Saturday, October 31, 2009

367. The Last Sultan

There are noises without, yet I fear them not
they are as nothing to the voices within.
I have grown old and ill, all in a single season
facing the disposition of the Empire.

My sons are fools, my wives little better
engaging in shoddy political manoeuvres
as if I were deaf and blind. I expected
as much, could have pretended not to mind

had they not been so greedy and thoughtless
so shallow and unkind. I find I resent the way
they considered me deaf and almost blind
as I fear they will soon discover, when they pay

with their lives. X and Y and Z must die
their extended families to be sent into exile;
four of the more strident concubines
will be silently, expertly, painlessly strangled

dispatched, after time for prayer, with silken cords
in the traditional manner, as befits their station.
God, I think, will not be listening : solemnly
we shall uphold the standards of the nation.

Many of the servants must be executed
by simpler means, and the rest thrown into prison:
let a frisson of fear run through the land.

This is all to the good. We do so little for the people
as it is, they enjoy a bloodletting of their betters;
it seems to loosen the clamp of the iron fetters
that bind them in taxation, sends their sons to war.

I learned this from Grandfather, whose great-Grandfather
conquered this kingdom from the back of a horse.
Kingdoms are not ruled from the back of a horse
he said, you need to bring in Christians and Jews,

educated people: doctors, scholars and artisans.
You need to keep a stern rein on your own people,
the bluff warriors and dangerous partisans. As a child
I listened: power is what the old man taught me.

Bluff warriors and dangerous partisans: I chuckle
mirthlessly. Grandfather, you have only to see
your gaggle of descendants, those coming after me

to agree, readily, to my stringent course.
They must die or else be sent away: I shall only spare
young boys who can ride a horse.

366. brief encounter

The silkily enchanting Rosie Pollito sidled, no she
sashayed into my life at 7.28 pm on a rainy Wednesday
when she slid into the seat beside me at Ben's Diner
with a brave little smile and a shake of her blonde curls.
I gagged on my Salisbury steak, fries on the side,
and tried not to look too Italian. Buona sera.
I mean, of course, such a wonderful evening.
She eyed the rain pounding against the windows
but said nothing, extracting a cigarette from her purse.
Sir, could you give me a light, she said.
Sir! Madonna! This vision of loveliness shows me respect!
I fumble desperately for a lighter then call out for matches
smiling graciously all the while, yet remembering
Dio Mio! to hide the snaggled tooth on the left side,
a hideous thing, I know, something must be done.
Do you mind terribly if I smoke? I don't mind if you burn
I thought wildly, as long as you can burn for me.
I am lonely, I am lonely. Women don't usually talk to me.
You're kinda cute, she said, words I will always treasure.
Say, would you offer a girl a cup of coffee? Offer, offer?
I would go out and grow the beans under a scorching sun,
harvest them lovingly, grind them between my fingers,
choose the purest spring waters and bring matters to a boil!
There is sadness in her eyes, a sadness I can cause to pass,
a sidelong glance: rounded and springy her quite ample ass.
Say, what's the matter with your mouth? Is nothing, is nothing!
Thanks for the coffee, Sir, 'fraid I gotta go. Working girl!
Working girl? What is working girl? I rise and kiss her hand.
She is tall, taller than me, she smiles, she kisses me on the cheek.
Me! She kisses! On the cheek, my cheek, she, this woman kisses me!
With a wave she disappears into the Chicago night. It was 7.49.
It was the seventh of September, 1963. I am an old man now
but never will I forget those moments. They warm my frozen heart.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

365. yours, seriously (correspondence)

I respect Steve a great deal and I think he's done wonders for this list. He's put up with a lot of criticism (not to say outrage) for his occasionally sharp and unwelcome comments on some of the poems that come before us ... including many of mine, I'd have to say ... largely because he doesn't want to see this forum stagnate into a group of "luvvies" who gush and salivate over one another's crap poems, which is pretty much what happens on many other lists: take a tour, starting with a Google on "poetry forums". On top of that he writes his own poems and leaves himself open to our criticism in return.

For that last reason alone I have tended to hesitate.

Steve is no blushing violet, no careful droning Sergeant Plod. He takes chances, sometimes outrageous risks: sometimes his poems take off against all the odds, and sometimes, sorry to say, they crash and burn. That's our boy, wouldn't have him any other way.

This last poem is a case in point. What we have here is smoke and mirrors, illusion parading as meaning: when you try to take this poem apart into its separate segments and overall meaning there is nothing nothing really there ... it's a circus trick, a sleight of hand, an entertainment, an exercise in pushing the sexual envelope.

Before you get indignant and reconsider your "lit-crit" comments (I could do the same, mind you, having contributed above, but it was the trapeze artist skills I really admired) you might want to think about how you got banged over the head from the beginning, the idea of some guy crawling into the slit of his own prick ... and once you get over the knee-squeezing, mind-boggling toe-cringing image of this possibility ... well, he's got you where he wants you, hasn't he? It's like Gregor Samsa waking up one morning to discover he's become a giant cockroach (Franz Kafka, "The Metamorphosis", for all you poorly educated Oxbridge people) ... but once you accept that opening premise you're a sucker for all that follows.

This is where Steve bamboozled us all. Girls (women, ladies, amazons) were shunted up to a symbolic level in their prompt and eager responses ... and boy, did they ever respond! Since it was so distasteful in the extreme, perhaps almost impossible, to address the sheer sexual vulgarity of the premise they were literally forced to demonstrate their broad-mindedness (I love these little puns) and how so much above all that gender-bender stuff they were by putting up a brave debate-club silly show ... ostensibly highly serious. It's not always easy to keep a straight face as you read your way through the comments.

And all it took was a single person (male/female - who cares?) to stand up and say this is total nonsense, a scabrous and repellent scam, borderline filth, not at all the stuff I want to read. Not at all the stuff I want to read, mind you, never quite the same thing as burning books and banning ideas and stringing up luckless authors ... Steve was never in any danger there. Exit the 'courage' factor.

So he got away with it. And now people keep writing in about what a marvellous wonderful poem it is. I'm sitting here, an occasional poet, bemused, looking at all these comments and I'm thinking ... the King has no clothes.

I like Steve, but that's not the point. This is not Steve himself, it's a poem he happened to write. It might be called clever and challenging, it could be called stylised and anguished ... it could also be called manipulative crap.


Brendan, stop being so bloody apologetic and just get to the criticisms! I love you too, but this ain't a group hug here. If you want to tear my poem to shreds then just go for it! I'm touched that you want to add all these disclaimers, but you just don't need to. I'll quite happily accept your worst condemnations with no acrimony whatsoever. Is this smoke and mirrors? It started off with me thinking up this image (god knows why really) of someone tunnelling into himself and it ending in some ludicrous thing where he was impossibly stuck in his dick with his legs up in the air. Then it developed as I thought about what the hell that was supposed to be about. This all happened on the M6 motorway. I figured it was a reasonable image of poetry. But then I remembered it doesn't have to be about anything anyway, and I hate the idea that poetry has to be about stuff, that it has to be some sort of codified sermon. So this became just a display to which things could be attached. Like with any other poem the primary meaning comes from the reader. Personally, I think most of poetry is egotistical nonsense, so I like to take the piss out of it to some extent. But I can't help myself being sincere too, just because I am actually a sincere sort of idiot.

Great crit. I confess to having larfed my socks off.



I was trying to be like ... you know, even-handed? Separating the bloke, the individual, from the shite he happens to drop behind him. Strange how few folk understand that nice distinction. You may call that a disclaimer, we call it care and precision, a means of avoiding clashes and feuds that may carry on for three centuries. They don't go on much longer than that, generally speaking. Families and clans, all that stuff. Anyway, you're only a Brit, and here's me treating you like a real human being ...



