her proclivity for the male, students know her as the "big effing androphile" (BEA for short).
Not for ZI the diversionary escapism of a night on the town with the lads- he never gets away from monotonous connubial duties. BEA never lets ZI, her faithful knight, out of her sight or out of her delight.
Before the advent of modern anthelmintic drugs, one of the ways of removing gapeworms was to restrain the fowl upside-down, force its mouth open, insert a trimmed feather into the windpipe and "fish" out the accessible worms by withdrawing the feather whilst twirling it rapidly clockwise. The twirling friction on withdrawal often dislodged the worm, which fell out.
In my young days in Sligo, gapeworm-infested hens or turkeys were said to have " the pioc ", a Gaelic word which rhymes with approved words (appropriate to fowl) like: chuck, cluck, duck, luck, muck, stuck and pluck and, with a stretch of the imagination, nice words like clutch, hutch. But Pioc also rhymes with the sacred four-letter f-word and other no-no words like "scut, butch, crouch, suck, crutch, yuck" and "grouch, couch, touch, cuck, pouch, buck, debauch, eunuch".
The private use of these taboo words was reserved for family meditation on the sacred nature of Syngamus and his/her symbolism for humanity; or for more personal Mantras to assist towards a state of deep relaxation, an antidote to the stresses and frustrations of the day.
In incense-fragrant, candle-lit Irish kitchens, the TV was switched off each evening after supper and special litanies were recited in devout Syngamus-worship:
|Divine Syngamus||We pray ..||Source of the Pioc!|
|Sublime Syngamus||We pray ..||Beautiful Suck!|
|Heavenly Syngamus||We pray ..||Mother of F--k!|
|Syngamus of the silken couch||We pray ..||Mystical crouch!|
|Syngamus of the gentle touch||We pray ..||Debauch for us!|
All over the land, fathers and mothers in a state of hypnotic trance, took turns to lead the family through combinations and poetic variations of the sacred no-no words.
Note: Literary buffs infer that Patrick Maguire (in the Great Hunger), was a Syngamus devotee and used the sacred mantras as he asperged the dying coals in his solitary ritual before going to bed.
The public use of the sacred words was reserved for ceremonial occasions of deep religious symbolism, or for steamy, whispered exchanges in the boudoir, the June-ditch, or the haystack.
The economic impact of gapeworm infestation: Rural swains and maids spent many an evening in harmless (but unproductive) crack, feather-fucking and "fishing" syngamous worms out of cyanotic fowl. Excessive time spent at this occupation made excessive inroads into the more productive work of fowl-rearing and feather-plucking and severely damaged the economy of the West of Ireland.
Contrary to current academic theories (wet land, rocky fields, large family size and consequent sub-division of land into uneconomic holdings), worm fishing was the main reason that the West was classified as a disadvantaged area. It was also the main reason that you, a fellow Sligoman, were sent to Brussels with an open-ended alms-bowl.
DETAILS OF OPERATION GAPEWORM: A 10-POINT SUPPLEMENTARY PLAN FOR NATIONAL RECOVERY
protection of Syngamus tracheae (policed by ERAD) and an
enforced return to drug-free Organic Fowl Farming (policed
by the Greens). This would hinge on a National Agreement
between the Social Partners to work towards:
a great increase in the rearing of free-range fowl, the natural hosts of Syngamus tracheae;
the introduction of urgent legislation to ban the use of anthelmintic drugs;
a return to the traditional method of extracting gapeworms and exploitation of the ancient rituals involved
|2.||A Special Judiciary: Peter Gorgon could be appointed to the bench, to try cases of alleged use of banned substances in an EEC-funded Special Criminal Court in Sinnegad. Stamping out the use of Angel dust, which renders Syngamus sterile and impotent, would be his top priority. Liam Frowney, having eradicated ERAD, could be appointed to the Court of Appeal, to handle any disputed judgements.|
|3.||FAWS could lay on EEC-funded courses to train Frowney-eradicated vets and returned emigrants in the basic skills of feather-fishing. These courses could be open to fee-paying tourists also.|
|4.||EEC-funded fowl-treatment posts could be erected at every crossroads. They could be personned by FAWS-registered graduates, ruddy lads and lassies in traditional jeans, sweat-shirts and Doc Martins, who would treat affected fowl every hour, on the hour, from 9 to 9 during the tourist season.|
Fawlty could market the package in Stern, Cosmopolitan
and the specialist sporting journals. The Bord would also
organise tourist flow, so that each crossroads,
especially those in Sligo, gets a fair share of business.
