Thursday, 4 January 2018

In my mother's house

In dirt of blue-grey modelling clay
Where Sapien is Homo and happy is gay
That’s where the sergeant’s son tottered to walk
With mother of headline, ruler and chalk.
Overarching boughs of green, cloisters of the lane,
Divided sparse fields, every mearing a drain.
With fences of thorn, of black and of haw,
And ruts in those lanes that sun never saw.
That’s where I would leave, come back to settle,
At one with the lakelander, heron and nettle.
Rutted lanes and lost lanes, blending in stride,
On penance-path to school, drinking pool beside.
Monica and Rosaline, conspired to spoil,
Margaret was the silent one,
Sometimes when he wasn’t awake
I played with father’s hidden gun.
Mother aped her own face in all,
To look at; there was only the brighter side,
For schools inspectors, richer neighbours,
And gaping gaps built by divide.

My father was hardly a father at all
I still don’t know what a father was,
His answer to why things were as they were
The always same; because, because.
We were holy in a pious way
Hymns and psalms were always sung,
And chanted like the Hairy Christians
When Angelus bell stuck out her tongue.
All our prayers were mechanical
Like the singing of ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’
Before the throw-in at Bishops Park
The players mouthing like goldfish green.
She taught me numbers one by one
An abacus made from her beads,
She said ‘the world survives on mouthfuls
And mouthfuls come from seeds’. 

In the lane I counted her fingers,
I counted from thumb to ten,
A finger for every year of my life,
Never counted her fingers again

(Dedicated to John McGahern, the greatest wordsmith of them all!)


Brendan the Navvy

Dante of Florence mined for inspiration
Was content to trawl in another nation
For his plot and players in his Comedy Divine,
A legend now; a man then, Brendan the Navvy
Preaching and teaching, building, no compass
No trowel, no level or vertical line.
Christian parents, Finnlugh and Cara,
Cousins of valour; Niall of the Nine,
From Tralee of the Kingdom, bound for another,
With sandals and staff he travelled the land,
Called fourteen companions of heart and of hand
Surveyed the Atlantic with Erc, druid brother.
In 551 he mounted the waves riding a scallop-shell boat,
An Arc by design on damp willow bough
Lashed to the weatherproof skin of a goat.
The signal of sun, the power of the moon,
Newfoundland first, Bahamas and further,
A miracle kept the Curragh afloat.

They brave, refereed a rare confrontation
A fight to the death between pussy and shark
While Florida beckoned on Western shore,
Festivus decreed Mississippi too wide
Land of Promise; mirage of the haughty and vain,
High time and tide for Aran once more.
Eight leagues to the west of sultry Gomera
Brendan found his island on Tuesday I’m told
On Tuesday at fifteen or twenty past ten,
He found a lost island, he lost a found island,
I wonder if that land is low land or highland,
By noontime on Wednesday he lost it again.

(dedicated to Brendan the Navigator, who drew the maps for Christopher Columbus.)


Monday, 30 October 2017



Solid is the dream of a shadow
Sometimes we hunger for an unimportant word
Earth is the bottom rung of paradise
Hopes are as sermons never heard.
Life is a limbo where nothing is defined
Cuckoos and priests; free homes, no wives,
The simple deed of a simple man
Can cause convulsions in other lives.
In a race of lifelong borrowers
Jews are needed and know where to go,
Can you stop the hurl of an avalanche
By grabbing a handful of snow?
A vicious circle of unsatisfied longings
The lariat binding struggling desire,
Islands bound in oceans blanket,
A spark resentful of father fire.
Eternal life the always dream
Of those who never posted a will,
Hardy summed it up with his words,
‘That sportsman time but rears his brood to kill’.
All things seek what they can never have
Blood flows both ways, in and out of heart,
All striving is futile in ever shifting time,
Life and death; ever just one breath apart.



Sunday, 8 October 2017

Dust to Dust

Into the arms of her neighbours
The great mother oak fell in Newcastle Wood,
Six weeks they waked the stricken one,
She clung to her roots as long as she could.
The red squirrel squinted and sipped from the brook,
Higher destinies; his to overlook.
Her red ripened body of fungus and sweat
Dismissed civilization not even skin deep,
Her dowry a mixture of hope and regret
Dark dirt and bark stile; only willows may weep,
The haggard bony bosom her stolid remains
Her cousins filling gaps in country lanes.
Circumstance took me aside to view the fatal fall
And marvel at the mystery of her revolving face,
The scent was as old turf across Roscommon wall,
Nature has no mercy; neither honour nor disgrace.
Surrounding sounds were curious, muted as the strain
Of a curates galloping whisper of his Office in the rain.
Her secrets are all vanished now, never to return,
The wills and wonts of what will be called by a dying moon
Never meant for sawmill but in suns bright grate to burn,
And become again that acorn, dancing to seasons’ tune.
Life often changes her dress but her body is still the same
Better to topple in splendour than shrivel up in shame.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Passing Through

I slithered into this blind world in March,
They gave me a name on Paddy’s Day,
My mother always liked me dearly,
My old man; I couldn’t say.
Like a Dalmatian, all spots and bounce
Or a vulture with an old man’s neck
They displayed me to the visitors,
At the christening he gave the priest a cheque.
The priest was replaced by another collar
After I started National School,
He needed the sins of altar boys
To cause the grind and grin and drool.
I finished school as I started,
Promise was my middle name,
We were lower middle, no class at all,
Get work! Find a job! That was the game.
The Civil Service was my lot,
All you had to do was lick-arse and mime,
‘A permanent, pensionable, respectable job’
Mother said; what a waste of time.
Got the car, bought a house, a clatter of bairns,
Drank porter, told lies, survived at a push,
Mixed up the cousins; fact and fiction,
Slowed down in a fearful rush.
A Grandad now, maybe not so grand,
Pillar of society; never the ambition,
Or role-model to another generation,
Go my own way, my path to perdition.
To play out my role in peace or in pieces,
Is there ever an option, a choice?
I was never inclined to join in the chorus
Tone-deaf, but still my own voice.
Now is simply a bagful of memories,
Distorted by pale moon and gullible sun,
This world is long on shortcomings,
I have been and remain merely one.