Oi, not just a Brit, pal, a Scouser whose family comes from County Clare. I'm sure you real Irish gits look down on us sad emigrant descendants. Be a bit of a larf, though, from Japan! Liverpool is slightly closer. Anyway, away with all these abominations of race and culture! I don't give a toss if you're from the highlands of Papua New Guinea. I'll still give you equal status.



The sting is in, eh? 94% of us couldn't give a flying fuck ... it's only the other 6% you'd want to avoid. Percentages higher in dear old Blighty, I surmise, especially if you're one of our dark-skinned brothers. The Old Family thing hangs on in Ireland just as it does in the UK but it runs on different rails. Show me any European country without a fierce and exclusive aristocracy, even now. The middle class, as we all know, walks on water. We were brought up to hate the English as kids (fairly reasonable arguments for doing so, mind you) but most of us failed our final exams. In a post-colonial country ancient quarrels take on morbid importance; in a free country they do not. The whole purpose of being post-colonial is to be free and the old (post-colly) fuckers are rapidly dropping off the perch leaving behind a young generation who have known nothing else but being Irish in Ireland and in some cases don't even know where England is and want to know if you speak the same language. Laughable? Nes and Yo. Living in Japan has made me more ferociously Irish than I would have been normally, a simple fact, brought home when I meet my nest of Dublin cousins as I did this summer (attending the funeral of one of them: but never mind, I still have 15 more) since I have to spend half my time in Japan explaining where I'm from and denying any connection with America. Which is not altogether true, I admit (other cousins: the bloody FAMINE!!!) but then there's hardly any point in denying ties with the UK if the locals don't even care where that is. Well, they do know now: the UK is next to Ireland.

Liverpool is Irish and Welsh with little areas set aside for the English, and it's because of the fuckin London parliament that the city is so poor. We all know that.

County Clare me republican arse ... sure, ye've never been there in yer life, sonny! Sorry, mate, and you were ... all of four years old at the time? Nemmind, I know Clare like the back of me hand, wasn't my father and his father and his grandfather before him from the Banner County? Haven't I cousins coming out the yin yang from Ennistymon to Lisdoonvarna, from Ennis Town to Killaloe, from Quin Abbey to the Burren, from Lahinch to Miltown Malbay, from the Queen's Hotel to Dirty Brigid's? And wasn't I baptised at the Cliffs of Moher? (Throw the lad in and see if he'll swim -- Sure, it's 300 yards fuckin down! -- Ah, that'll be the breaststroke) and wasn't I circumcised at Spanish Point? (Do 'oo speak Spanish, Sean? -- Faith, and I do not! -- Ah, sure they're all feckin dead, anyway). You'd like Clare. I was there this summer, even wrote a pome about it ....

This rigamarole about the Irish/English could go on for years, decades and centuries. At some stage you have to say, to hell with it, I've had enough of this niggly shite! I'll always see things from an Irish point-of-view and why not? I may be living and working in Japan as you thoughtfully reminded me but my family has been hanging about in Ireland for the last two and a half thousand years, give or take, so who do you think I identify with? I could live in Japan for a hundred years and never be accepted as Japanese. That's OK with me. It never crossed my mind to "become" Japanese the way some people become Australians, Canadians or Americans because a.) what for? who'd want to change from being Irish? and b) the option ain't open. So I'm an Embassy of One. The frightening thing is that there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of others like me. As the Jolly Old British Empire collapses and folds in upon itself and everyone grumbles and mutters about waves of dusky immigrants (well, what did you expect?) and the expanding empire of the USA thrusts itself into nearly every known corner of the world like moles in a garden, or in a military sense like armed cockroaches, the cultural empire of the Celts (with Ireland at the vanguard, pushing things along) has been slowly inching around the globe in an atmosphere of peace and harmony and cracking good music. Laugh at this nonsensical exaggeration, as I would have done, too, maybe 10 years ago, but never mind the Irish pubs in all the well-known cities of Europe, they are now sprouting up like mushrooms after the rain in nearly every known city of the USA and throughout Asia and Africa, and in nearly every city around the world; and wherever there is an Irish pub (it's the real thing I'm talking about, not the pallid decorative copies thought up by the market analysts of fading English breweries) there is a kernel of Celtic culture, spreading out among the laughing crowds hoisting dark frothy pints of Guinness ... and Kilkenny ... and McCafferty's. The Celts have arisen again after 2000 years. We never went away.

Yes, well I hope that makes you sick as a parrot. It ought to. This is what you lot should be doing, getting out and about as in your imperial days of yore, not groaning and moaning and feeling sorry for yourselves, falling asleep at Glyndbourne and at the cricket, paying pallid lip service to an aging queen, washing your cars on Sundays, sippping half pints of suspect beer, and getting into heated arguments about property prices and the quickest route from A to B on your peculiar tangle of roads. En-ger-land!

Am I being too harsh? More than likely. The blows between us (as nations) have been taken and given now for centuries. It was very bad and sad from the 17th century onward ... worse than most English know today ... but that was then. We have to move ahead now like a divorced but reconciled couple, where the husband no longer beats his wife. We are a separate nation now like Holland or Denmark but we still share many memories. In some ways it is probably better to forget the bitter past.

That said, I take sheer delight in being Irish! I could never imagine being anything else.
But if I had to ... hmmmm?

New Zealand
Bavaria (Germany, but not quite!)

About it. Could never live in the UK. Ancestors would jump out of their graves and beat me to death with their shrouds.

Slan anois,


Girls (women, ladies, amazons) were shunted up to a symbolic level in their prompt and eager responses ... and boy, did they ever respond! Since it was so distasteful in the extreme, perhaps almost impossible, to address the sheer sexual vulgarity of the premise they were literally forced to demonstrate their broad-mindedness (I love these little puns) and how so much above all that gender-bender stuff they were by putting up a brave debate-club silly show ... ostensibly highly serious. It's not always easy to keep a straight face as you read your way through the comments.

What a silly bunch of 'girls' we are - glad to have amused you though. Back to the willy-waving eh



What a silly bunch of 'girls' we are - glad to have amused you though. Back to the willy-waving eh

Doesn't seem to stop trains or send away boats: need some kind of a light, a large red bulb?

Knew this was going to happen ...
Tell me, how's the knitting going??


Girls (women, ladies, amazons) were shunted up to a symbolic level in their prompt and eager responses ... and boy, did they ever respond! Since it was so distasteful in the extreme, perhaps almost impossible, to address the sheer sexual vulgarity of the premise they were literally forced to demonstrate their broad-mindedness (I love these little puns) and how so much above all that gender-bender stuff they were by putting up a brave debate-club silly show ... ostensibly highly serious. It's not always easy to keep a straight face as you read your way through the comments.

Who rattled your cage? I suggest perhaps you concentrate on your own critiques Bren, that way, maybe just maybe, we will be 'privileged' with your'highly serious wisdom' - I promise it will be easy to keep a straight face reading through yours!

Get a grip mate - You're no daisy! You're no daisy at all. Poor soul, you were just too high strung. ...

Peace out, lerv 'n hugs



Well my knitting is coming on quite well although all the willy-warmers I make come out far too big -- Adela/Randy



Can I put in my tassle order with you? I've twirled mine to death and they are missing several fringes. I like to dance for the boys.


All you need is a bit of blather to get things going. Happy, as always, to supply. I was pushing my luck all along (no!) and went over the top with the knitting. Might as well, why not? Guys are not exactly dinosaurs. We're just blissfully indifferent to social sensitivity. Try it. It's so relaxing. Without the corrective influence of the ladies, of course, society as we know it would totally fall apart and we'd all be living in caves and gnawing on bones and rather enjoying ourselves in a grunting farting sort of way, a bit like the Army.