All tourists would pay a Registration fee to the Bord and
a fee to observe the individual ceremonies. (To add
variety, different colours and species of fowl and
different colours, lengths and shapes of feathers would
be used in different counties. Note, county colours would
As they tickle and "fish", inserting and withdrawing sinlessly, the feather-wielders would sing the Sligo fowl-pluckers' ancient hymn of praise to the gapeworm, the Symbol of Cosmic Unity, Symbol of Duality, the Male and Female Principle of Life: "Where the BEA sucks, there fucks ZI". (The Bard of Avon is said to have visited Sligo but, being hard of hearing, he got the words of the hymn mixed up). Trained MCs could lead the crowd in the refrain: "Thank you Lord for a clogged airway, / lots of darts without foreplay". The ceremonies could be recorded on cassette and video and sold to aficionados.
|6.||Other fees: For a small fee, tourists would be allowed to photograph the display or, for a larger fee, foreign trainees, under supervision of FAWS instructors, would be allowed to wield the feathers themselves.|
|7.||International Gapeworm-Fishing: To prolong the tourist season, amateur and professional Games, TV-syndicated world-wide by Spy Sport, could be held in early spring and late autumn. World Champions in each class would be eligible for entry in the Guinness Book of Records.|
|8.||Gapeworm conservation and distribution: TEACASK experts, policed by ERAD, would handle the conservation procedures:|
|a.||All gapeworms removed in the rituals, whether in demonstration units or in the Gapeworm Games, would be carefully replaced in the trachea of healthy fowls at the end of each day. (This recycling is in line with current methods of conservation of hares, as adopted by Coursing Clubs, after the hare escapes the hounds at their Meetings).|
|b.||All poultry dung from private and state farms would be collected for incubation in special hatcheries to maximise development of infective larvae for recycling to poultry producers, who would be trained in methods of infecting healthy birds.|
researchers could rear laboratory-infested fowl, if the
numbers of naturally-infected or rearer-infected fowl
fall below the numbers required, due to seasonal
fluctuations in supply. In support of this, State-run
hatcheries to produce a steady supply of susceptible
chicks (fowl and turkeys) would be established at Athlone,
the best centre for national distribution.
Distribution of infective larvae and susceptible chicks would be handled, by Bus agus Iarnrod Eireann (as in the good old days) and by purpose-built high-speed hover-craft on the Shannon system.
Regional Aid (and unclaimed State Insurance on meat
exports to Iraq) could be channelled to extend the cross-road
network to the more inaccessible places, such as Ardee,
Kinsealy, and the top of Croagh Patrick and
Carrauntwohill. Where roads can not be built, cross-road
construction should go ahead at full steam, as
helicopters can fly in the demonstrators and tourists.
Bird Shoots: Terminally-ill birds would be collected weekly and transported to nature reserves, where they would be released. This would form the basis of a spin-off industry, with fantastic potential. Birds too weak to walk would be fitted with walking aids, or tied to spring-loaded hydraulic posts that would rise out of their sleeves every minute. Special shoots would be organised for European gunmen who will be encouraged to shoot any feathered thing that moves in the reserves.
The Triple-Shoot-Em-Down, an Annual International Bird Shoot between the top snipers in EEC Defence Forces, the Unifil troops and the paramilitaries would be the highlight of the year and would be certain to go out on International TV. Competitors who hit any member of an opposing team will gain 10 extra points.
During the off-season, the nature reserves could be leased on a weekly basis (at a two-tier rental) to the EEC Defence Forces, Unifil troops and interested paramilitary groups. Bargain-basement rates would apply to the Irish Defence Forces and to our friends in Northern and Southern Gun Clubs. Higher rates would apply to the SAS, Unifil, foreign Defence Forces and non-Irish paramilitaries.
Summary: A developed infrastructure of chick and gapeworm hatcheries, distribution network, access roads, transport, ghillies, instructors, backed up with biotechnological production of Female Syngamous Extract (guaranteed to keep straying males at home), Male Syngamous Extract (guaranteed to keep females satisfied), Gapeworm Tee-shirts, Gapeworm goulash restaurants, Gapeworm blue-movies etc would underpin the scheme.
The nature reserves would be the main money-spinner and would operate all year-round, including Christmas Day.
* 22. AN IRISH FAIRY TALE
Dedicated (with some poetic licence) to the fowl gape-worm
Once upon a time,
an evil wizard cast a fiendish spell,
grimoired up the acme of frustration-
force-wedded in a musky, silken bed
a sexless Angel and a rampant Beast.
The Beast reached out a randy
spidering lightly to the dewy,
downy centres of the venusweb,
to the divine arts and parts
where fingers probe and linger,
to find that the mounds were flat
and the crevices uncleft.
He groaned in cursed disbelief
and, thwarted, turned his back
and thumb-sucked himself to sleep.
Satyric still, he woke from
to find the panting Angel's hair
feather his quivering thighs,
siren fingers, lips and tongue
fluting the first sweet notes
of the Rhapsody for You.
But the Beast saw a dazzling
converted, like Paul on the road,
and gargled No! For God's sake, No!
And he sprouted mighty wings,
sloughed his thing and testicles
and flew off singing canticles
into the dawning sky.
The Angel swore at its sexless
stitched on the beastly cast-off codicils,
ripped and tore a gaping hole below,
an elephant-mouth askew below the questing trunk,
and became a demonic he-she,
lived unhappily ever after,
prey to endless, pointless pleasure.
The evil wizard packed his
and joined the Holy Irish League to Outlaw Sin.
* 23. IRISH AIRS
* a. REEL (The Sligo Maids)
When the players of Killavil
come together in a kitchen
with their fiddles and sweet whistles
and a squeeze-box in the corner,
Sligo music will be hammered
as a shoe upon the anvil
till the toes of all the listeners
on the floorboards will be tapping-O.
All the wild and fairy tunes,
passed between the generations,
are the yearning of the people
for the lost ways of their natures.
But the sea has crept behind
us as we danced upon our memories
to cut a deadly channel,
leaving us in isolation-O.
* b. JIG (The Lark in the Morning)
The people of Ireland can
chatter and goster
like swallows in summer or water on gravel
but when they are challenged to answer a question
they give back another while sizing you up.
And if you're a stranger, they'll find out your background
or not sleep contented until they succeed.
They'll pester the neighbours in whispered exchanges
'till all of your secrets are fully exposed.
* c. LAMENT (Roisin Dubh)
I weary long
of the simple, childish way we vote
in keeping with the Laws of Rome,
when in the world
so many good and noble, caring minds
allow the person choose the way to live.
And when I see
how the poor and homeless vagrants
are left out of the share of the country's wealth,
how we treat our pregnant girls, in trouble enough,
I despair of you, my Roisin Dubh.
I despair of you, my Roisin Dubh!
* 24. SCRAP THE NATIONAL PLAN NEXT
(Dedicated to the memory of Dermot Morgan, whose "Scrap Saturday" radio show raised many a smile)
* a. THE PROBLEM
Forget Your troubles, Boss! We could be in the Gulf and lost!
Yes Mara! Saddam's peoples'
are their own. What do warring Kurds
and wailing rebel Shiite fighters
(stick-stoning Iraqi hi-tech might)
know of Our troubles here:
kilotonnes of angeldusted striploin steak,
staunch Party hacks who get bad breaks;
Newry, Armagh, Crossmaglen,
hunting grounds for gun-crazed men;
the Birmingham Six about to go free
and they won't play ball with me;
Belfast and Loughgall. And kinky
mint-flavoured, Union-Jacked frenchies
on Tricolour juvenile dicks.
And Jesus mercy, Mara,
what a crowd of lame SPUC pricks.
Though Saddam's way of dealing with dissent
is sound, it's not for the Irish temperament.
Why do they torment me, Mara? Why?
Sure only yesterday,
a Dundalk trigger-happy cowboy
bolloxed My last Ard Fheis,
called for Irish troops to blast
British choppers from the border skies
if they incurse Our sacred lands.
I stemmed his anal ramblings
with one cold look.
(Mara! See that the half-wit
gets a second-hand TV,
or one that's smuggled from Strabane.
Tell that mindless little man
that I know all about choppers and image and war.
Tell him I've got many SAMs in store
but the bloody Brits have thousands more.