Well if you send me your measurements I'll give it a whirl


Ah ladies, our aim is to amuse and entertain ... as I was saying to the chap in the next urinal when he got to laughing so hard he ... what's this I hear about willy warmers? Winter's coming on.


And so on and so on ... oh, the original poem?

f*cking a ship in a bottle of world peace (content etc)

so he is just washing his dick
and gets to concentrating on that little hole
through which it looks out
and sprays the world
and he digs into it just to see
like what's down there
he keeps going
are there animals maybe
a shrieking jungle thing of genital interior
caverns of bloody white crystal
in he goes digging they find him later
head down stuck airtight in his own hole
feet quivering up in the air

Saturday, October 17, 2009

364. overseas

O Lucienne ...
if I had a pen
to thee, dear, I would render
intimations of a heart's surrender
in such a burning letter of love
that it would tear asunder
not only gods of thunder
but bring down cascading
a shower of honey sweets
from all the stars above.

O Lucienne ...
you remind me much of home
distressed am I that I must roam
so very sad I cannot spare
a moment here, a moment there
with you, sweet Lucienne!
Dear Lucienne, do you
think you might search out a pen
s'il tu plait; do you think
you might not think so much
of reason, even less of rhyme, reserve
for thinking less of our time?

Voila! N’est ce pas
la plume de ma tante
est sur la table.

Well, well, well ...
ma chere belle
hold up the discovered pen
in your pretty hand. Now
if you please. As if to tease
you respond, but I smile tightly
and send away the gawping maid.
Sprightly, now, you smile at me
sensing something
pensive, as if slightly afraid.
The clock ticks in the parlour
noisily: a bird, two birds,
outside in the sun-dappled garden
sing in the sick apple tree.

Alas, Lucienne
we now approach the end
of this our mutual fancy:
your high breasts and your sparkling eyes
could no more win me over
than my fierce bearing could for thee:
buried in hatred, a glancing intimacy
as noisily now comes Sergeant Clancy
his boots resounding by the door:
what chance there was exists no more.
Pick up that pen, Lucienne,
Vite, vite, vite, mam'selle, compris?
Sign over the deeds to the family farm
and by losing all, escape from harm.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

363. How to Be a Poet

For no good reason, tell people you are a poet,
look jaded and French, no need to speak the language,
wear pebble sunglasses, a wraparound scarf,
feign wordly pain, cultivate your facial twitches:

by God, that will attract the bitches … of both sexes!
Then learn to speak from your solar plexus
as you stab the air with a cigarette, swirling a glass of wine,
modulating your accents: RP, Essex, Cockney, Strine.

First things first, get the image right.
People are too dumb or indifferent to doubt you,
they'll become your claque; they'll tout you
long long before you begin to write.

But you'll have to write something.
Pick up a newspaper. Read it.

Oh, War, oh War …
I don't know what we're fighting for!
We sink into a bog!
I used to have an Afghan friend,
he was my neighbour's dog.

Good start, everyone likes a pet …
but you haven't really got going yet.
People is where it's at.
People want to hear about people,
famous people, and not
just any old homeless twat.
Also, they have this fascination,
this adoration of motor cars.

Even on faraway Mars
there arose a solemn klaxon
at the death of Michael Jackson!
Tears did fall, they fell,
Oh My God, it was such a terrible knell!
And they did drive around in their GUTs,
7-stroke, 11-cylinder, 6100 ccs,
not quite the same as our SUVs,
but who can say, Yea! Oh, who can tell,
what serious vexing thoughts did trouble them
about the Bee Em Dubyam
that bashed into the pillar, and did spill her
rich royal blood. None of us think it ever should
have hit that column and so we think it was solemn.
Anyway, I'm afraid she died. I cried. So did you.
We felt it awfully through and through,
and I hear that even the population of Guiana
wept bitter tears at the death of Princess Diana.

Well, that was the poem that made you famous,
a rival to that navvy Seamus!
It was so tender, so beautiful,
so … Candle in the Wind!
Elton went into Rehab after that one.

Keep coming up with these darts
that quiver in the people's hearts,
and just like that, that slithery rat,
Dylan, I hear he was a Milwaukee Jew,
(hardly one of us despite the fuss)
will turn his face, sink without trace,
God knows, he's nothing on you!

You shall have no archival rival
from Shakespeare to Lovelace or Milton,
and I will bet you a wheel of Stilton
followed up by a case of champagne,
that nothing, nothing will appear again
in this green and ever-pleasant land
quite so soothing, quite so bland.

There is nothing, nothing in the least to fear,
nada nada ... not as far as I can see.
But, tell me, who's this Morrissey?

Just to sidetrack obvious questions:

1. There are several factual mistakes in the text and I give you joy in finding them! The narrator, that twit, is responsible. Not me.
2. RP is "received pronunciation" the standard British 'class' accent enforced by Public (i.e private) Schools and once the only acceptable speech of BBC announcers.
3. Essex (or "Estuary") English is the fashionable slurry mix of RP with downmarket, primarily London, accents. It's supposedly very chic and endemic among models, hip journalists, rock musicians and tabloid celebrities.
4. Strine is Oss-Strine: kangaroo English.
5. Morrissey is Morrissey (formerly of The Smiths), who currently lives in LA.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

362. Leaving Flanders Fields

Trains seem to hum over rails these days
where in the past they used go clackety-clack;
you could compose a song to their rhythmic points
but they don't do that any more:
a lot of things don't happen any more.

At my back lie the fields of Flanders,
with their bone-white graves, row upon row,
and among them blood-red poppies blow,
reminding us of what? Of puffed-up old men,
of young lives thrown away?

Easy to say, so easy to contend,
yet truly hard to understand:
in the beginning there were thoughts of an end,
but in the end no memories of a beginning;
the fields, like then, soak up the falling rain

as I gaze upon them from this moving train.
My English newspaper, rather rare and expensive,
has slipped unread against my knee,
I gaze out through the rain-lashed windows
at Artois, at the sodden fields of Picardy:

Old Europe. They say we have now awoken,
but do we awake to the same old song? I hear
the same old siren voices, the notes of greed and fear,
that sent out the trusting provincial Pals, the lads,
to get knackered and shot and blown to shit.

No. Not again. That can't be it.

Click HERE for Slideshow (Upper left corner when the Album opens; set for 5-6 seconds)

361. West Clare

Warmth travelled as much from the looks
as it did from the glow of the low-banked fire
that a good country house requires in August
when you chance to live in the West of Ireland.

My cousins were as pleased with me as I with them
as we smiled and sipped strong amber whiskey,
but then the stories and jokes of the day gave way
to more sombre thoughts, the bringing back of the dead,

To the memory of not-forgotten figures who lay
no more than a mile away along the outer lane
under rustling grasses, an immemorial counterpane
to the cold unmoving clay, heavy, dark and final.

That’s what happens to you in Ireland, even without
the whiskey; even, I think, without companionable cousins.
The dead forever come back, yet they won’t say anything.
I arose, smiling, said that I needed a breath of air,

That I’d take the two dogs for a gallop, be back in no time.
Polite protests and smiles, but no real sense of care
as I went down to the hallway, found a pair of heavy boots
and reached for the stick that stood by the door.

Yerrup! says I to the dogs, tails frantic with excitement,
getting a shot of freedom at this time of the night!
G’wan the pair of you! And they shot off down the road.
I stepped out the door and the cold hit me like bullets,

Sudden as the real things, like those that hit great-uncle Jim
over there beyond in Poor Little Belgium, the useless mud
they were fighting and dying for; when they reckoned they might,
in the end, have been fighting for Poor Little Ireland instead.

No matter, there they were, their lives drained out and dead,
including the ones who came home to cold suspicious welcomes
ninety years ago. Can we ever make it up to them? I don’t think so.
Jim’s part of a foreign field that is forever fucking England.