And tell him that it's limey heavies
who pluck Our drowning poachers from Our seas).
Got that Mara?
OK Boss, good as done! (Bejayzes, this'll be some fun!)
* b. THE SOLUTION
And Mara! My good friend Patrick
(the Poet Kavanagh-O'Hockey) tricked
us all. He wronged us, fiercely slated
us as a sad sad nation
of honest godfearing gobshites,
farmers and small shop-keepers
with cows and customers to milk
and throbbing tractors, tinkling tills to tend.
But he was wrong, Mara, very wrong.
We are a proud and complicated throng
of parochial, provincial nationalists,
with international, universal pretensions.
God, that's poetic, Boss, pure poetry from The Patron of the Arts!
Thanks, Mara! That's the key,
the best one yet!
Poetry readings at the next Ard Fheis!
That's the very catalyst We need,
a literary weekend guaranteed
to rally Our defecting troops!
Perch Kennelly on his tightrope: Oops!
We might tempt Heaney into Our hopper
if sonny can fly My rescue chopper.
Find Durcan, fartin about in Russia.
Try Sheils, translated by de Rossa.
But Kavanagh, Boss? Don't forget Kavanagh!
Yes Mara! We must mourn this
But who will read the Mediocre Liar's albatross?
Forsooth! Professor Gussie Goose of course!
And phone my friend, Professor Michael D,
to plain-chant the epilogue with me,
to the anthems of the Furys and the Tones,
whose warrior cries melt flesh from cowards' bones
and to the magic pipes of Liam Og O'Flynn,
whose ancient tunes turn cowards into men again.
Go out! Bring in My hacks and burnt-out plants
who live by My Arts Council grants.
Let Gill & Macmillan, Tom Cobley et al
set up their stalls in the Simmonscourt Hall.
but bar those arty narcissists and self-print plotters
who've blotted and dirtied their homework jotters.
Leave them gold-struck and ravin' out in the cold,
diggin' and shovin' to wing to the fold.
Let them tout their thin books and paranoid looks
in parkin' lot crannies and parish hall nooks.
Got that, Mara?
OK Boss, good as done! (Bejayzes, this'll be some fun!) 1 April 1991
* 25. CHORDS
(To Oisin, with love)
I hear the harsh chords
of a wrongly-tuned guitar.
Hackles rise on my neck for my son,
the first one, ripped
through her soft abdomen.
I hear harsh chords,
see the plodding mob
ravish textbooks, suck knowledge dry,
hold their precious parchments high,
screaming "Hire me!
I'll prostitute myself for you,
the company and work!"
Oh for sweeter chords
played in waltz-time!
Those days are but echoes
and harsh chords are reality
* 26. THE NIXER'S VAN (3)
(3) The Nixer is a Dublin term for a person, usually male, who has a keen sense of native cunning and a desire for work but who operates within the "black economy" while also in receipt of social welfare payments. It also applies to a person double-jobbing but paying tax on only one income. The combined incomes and tax evasion may leave the Nixer quite well off.
at lonely weekends,
frantic thirty-five, still searching for her prince.
and still unmarried,
had it made - untaxed nixers and three houses -
but knew the midnight feeling of an aimless life.
at a dance
in North Frederick Street.
They clicked first time. But
warnings rattling in her head
from convent days at Newtownforbes
and images of Sister Rita's piercing eye
restrained her heart.
the courting was ritual
but definitely warm and tuned
to sense the other's needs and strengths,
courteous, reserved, each shy to touch
or taste or smell or even savour with the eyes
the other - programmed by distorted teachings of the hidden God -
or to broach those questions which all spawned, pawned,
manipulated, frustrated, sorely vexed, normal sexed
lovers must ask if they hope to correlate.
Then dawned the certainty:
"I have him now! He's mine!"
"She's not the worst! She'll do!"
drink one night
and in her porch
for sweet goodnight,
with senses quickening,
they deep-tongue kissed.
Their first! The fuse was short!
"Oh! How her juice tastes good! I wonder if she would?"
Through cotton dress she felt his urgent need,
her aching just as strong indeed.
"Oh Ann, we've got the van!"
"Oh Tom, let's use the Park!" she ceded.
dark but warm,
they lay abandoned
in the battered van, discreetly off the track,
the shyness gone forever.
Slow, smiling, sure and yet
they made ready, one helping the other.
Looking into the other's eyes,
senses exploring the other's fruits,
feeling the fruity stickiness,
tasting the salty sap,
came the awesome knowledge:
Without this, there is no human life!
Show me a man and I'll show you his wife!
Virgins by imposed convention,
seventy-nine long years of loneliness between them,
they knew they had been duped those lonely years,
that neither really knew till now
the joy of mate with mate to give and take the other,
agreed together, desiring together, this way, that way,
any bloody up way and damned be the one to cry stop
(with Saint Anthony's picture turned to the wall
and a Gardiner Street Mass-card if conscience should call).
Why did they wait so long?
Were cave-men sinful with their women?
Did the cave-man's grunt of recognition of marriage
and his woman's grunt of Yes!
mean less than a vatican marriage?
No way! No bloody way!
It swelled with delight.
He tickled her lotus - she whispered he might.
his walnuts. He
mewed a weak moan.
He nuzzled her cherry. She gargled a groan.
and scrummed for an hour
till nerve endings screamed in their musk-scented bower.
"Ah now, please!" she cried. "My veil is all wet!"
He pierced her so gently and whispered "My pet!"
Proud piston did glide
in and out of its cylinder, well oiled inside.
with quickening pace
till the engine seized up with the strain of the race.
All the gaskets blew out before brakes were applied.
Sump oil jetted over the cylinder head.
The plugs, not sparking, the power went dead
with a shudder. The oil lamp glowed red.
They gently held each other then
astonished and exhausted.
Poor piston had lost its might.
They knew that from that night
nine more months must pass
till their love-child
so hard won
The clapped-out van was sold for
A chicken farmer brought it home.
Ten pullets, a cock and four ducks
use the back of it now.
Life must go on
as the widow said on the night of the wake
when tobacco lay cut on white plates
and the pipes were stoked and the barley talked
and friendly hands shook her sad hand
to the strains of a jig in the other room.
Yes, life must go on!
Let no one scorn the Nixer's van.
It had its worthwhile uses.
Though Nixer and his wife passed on,
their son, begotten on that night of juices,
and his wife, a reformed whore,
live in leafy affluence in Dublin 4.
* 27. LISTOWEL ARMS, AS MISSILES RAIN
(In the first days after the start of Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf)
5 pints down and furry tongued,
after hours of acrid smoke
and empty talk (all futile,
I sway along the sleepy corridor.
In the way of Kerry poetry
the silent bedroom doors
are numbered 9 to 21(4),
with none between-
reminder of lost youth,
In 21 I turn the key,
the key of my majority,
enter a spotless room, enter solitude.
Alone as I survey my universe,
like God, I shed my tears and groan.
The flushed loo chuckles
at me sitting on the edge
of my double bed, a bed
empty of warmth, of love.
I think to myself aloud
the question of sages and fools:
why am I here?
Why must the beast in me destroy
Baghdad, Tel Aviv, Riyadh?
I hear the eerie sirens wail,
see hi-tech missiles and Patriots
cruise through the skies,
see napalm flare, fuel-air bombs
sear the earth below,
see myself, my women and children
grab towels, gasmasks,
run terrified in rags or finery
to makeshift shelters,
then gaping holes in concrete,
twisted metal, charred flesh.
I see my splendid cities, my hovel homes,
schools, mosques, churches, hospitals,
vaporised on Sky TV,
like the 4th of July the commentator says.
Damn this rocking, rotten tooth
and damn all selfish politics.
I will sleep and dream another dream,
a dream of harmony.
(4) On the first floor of the Listowel Arms Hotel, bedroom number 21 is next to number 9.
The phone wakes the winter sun,
low on its horizon.
Up and at it son,
show the misbegotten
that you stand alone
on feet of straw, maybe
but on your own two shaky feet.
Forget that over restless seas,
smug voiced prophets in the Pentagon
proclaim the dawn of the New Order.
Forget that hooked Israeli fingers
itch over red buttons.
Forget the Transit van in Downing Street
and its crude Provo mortars
which savage Ireland's name
but, most of all, forget
that Famine yawns awake again in Africa,
that weeping conscripts in their trenches
are overfed compared to laughing tribes
in lands where no rain drenches.