Sheen of rain on the road; night black as the hairs on a witches arse,
I can hear the wind howling, keening through the bushes on either side,
and black indeed are their blackberries for I confess I cannot see them,
even in the ferocious fiery glory of the cold far distant stars.

Before me the beckoning graveyard … the dead that gave me life.
Behind me a warm and well-lit house and my laughing, living cousins.
I whistle and call to the disappointed dogs: Wheeesh!! C’mon, c’mon!
C’mere to me, lads! Heel to me!
Come on, we’re heading home.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

360. Travels

I’ve just returned to Japan after a month-long visit to Ireland and various spots I like in Europe. It was something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and it came off reasonably well. I enjoyed it. I didn’t lose my passport or travellers checks, I didn’t get ripped off, at least not too outrageously, and I came back intact and all in one piece … physically.

Now I’m waiting to discover and assess the inner meaning of this trip as the images and memories begin to settle. The quotidian details of travel are of scant interest to the casual reader unless he or she plans to follow in one’s footsteps, a thing I would hardly ever recommend: what time the train left and what time it arrived; what one had for lunch and how much it cost; the cleanliness or shabbiness of hotel rooms and the attitudes of the staff; the friendliness, indifference (most common), or hostility of the locals. All of these things take on enormous importance in the course of a journey for the person who directly experiences them and because of the emotional wear and tear (inevitable, really) there is a tremendous urge to write about them. I’ve been down that road and I think this kind of stuff is basically boring. If you travel you should expect hassles. Even if you don’t expect them they will come along anyway.

I like to travel alone for a very simple reason: I don’t have to listen to anyone else’s opinions. There is no need for accommodation of any kind, nor for compromise, you just do what you like and can change your mind at the drop of a hat. In my experience this is the only way to go. If you travel with a friend or lover you are carrying a whole universe of shared assumptions on your back and this shared experience and even language acts as a filter on every new thing you see. Some people like the idea of support and companionship but on the whole I’d rather go without. We’re told ad infinitum that it’s so really really important to express our feelings, to discuss and explain things. Why? Just go off and do what you like.

The locals often don’t co-operate in these fine fantasies. They happen to reside in the places you are merely passing through and they couldn’t give a toss about you, living or dead, although I’d have to say that young people in their twenties with a bit of English do try to be helpful in a student-solidarity sort of way, possibly since they are still blissfully unaware of how awful their lives will shortly become. The older ones tend to look at you like so many tortoises.

This is where I have to tell you the story of Brigitte. The banks in France just don’t want to cash travellers checks for some reason. I tried, how I tried, in Amiens for about an hour before I had to scurry off to the station to catch the local train to Albert … which turned out to be a bus, but that’s another story. They’d all told me go to the Post Office. The Post Office? So when I got to Albert (pop: 10,000 on a good day) I skipped along to the post office where I met Brigitte. Brigitte was … um … a large sort of person, obviously local (everyone said Bonjour, Brigitte) and she tended to squint and scowl at you from behind her pebble glasses. She never once smiled. I told her I wanted to change two travellers checks (200 Euro) and she glared at me before heaving herself off her chair for consultations in a back room. She came back to tell me Non, non, pas possible! until I summoned up my fifty words of French (rearranged carefully by occasion) to explain how the banks were so fucking cold, nasty and heartless … pas de coeuer, Madame, j’en suis pas un client, vous connais, il n’avons pas plus de coeuer, zut, fini! … and so she heaved herself back in her seat and glared at me some more, then consulted various books and manuals as people began to queue up behind me, not impatient as they might have been in England, just mildly curious. It took about twenty minutes and then she gave me the cash! I felt like kissing her but realised this might be shockingly misunderstood. I had to volunteer to countersign the checks since Brigitte obviously had no inkling of this standard financial formality but I was suitably subtle and discreet so no shame might come down on her from the interested onlookers. I smiled my widest smile and she glared at me like an insect on her shoe.

Heaven Bless you, Brigitte, may God shine His light upon you, now and forever, amen!!

As I was saying, (Merci millefois, Brigitte!) petty annoyances, mistakes and miscalculations form a fairly constant (in fact, daily) theme for the budget traveller in settings where he or sometimes she is alone, a stranger, and quite frequently incompetent with the local language. The idea that people in small towns in France or Germany or anywhere else could or should speak English is frankly laughable. Could you even begin to imagine a French tourist showing up at a motel in, say, Flagstaff, Arizona and saying in a loud voice Parlez-vous francais? Outside of Paris you kind of hopefully say Parlez-vous anglais? And they say Non and you take it from there.

more to come ... this article is taking longer than I expected to complete for various reasons, so click HERE for the link to the photos (when the album opens go to the upper left corner and click on the Slideshow button).

Saturday, June 27, 2009

359. The Wreathed Horn

Summon the bells of the morning!
Let them break out, clanging,
across the wetlands and the sullen fields
so that every sentient soul can hear them,
every undeaf spark of life;
and let our people decide, unruly in their beds,
whether they shall answer the call
or read the Sun and Daily Telegraph.

The rain doesn't help,
spitting down on missing absent hedgerows
where useful insects used to live,
doing their little bit for England:
now only the cold rain falls
on a patchwork of green denuded fields,
with a faint rising whiff of chemicals.

Cars whizz by on the M4, the M25,
carrying computer salesmen, fat children,
Social Services ladies in tweed skirts,
and occasionally Prince Charles on his busy way
to prevent some form of architecture.
Slow myopic moles, hasty but unlucky hares,
leave their shattered trusting carcases
on the rainslick roads: hardly any squashed cats,
since these one finds mainly in towns. Now and then,
with a bit more fuss, there are human children.

Such desirable little houses, here and there,
bordered by acacias, gnomes, and mortgages,
as Mr. Next-Door polishes his Bentley in the drive
with a satisfied smirk at your 4-year-old Ford.
Meals have become varied and adventurous
thanks to Sainsburys, Tesco, and the microwave,
but no pigeons come home to roost in the roofs
as the fathers and grandfathers slowly fade away
in their old terraced houses: they are sent off
with economical pomp and ceremony, dead-ending
at cream-white crematoria. Many of these oldies
have a surprising collection of wartime medals.

A different world. A moment to shake your head
before the bloody mobile rings again. Shit.
Here we go back to the real world, a society
we have created and made our own. I can peel
from a roll of fifties, no problem, keep the change,
but you know none of this really means a thing,
you just know you're not really in the game
until you get that call for Breakfast TV.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

358. Inter faeces et urinem nascimur*

How long has it been
dear honey sweetheart
since you had a lovely relaxing
movement, with no straining effort?
O bless you, my dear, was it
healthy, satisfactory?

O my darling ... aha ... ahem!

Celia, said cranky old Jonathan,
Celia shits, by God!! Cringing,
he withdrew: it was still the 18th century.

I am, she is, so we all must have
some thoughtful visits to the loo, perhaps
not a thing to share with friends and lovers,
but a necessary thing to do.

It's nothing. Pooh!
Non, non, paff! de rien!

Just a corollary, a match-me,
to the pleasures of the bed:
entre des Anges et des animaux.

Piss off, pal, or baise mon cul.
She loved you but she never liked you,
saw right through you
and left you, s'il vous plait,
along with the money.

Intimate arrangements
play havoc with the rules
and always have done.

Suzie Q

View Harroooo!!
Gentlemen on horseback. Sly foxes
take mordant pleasure in the hunt
from the ditches of Connemara
to the Allegheny woodlands.

Shaved and eau-de-cologned
I totter past the public toilets
rippling reggae riffs on my drumlike tummy
straining a paisley waistcoat.

If I had a cane I'd flaunt it. Must get one.
This umbrella's no good.

It's nice to have clinking cash in your pockets,
to have folding fivers next to your breast;
it's nice to be out on a bright May morning
watching sweet young girls walking through the park.