I shrug and sigh,
then set the order of the day's priorities:
first bacon, egg and sausage, toast,
a pot of Barry's golden tea;
then light my pipe, inhale
down to my toes the musk
of the chatty young waitress
and her proud twin-Brandon peaks;
then pay the B&B, ease into the van,
zero the trip-meter,
head for home banking 60 pence a mile
head for home banking 60 pence a mile,
knowing that I smile a death-mask smile.
Feb 8 1991
* 28. SONG FROM THE DUSTBIN OF THE SOUL
a. THE HURLERS PUB, CASTLETROY, LIMERICK (June 1997)
As I was born, I will stagger
out of here, as I came in, alone.
Like one weighted to the sand,
under several feet of sea
all around me, outside me,
I hear the muffled hissing sounds
of gossip, slander, pubtalk.
The sounds try to connect
to each other and to me, but fail.
And dismally, I down
another pint of black,
apt for my mood.
the cry of gulls,
the cry of men and women searching,
seems far away, unreachable.
I'm not afraid of dying, but of living
b. TO MY BEST FRIENDS (March 1998-July 1998)
"When the fires of life and
dream die down,
they leave but blowing ash and sparks of memory".
Tonight, I'm down
tomorrow Alka Seltzer'll do the trick
and email from afar
will point me to another star.
And, as I groan, the Warrior Soul
that wanders day and night
the ancient sacred grounds
of Carrowkeel and Carrowmore
calls out to comfort me.
I hear Him clearly,
see a bearded giant,
clothed in deerskins,
his long spear resting by his side.
Aongus calls again to me:
"Brother of my soul,
the things that last,
that have no boundaries in time or space
are but simple things -
wind in the trees, trembling leaves,
mountainous waves that spend themselves
on shelly shores,
change and changelessness".
"Within that dreaded change,
lie dreams and nightmares,
the love of friends,
the love of genes,
and what one must do
to keep that love alive".
"That is the task, the aim -
not money, power, egotrips,
They all must pass,
like flotsam in the winter flood,
under the granite bridge of time".
Hang in there when you're down;
I love you all
and love's a dream we all can share
in peace, contentment, no despair,
knowing it too passes
and we're only living ashes.
c. WEBS OF BELIEF AND REALITY (May 1998)
Is love of people deep through
Yes, but also deep through want,
not want but need.
I need to connect to the web
the web of true experience,
the web of past and future,
the web of human dreams.
Forlorn dream-catcher, my lot in life,
I know that dreams may disappoint,
may die in bleak despair
of what is, and, worse, what waits
beyond the bend of mammon.
Today's reality is too oft virtual-
it touts great dreams
and kills them ruthlessly.
d. A SONG FOR ANDY'S CANNY SMILE (June 1998)
Staring at the wall
behind my parents' empty bed,
I sit alone when all the others are asleep
and I see Andy, my father's brother,
in deed and nature my second father,
grinning at me, sagely saying:
"Give them rope, long rope,
to roam the reaches of their minds and needs
and they'll return to the loving core
which nurtured them".
As sure as the dawn must break,
we want to feel the wonted continuity
but that is gone today,
never to return in our life's experience.
Now, we must release the past
and let the present grow
until the strength of roots
the need for budding shoots
recalls the fertile soil of home.
But roots have little place at
They must thrive in shallow stony soil
before uprooting time and time again
to another pseudoparadise.
Alas, I say,
efficiency prevails today,
as the rampant Euro Devil howls:
"Let the strongest and the fittest win
and let the losers sink from sight
beneath the scum which glides
on the clotted riversides
of economic promises
that few can realise.
Forget the screams of those who
the eddies of the Euro thoughtstream
to the shores of its promised land.
And, just in case, we have the means,
the armies of thought-police,
to quell the rioting of those
whose dream is a place of equals,
whether gained from work, or thinking,
or simply fiddling the seller's cut".
But my father, and my second
shout "NO!" to the Devil's curse,
and the spoilers of good dreams.
And to their ghosts,
and the ghosts of all their fathers back in time,
and to the Guardians of the Mounds,
I dedicate this rage
and sing it from the dustbin of the soul.
* 29. UNFINISHED
I'll be shrimping great pools in
which city money can not buy,
nor right-wing laws prevent
the right of access. I'll be arguing
with Sitting Bull and Hahnemann,