* Saint Augustine, party boy turned party pooper: "we are born between faeces and urine". Maybe he should work harder at being dead, settling down, being quiet.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

357. Briggsy (rewrite)

Hold hard on the plain, Dan Tremayne,
and don’t you worry. We’ll bring
the roaring guns up here in an instant,
the Royal galloping Horse Artillery.
Stay with me, old man, don’t drift away,
these bloody Boers can’t kill you!

Well, they did, and he died,
and that was no smile upon his lips
but a rictus of sheer agony, a gut shot.
So I went and married his widow
when they sent me back to London Town
and we lived in Ealing Broadway.

She was a blonde and sweet young pullet
quite fond of her port and lemon,
and we’d sit in the back of the Star and Garter
when they'd made me up to Sergeant.
I’d stayed on in the Army, it was a steady billet,
there was no real fear of being sent to India.

We rattled along easily enough
without any trouble from little kiddies,
I’d only need to put her over my knee
once or twice with the end of my belt
and dish out a few whacks, not vicious, like,
just to remind her what was what.

War seemed to be coming on in Ireland
but that was a local thing; the regiment,
in London barracks, would hardly be needed,
so we thought nothing of it. That summer
we went down to Kew and to Richmond
and had a few drinks along the river.

I was coming on to 40, getting old,
but the bouncy-bouncy was as good as ever
when the bloody Germans invaded Belgium.
Within days I found myself in France.
The marching was healthy till we got to Mons,
and there, quite suddenly, the killing started.

Smith-Dorrien, one of our few good generals,
bloodied the Jerries at Le Cateau
while Sir John (a cavalry bastard) fell into a funk
and marched us down the roads to Paris.
He had thoughts of evacuation back to England:
we were so tired and angry, I remember it still.

That frog general, Joffre, he shamed Sir John,
and although never mentioned, you can take that as true.
The orders came down, we reversed our retreat,
and then came the Marne and all that followed.
I can neither think nor talk about all that followed,
some few survived, best pretend it never happened.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

356. Kyrie

Softly the sunlight
filters through
the stained-glass
sturdily lead-lined
medieval windows:
the scarlets, ochres, and azures.
A single lambent ray
now falls, no it points
to the altar and the crucifix.

What is this Judean
criminal doing in France?

The Minister says
we need larger newer windows
displaying gallows and guillotines,
gas chambers, electric chairs,
more progressive engines
of State disapproval.
Tear down these old cathedrals!
They are old, he says: put up slabs
of modern democratic concrete,
and let the falling rain and filth
of the coming years
drip and stain like tears
running through mascara.

Jesus bar Joseph
lived before concrete and barbed wire,
son of his father, a carpenter,
yet we never hear if he was any good
(Sothebys: a chair made by Jesus!!!)
But if he was a useless Mama’s boy
why would Simon and Barnabas, fishermen,
hard-bitten seasoned seagoing men,
why would they listen to him?
Maybe J was the proto-union guy
with a sideline in miracles.

Or it could be the job was boring
for this young Palestinian Elvis,
could be that Mom and Dad were a drag.
People happy or resigned to their work,
people like you, for example, or me,
we rarely start up new religions.
Not that he did, no, that came
centuries later. J was just a local Jew,
born into it, went with the territory.

But this boy had a way with words,
spun a number of catchy parables,
improved the quality of wine at weddings,
showed himself to be a catering genius,
and then rose Lazarus from the dead!
Woo! That was something:
there's a story behind that one.

But he’d ticked off the Pharisees,
and annoyed the local authorities.
A downward slope, the end of hope:
always the same old, same old Middle East.
Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose!

Rome, like imperial America today
didn’t know WTF was going on
and dispensed with Jesus, politically,
just as Ambassador Lodge was to do,
the Pontius Pilate of Vietnam.

Carpe (Mister) Diem.

Wash, wash, wash your hands,
wash your hands, wash your hands.
Wash, wash, wash your hands,
ear-lie in the morning!

Why do the natives bleed so much,
and make such awful noise?

then as now, means
local myopia.

What did Rome think she was doing?
What does America think he or she or it is doing?

I think it doesn’t know what it’s doing.

We’ll get to that. First we need
to work our way through the Middle Ages.
Why? Because it’s there, it gets in the way.

Stunted people, right little shortarses,
Popes and Kings and peasants,
a thousand years of lamentable hygiene,
protracted physical and mental torture:

Well, that should do it.

The world that we know and live in
is formed of myths and the nonsense of the past.
We have learned so little, and we seem intent
on creating even more lurid stark scenarios
to make our transience seem important.

We have become a widescreen stereo movie.

I wouldn’t mind so much if it was a good one
with a little understatement, wit and intelligence,
instead of all the bombast and the bomb blasts,
the adolescent violence, the lust disguised as romance,
but it isn’t. Now smoothtalking TV politicians
indolently, inexpertly, steer the speeding ship
into patiently waiting icebergs.

Monday, May 25, 2009

355. Fellow Travellers

The king was in his counting house
counting all his money;
Jock and I were chained in the dungeon,
not the least bit funny.

The queen was in the parlour
eating cakes and honey;
Jock and I were on bread and water
and our sores had gone all runny.

This is what you get
for being a Celtic Communist,
lost back in the Middle Ages:
tossed into cages, burnt at stakes,
bound in chains with wife and wains,
hurled into nearby lakes.

We preached the Third Stage of Capitalism
while the world was concerned with Papal Schism,
we were a bit, perhaps, before our time
(garrotted, impaled, then buried in lime)
but people need to be told things.

Jock was a Seeker, a fiery speaker,
"Guid wha' tha haw an tschock na lings!"
he'd cry to the gathering gawking crowds
and me, I'd translate, open the roiling clouds
to expose the shining sun, I was the one
that had a way with the local lingo,
this guttural sputtering spitting speech
these brutes had cobbled together ... bingo!
and called the Ingurish tongue.

When the castle in time was attacked
Jock and I were the first among
the prisoners who escaped: the queen,
I'm happy to say, was repeatedly raped,
incessantly, in fact, to her heart's content,
and subsequently went to live in Ghent
with the gentleman-rapist best endowed.

Her husband, the king, did not fare so well:
fearful, tearful, and thoroughly cowed
he was hastened on his way to hell,
garrotted, impaled, and buried in lime,
dug up, hanged, then burnt at the stake,
as an afterthought slung into a lake.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Jock and I married two bonny sisters,
we set up a tea shop in Ayre.
Damn the speeches, no more emotional fits,
we've become Democratic Socialists.
The girls run the shop, God bless 'em,
we smoke our pipes in the garden.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

354. OISÍN - The Irish Band!

Hello there Lads & Lassies ... Conas Atá Sibh?
Greetings (beannachtaí) from the Best Irish Band in Hamamatsu!!


And now ......

See if you can spot the three original members. Not that hard! (If you click on the photos they'll expand to Full Screen.)

Monday, May 04, 2009


should have died three hundred times
if her friends, good Germans,
hadn't saved her:
she was a Jewish child
in Hitler's Deutschland.
We are all
somebody's kid
and me, I'm a jigaboo.
I'm a black man
hiding in a white skin.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

353. Roisín Dubh (The Dark Rose)

A Róisín ná bíodh brón ort fé'r éirigh dhuit:
Tá na bráithre 'teacht thar sáile 's iad ag triall ar muir,
Tiocfaidh do phárdún ón bPápa is ón Róimh anoir
'S ní spárálfar fíon Spáinneach ar mo Róisín Dubh.

Little Rose, be not sad for all that hath behapped thee:
The friars are coming across the sea, they march on the main.
From the Pope shall come thy pardon, and from Rome, from the East-
And stint not Spanish wine to my Little Dark Rose.

Raise your spirits, little Rose, after all that has befallen:
the friars will come over the sea, they will bestride the waters,
and from the Pope will come blessings, from Rome and from the East,
and we shall drink Spanish wine for our Little Dark Rose .

Is fada an réim a léig mé léi ó inné 'dtí inniu,
Trasna sléibhte go ndeachas léi, fé sheolta ar muir;
An éirne is chaith mé 'léim í, cé gur mór é an sruth;
'S bhí ceol téad ar gach taobh díom is mo Róisín Dubh.

Long the journey that I made with her from yesterday till today,
Over mountains did I go with her, under the sails upon the sea,
The Erne I passed by leaping, though wide the flood,
And there was string music on each side of me and my Little Dark Rose!

(no changes here, spot-on)

Mhairbh tú mé, a bhrídeach, is nárbh fhearrde dhuit,
Is go bhfuil m'anam istigh i ngean ort 's ní inné ná inniu;
D'fhág tú lag anbhfann mé i ngné is i gcruth-
Ná feall orm is mé i ngean ort, a Róisín Dubh.

Thou hast slain me, O my bride, and may it serve thee no whit,
For the soul within me loveth thee, not since yesterday nor today,
Thou has left me weak and broken in mien and in shape,
Betray me not who love thee, my Little Dark Rose!

You have killed me, my bride, though it serves you no reason,
the soul within me has loved you from beginning to end,
yet you have despised my weakness, you have broken me down,
you should not turn on your lover, my Little Dark Rose!

Shiubhalfainn féin an drúcht leat is fásaigh ghuirt,
Mar shúil go bhfaighinn rún uait nó páirt dem thoil.
A chraoibhín chumhra, gheallais domhsa go raibh grá agat dom
-'S gurab í fíor-scoth na Mumhan í, mo Róisín Dubh.

I would walk the dew with thee and the meadowy wastes,
In hope of getting love from thee, or part of my will,
Frangrant branch, thou didst promise me that thou hadst for me love-
And sure the flower of all Munster is Little Dark Rose!

I would walk with you, on fields or through dew,
in hopes of your love, your recognition,
but you are like the blossoms of a tree, flowering, promising,
the flower of all Munster is my Little Dark Rose!

Beidh an Éirne 'na tuiltibh tréana is réabfar cnoic,
Beidh an fharraige 'na tonntaibh dearga is doirtfear fuil,
Beidh gach gleann sléibhe ar fud éireann is móinte ar crith,
Lá éigin sul a n-éagfaidh mo Róisín Dubh.

The Erne shall rise in rude torrents, hills shall be rent,
The sea shall roll in red waves, and blood be poured out,
Every mountain glen in Ireland, and the bogs shall quake
Some day ere shall perish my Little Dark Rose!

(no changes … I mean, what can you do with a verse like that?)

OK, now here is the celebrated 1840s translation ....

Dark Rosaleen
translated by James Clarence Mangan

O My Dark Rosaleen,
Do not sigh, do not weep!
The priests are on the ocean green,
They march along the deep.
There 's wine from the royal Pope,
Upon the ocean green;
And Spanish ale shall give you hope,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
Shall glad your heart, shall give you hope,
Shall give you health, and help, and hope,
My Dark Rosaleen!

Over hills, and thro' dales,
Have I roam'd for your sake;
All yesterday I sail'd with sails
On river and on lake.
The Erne, at its highest flood,
I dash'd across unseen,
For there was lightning in my blood,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
O, there was lightning in my blood,
Red lightning lighten'd thro' my blood.
My Dark Rosaleen!

All day long, in unrest,
To and fro, do I move.
The very soul within my breast
Is wasted for you, love!
The heart in my bosom faints
To think of you, my Queen,
My life of life, my saint of saints,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
To hear your sweet and sad complaints,
My life, my love, my saint of saints,
My Dark Rosaleen!

Woe and pain, pain and woe,
Are my lot, night and noon,
To see your bright face clouded so,
Like to the mournful moon.
But yet will I rear your throne
Again in golden sheen;
'Tis you shall reign, shall reign alone,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
'Tis you shall have the golden throne,
'Tis you shall reign, and reign alone,
My Dark Rosaleen!

Over dews, over sands,
Will I fly, for your weal:
Your holy delicate white hands
Shall girdle me with steel.
At home, in your emerald bowers,
From morning's dawn till e'en,
You'll pray for me, my flower of flowers,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My fond Rosaleen!
You'll think of me through daylight hours,
My virgin flower, my flower of flowers,
My Dark Rosaleen!

I could scale the blue air,
I could plough the high hills,
O, I could kneel all night in prayer,
To heal your many ills!
And one beamy smile from you
Would float like light between
My toils and me, my own, my true,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My fond Rosaleen!
Would give me life and soul anew,
A second life, a soul anew,
My Dark Rosaleen!

O, the Erne shall run red,
With redundance of blood,
The earth shall rock beneath our tread,
And flames wrap hill and wood,
And gun-peal and slogan-cry
Wake many a glen serene,
Ere you shall fade, ere you shall die,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
The Judgement Hour must first be nigh,
Ere you can fade, ere you can die,
My Dark Rosaleen!

“Mangan’s version is much greater than the original poem. It is supposed to be Hugh O’Donnell’s address to Ireland at a time when the Irish chiefs were expecting help from Spain and from the Pope.” – says one among many commentators.

Non-Irish-speakers (and I'm not all that great at it!!) appear to believe Mangan's translation is the real thing. It’s dramatic, to be sure, overblown in the spirit of the age, but an entirely different poem. It has emotional power, granted, but in terms of translation from the Irish it is wildly inaccurate. In fact it comes across as a parody of the original. I’m stepping on to more dangerous ground by calling into question the translation by the beloved & sainted Padraig Pearse (the lines in italics above). Pearse led the 1916 Rebellion, founded the Republic I belong to, and got himself shot for Ireland. Parts of his translation cannot or even should not be faulted, but other bits need to be rescued from the outdated (poetic) English of the late 19th century Gaelic Revival. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Thomas Kinsella or O Connor or one of the other well-known native speakers has made a more recent translation but I haven't come across it ... yet.

Slán agus beannacht,

Sunday, April 12, 2009

352. Four Chinese Poems


At the time of the rains
when you burst in upon me
here in my damp and narrow quarters
next to the temple, your arms
were full of new manuscripts
and I rejoiced to see you.

Unlike you, dear friend,
I have been unlucky in my career
and my wife, unused to privation,
has even seen fit to scold me.
I called for wine when you came
and that flea-bitten merchant refused me
until you threw golden coins
upon the table: after that flasks
of exquisite vintage arrived.

We drank deeply: we drank
and talked far far into the night
praising or laughingly destroying
every poem that had ever been written
since those happy days we shared
below the mountains of Dao-Shan
and you were good enough
to praise my unpublished works
and I was polite about the popular pieces
that have lately made you famous.

In the morning, when you departed,
you had a litter and four servants awaiting you
and when we smiled and embraced
I could see the neighbours looking on,
to many of whom I owe sums of money,
rather large sums of money,
and as I smiled and sent you on your way
I cursed my fate and also you.


My father told me to stay in the house
with the women children and servants
while outside in clouds of rolling dust
came the victorious army of Bu Chao Lin.
I raced up to the roof to be with him
and found him wailing in a high keening voice
and pulling at his beard; he frowned at me
and then did a very strange thing, he tore off
his button cap, without which I had never seen him,
and began to stamp upon it. I stared, wide-eyed,
and decided to help my distraught father
by stamping on the cap he obviously disliked
with cries of joy and enthusiasm.
I will never forget the way he looked at me,
his eyes so round with horror.


In the provincial town of Di Lai
I sat (again) for the examination
gave them Do Bai's song
and a clever critique
of Three Veils in the Morning
and sauntered away.

Of course they failed me.

But I had made travel plans
unknown to my father
and with the saved silver coins
hired a team of rough bearers
for the path up the mountain
then down to the valley
of P'ai To Shan.

Such sweetness in your eyes,
the plain and beguiling
roundness. I gasp,
I tell myself it doesn't matter
as I finger the folds
of my soft and elegant cloak.


Counsellor Zhang has four young daughters
each one more beautiful than the next
and I feel that I might carefully dare
to marry one of them, perhaps the one
least reminiscent of her father
whose bulging eyes and purple face
rather distressed me
at the ritual strangulation.

Friday, April 03, 2009

351. Baby Boomer

I couldn’t have chosen to be born
in a better town, but it was the wrong
bloody side of the river, thanks to my besotted
madly in love young parents, so totally
full of themselves and of the delights of young love
that they were not thinking ahead to important things
that mean so much today. Me granf’aar
had bought the solid still-standing family home
up there on the North Side, the right side, up by Sion Hill
in the middle of muddy fields, back in 1939,
and he planted potatoes in the garden during the War
and for some time after. Now the bricks themselves
are worth millions of pounds. Me mammy
popped me out, thoughtlessly, on the South Side
in Earlsfort Terrace just along from Stephen’s Green
and I was a Southside brat from the age of 3-minutes.

I play it down.

Bono at Obama’s Inauguration: he said, Mr. President, sir,
we are four Irish guys from the North Side of Dublin
and he was talking through his arse as usual
since only one of them lives there now: Larry Mullen.
I cringe every time I see Bono with Bush and Blair,
says Larry, the drummer, they are out and out war criminals.
Larry was in the (Northside) Artane Boys
but me, I wasn’t. We weren’t really Dublin working class,
more sort of of hopeful lower middle, one step away
from tenant farmers, from those who died in the Famine.
And with stubborn application and some dedication,
with no need to be be flash but out to make cash,
my Daddy paid out for a good education.

I was the first: three others followed (still close).
I was born in Ireland, woke up in the UK,
got sent to a school and ran away. I walked across London
to get away from them. I had a penny for bus-fare
but you had to hand it up so I walked. I was about five.
Me mam she was frantic, she hugged me far too tight,
but she sent me back the next day, and she knew,
she knew I’d be beaten. She said, “Remember, you’re Irish!”
I thought just being born in Ireland made you Irish.
I was starting to learn things.

My Dad, he was a clever man, he got work with the Yanks
and they sent him off to Germany. I grew up there
somewhere between the Americans and the Germans
(we got sent to American military schools)
and in the process I became totally, angrily Irish.
I got in fights with the Americans.
I got in fights with the Germans.
Finally, my Dad shippped me off to Ireland
to a dank medieval boarding school
where I could get into fights with the Irish instead.
No worries, it’s a settling-in process, nothing more,
you fight off and on for six months, try to win
a few more than you lose, and you never never cry,
so then, naturally, you become one of the lads.

The school was totally horrible but I rather liked it.
I can never read Dickens without thinking about it.
That’s where I learned how to really play rugby
in the fearless kamikaze Irish style, a Celtic death-wish
that opened many doors, especially, a bit later, in Texas.
But I tend to gallop, I fear, and get ahead of myself.
I was marginally feral but I wasn’t dumb
and the school had scholars as well as teachers.
They literally forced you to learn and think.
I had to memorise reams and reams of poetry, never mind
bloody Shakespeare (him too) but even Arnold and Hopkins
and they’d take a swing at you and beat you if you didn’t.
Couldn’t see that happpening today: it works, though.

I amazed everyone, got into ancient creaking Trinity College
but proceeded to go totally wild. I ended up in Istanbul
just when the Sergeant Pepper album came out. Thanks,
no really, thanks to traditional herbs it was memorable.
A Day in the Life? Whoopee. Then you floated out in the streets.
They say ( just who is they? ) if you remember the Sixties
you were not really there. I was there, all right. I remember.
I just remember things differently:

n I remember Radio Luxembourg, Radio Caroline
n I remember thinking the Kinks and the Who were pretty cool for new groups
n I remember jobs at 10 Pounds a week
n I remember being 17-years-old and in the Army
n I remember that first real kiss, the clean peppermint smell of her!
n I remember being on an Honour Guard for DeValera in front of the GPO
n I remember a pint of Guinness for 2 shillings (10P) in Kerry
n I remember climbing Nelson’s Pillar
n I remember the Pretty Things live
n I remember a lot of jovial ex-Nazis
n I remember dear Theo who fought in Poland, France, the Balkans and Russia with the Wehrmacht but who was still a lovely guy.
n I remember crowds rushing through the streets of London celebrating Israeli victory in the Six-Day War
n I remember Ludwig in Bavaria who also fought in Russia (well, attended the War) and incidentally saved my life.
n I remember an Israeli guy on a boat in the Gulf of Corinth mourning his dead comrades at the Battle of the Golan Heights
n I remember the blonde girl on the boat to Iceland
n I remember the Greek guy on the same boat who told me he “accidentally” killed three Turkish soldiers in Cyprus
n I remember the Eskimos (Inuit, whatever) in Iceland who kept getting flattened and killed by local traffic
n I remember Rome and Florence and Lisa, my first real love
n I remember Paris in May 1968
n I remember going to America for the first time
n I remember San Francisco and the dregs of Haight-Ashbury

O, I can remember a lot of things.
Some of them, of course, I'll never tell you.

It’s easy, you know, for the Irish to adjust to America
(not so easy for Americans to adjust to Ireland)
since the land has been well-ploughed, markers laid down
by former generations. Americans are simple and generous people
until it comes to business, power, and war.
There they tend to lose the run of themselves.
They seem to have such far-fetched delirious notions
about other countries and the people within them
that it leads to the wholesale murder of dusky foreigners
under the guise of “War” ; idiots, really,
but preferable to the Russians or the Chinese.

I like Americans. Cheerful, nice teeth.
Might not want to be one.

So, after Texas and the champion rugby team
and the Federal Judge’s daughter,
the University with its assassin’s tower, the gay landlord,
not least the hard-won speedy degree,
I survived the bus crash in Afghanistan
after the driver, wise man, ran like hell away.
They would have killed him, sure, it was his fault.
So there we were in the middle of nowhere
on the bleak snowblown road to Kandahar,
with the flakes still falling and bits of bodies all around
and you start to think, do I really need to travel?

Later, much later, in India,
when I was living in that little temple
and the priest would come by every morning at sunrise
I would shrivel my sleeping body like a corpse
there on the charpoy, so as not to disturb him.
I would pretend I was asleep. It was so hard to do.
I wanted to leap up and show him how to pray,
I wanted to say, stop fuckin mumbling, open your eyes,
every cell in my body was tingling. No, I never said
make a Sign of the Cross, ye heathen Hindoo.
Not at all , I felt that devotions were a form of slavery
and that the Power of God was within. I could feel it.
Well, at that time of my life I felt something.

Ser, nada mas
Es la ultima dichta

The local college boys came around
all so young and hopeful, just like a cloud of locusts,
you couldn’t get away from them. I considered them
a pestilence but I could see from the eyes of the locals
that I’d become a Man of Knowledge, a guru, not often
do the rich kids come into these dirty narrow streets.
It was a poor neighbourhood. I had a few local friends
but the hard-timers didn’t know what to make of me.
Seething with impatience I would have to listen
to these ignorant insolent kids with their bubbling Indo-English,
People would be peering in, cups of tea would arrive.
I hated these kids. I saw how they pushed my friends aside.
On top of that they were dumb. No Dickensian Irish schooling.

Ser, nada mas

Couldn’t get their heads around it. Neither, I suppose, could I.

Later, of course, I moved on.
I really can’t keep doing this.
I got lost in North Thailand for several months
and then moved on to Japan.

Now I have twenty or more stories about Thailand
a thousand more of Japan.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

350. Beannachtaí na Feile Padraig!

Fad saol agat, gob fliuch, agus bás in Eirinn.
"Long life to you, a wet mouth, and death in Ireland."

Má dhéanann tu séitéireacht,
go ndéana tú séitéireacht ar an mbás,
má ghoideann tú, go ngoide tú croí mná;
má throideann tú, go dtroide tú i leith do bhráthar,
agus má ólann tú, go n-óla tú liom féin.

If you cheat, may you cheat death.
If you steal, may you steal a woman's heart.
If you fight, may you fight for a brother.
And if you drink, may you drink with me.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

349. The Royal Houses of Europe

Puffed-up, befeathered and medal-bedecked,
they were an ornithologist's dream, they were such
a glittering gallery of elegant sartorial plumage
that even the great Audubon himself would have sighed
and sucked in his cheeks in a rush to capture them
with delicate brush strokes and quick flicks of colour.
They preferred, themselves, to be painted in heavy oils,
conferring, or so they thought, a sense of proper permanency.
Water colours would have been the proper fleeting milieu,
adept and nervous and skillful, vulnerable, not long lasting,
subtle impermanent shades that were apt to run in the rain.

Along the King's Road or among the street stalls of the Seine
or in the dark little shops of St. Petersburg or the Kaertnergasse,
sometimes in Salzburg or Bratislava or even sleepy Baden-Baden,
we can come across icons from this age, the flotsam and the jetsam
of a forgotten time, sad collections in old cardboard boxes:
faded medals , a concert programmes, a crumbling menu,
dog-eared picture postcards with royal portraits on the stamps.
Then a sigh may pass our lips, a nostalgic indifferent exhalation
much like an after-dinner belch, a sign of passing benediction
for a finished experience: but even the poor must eat tomorrow.

Beneficiaries of privilege had a good run but now the show is over,
their bloodlines a matter for antiquarians, for water-colourists,
for the slightly cracked groups who dream of royal restorations.
I'm not sorry they're gone. We have celebrities and movie stars
who feed the need for mass adoration, icons who fade out quickly,
fizzing up and out, like Roman candles, bright and impermanent.
They may behave badly, spend too much, yet rapidly disappear
without starting wars, without driving generations to genocide
in the name of family honour. So settle down in your graves
you Habsburgs and Romanovs, Hohenzollerns and Saxe-Gothas,
leaving a polite open space for the lingering Hanover/ Windsors.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Inauguration

This seems to have been a custom among the Celtic tribes until the first few centuries of the modern era. The Doge of Venice "married" the sea by throwing in a ring to the passing waves from his richly-caparisoned gondola. The not-so-ancient Celts seem to have had a more direct approach ....

Conch shells, a blare of trumpets,
a flare of the band of pipes.
My poor old father is dead.
I am the new king.
I plan to get rid of
most of his old advisers.
In the meantime
I have to publicly fuck a horse.

There's no way out of it.
Tradition demands it.
I asked if I could choose a horse I liked
but was told to be patient,
that the priests would arrange it all.
Also, the poor bloody horse
has to show signs of satisfaction.

Dear God!

Here am I with my Latin and Greek,
a student of Heraclitus,
soaring along with Homer
but dependent on the sighs
of a large-arsed animal.
It gives a new meaning to riding.

My people are both fierce and loyal
and we face a bitter war:
strangers have come among us.
They look to me to lead them and I will
but I cannot be their king
until I fuck the horse.

I don't want to fuck a horse.
This is an ancient and stupid custom.
I don't want to shame myself
except with David, whom I love,
and that in private.

I shall have to marry
after the horse, of course,
one of the daughters of the O Cahans,
a sharp-nosed family of usurers
who count their money.

O God, here we go.
This day of dread has arrived.
The clansmen in bright colours and banners
are drunk already; wives and daughters
rush to set-aside tents.

I feel sick.

I am dressed in ancient robes
and dangling, tinkling, medallions.
They lead me out to a stage of new wood
in the centre of a grove of ancient oaks
and I beg my knees to carry me on.

A great cheer and the high-pitched Gaelic cry
thunders as I mount the steps.
I wave with all the enthusiasm
of a man condemned to the gallows
and wait, wait for the horse.

O God, here she comes,
a two-year-old mare from the looks of her,
as they whack and chivvy her up the ramp;
the poor thing looks as nervous as I feel
and I stroke her nose in sympathy.

Hello, darling.

Then there's the mumbling of the priests,
a suspicious breed in any association;
cold hard-eyed men with soft and flabby hands
who murmur in a code of memorized words,
who feed on fear and superstition.

One of these hooded halflings
looses the cords of my trousers
and I stand, ashamed, before my people.
He grins at me, the idiot, and I smack him hard
and a cheer comes up from the multitude.

O yes, we like violence.

Lugh of Light, Mananaan of the Sea,
come down, ye gods, and save me!
But the gods are silent. They are always silent.
I stand there, drooping, I cannot do this,
the innocent horse is also silent.

The whores of the town are sent up to me
to get me going, and a wave of laughter
ripples among the gathered throng;
mothers shade the eyes of their daughters
but laugh along with their husbands.

Do I want to be king?
I must be king: a terrible war, I know, is coming.

The whores do their business, I start to rise,
then mount the ladder behind the horse.
It has to be done.
It has to be done.
What shame.
What barbarism.

It doesn't take long,
I pretend it takes longer.
I raise my fist and scream,
Will you follow me to the death?
Yes, they roar, they will.
Yes, they roar, yes and yes and yes!
This is what I need.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


There are
five trees behind
my grandfather's house
two apple and three pear
and they shake, I swear
at different times

and as a child
I was frightened by them
when I went out
by night to do my business
as we had at the time
no indoor plumbing.

My grandfather had
along with most of rural Ireland
no electricity either
and the old oil lamps
trimmed at the wick
cast a soft and golden glow

and these little warm lights
would call to each other
across ancient fields
across the acres
and the stars would be fiercely burning
above in the inky sky.

Cold and clear
was the tingling water
with a faint little hint of lime
splashing down into sturdy barrels
from the rush of gurgling gutters
draining the rains of the roof

and in the byre there was Bridie
and her calf, I forget her name
then a dozen or more nervous old hens
that had no names at all
under threat from the swift red fox
coming over the fields.

In the harsh cold of winter
the neighbours would come by
and there'd be talk and news
of the children over beyond
in New York and Chicago
and Birmingham

and on the rare occasion
there'd be the quiet honour
of the shanachie's visit
when the word of mouth
would bring, failing death,
all of the neighbours in.

I was small, those times
only a wee little chit of a child
but I was big if I could live and grow
and remember. My grandfather
put his hard old hand upon my head
and squeezed my arm, he knew that

and there was the open fireplace
where sods of turf would be deftly thrown
on the burning red-green-orange flames
and the porter bottles, placed on the stones
would sweat and glisten, begin to expand
until the caps would go with a "pop"

and the men in their old battered hats
weather-beaten, chap-knuckled
would murmur to each other in Irish
while their women, in frocks and lipstick,
exchanged pointed pleasantries
until the shanachie shuffled in.

He was a shabby weedy little chap
until he raised his face and showed his eyes.
This story, he said, speaking in English
happened, it is true, a long time ago
but our people even then in the long-gone times
were the same as you, our people today

and then there was silence, a settling down
and for the next three or maybe seven hours
he carried us far and then further away
to the glow of the world we had come from
back to Niamh and Oisin, to King Niall
to the hall of the Red Branch Knights.

It was the magic of the voice that did it
just from the listening he could make you see
and I had no idea I was listening to stories
that were a thousand years old or more
and there was no single hint of cobwebs
nor of ancient creaking hinges; everything
everything was as fresh as clear as a drop of dew
on a trembling morning leaf.