Tuesday, November 27, 2012

491. Samurai

Slowly, slowly
the little snail
climbs Mount Fuji -

sends a message to his wife:
pretty good day today!
Snails have their systems.

Well, dear, I made – oh - 2.5?
He’d be talking about metres:
Fuji has 3776 of those things

going up into the snowline
getting gradually colder, so
pure, apart from the sweltering

skin-itching, sleep-depriving
bugfucked Japanese summers
the people endure below.

Even snails in their shell
have been known to complain
among the raucous cicadas

in their dusty pines
down on the plain.
Don’t take a chill my honey

says Mrs. Snail. I want you
back here safe and sound.
It’s all right my darling.

I know my way along the ground.
I do not share the human hell
of doing things for money.

I do what I must do
for the snails of Japan, for the Emperor,
but most of all for you!

Friday, November 23, 2012

490. Eyeless in Gaza: An Exchange of Views

AMIT: What truth is that exactly? What I see is the face of a person who doesn't know what he is talking about. Do you really think that Israel is in it for the purpose of killing Palestinians? If that was the case there would have been thousands dead. Israel is going out of its way NOT to kill innocents! Sadly, it is not always possible, especially when the enemy is "bravely" hiding behind civilians. The who shoot indiscriminately into civilian population are Hamas. The only reason there aren't many, many more casualties on our side is that their weapons are crap and our defense system are better and for that, we don't need to apologize. If Hamas had the ability, every one of their missiles would have hit a school. So please, Facts first, then talk!

BRENDAN: Everyone has a right to live in peace and dignity. After Shoah many countries supported the creation of the State of Israel. Israeli treatment of the Palestinians who lived on the same land before them has been very brutal. This is the main problem. The right of the State of Israel to exist is accepted but within what borders - 1948 or 1967? You say you cannot make a settlement with the Palestinians because they are terrorists. Israeli settlements and military occupation have created these "terrorists" just as British stupidity in Northern Ireland created the IRA. In fact, you had to fight against the British yourselves with Haganah and Irgun in the post-WWII period when they still maintained the Palestinian Mandate. Now you are taking on the attitudes and policies of your former occupiers with regard to the Palestinians because you are the people with the real power, and, among other things, "their weapons are crap". This is not a military war, in the final analysis, it is a political conflict. So far America supports you no matter what you do. This will not last forever. Your support in Western Europe is already fading. You cannot simply lash out at people who don't support you and label them "anti-Semitic". The war in Europe and the Holocaust has been over for 77 years. People around the world tend to judge your government by its present actions. In spite of these sharp differences of opinion, I hope we can remain friends in the more-or-less "neutral" surroundings of Hamamatsu!

BRENDAN: Oops! 2012-1945 = 67. Another mathematical bloop. No wonder I can't understand the family finances, never mind Wall Street ....

AMIT: Brendan, on the point that Israel and the Palestinians should exist as 2 states side by side I couldn't agree more. But whose fault is it that it's not the case? What happened in 48 a day after the UN declared the Jewish and Palestinian states? A DAY AFTER! 1 DAY! That's what it took the Arab world to decide that Israel doesn't have the right to exist and to attack the day old country. Hamas shares that point of view to this day. How do you negotiate with someone who does not recognize your right to exist? Answer me that because I really want to know. The fact that Israel should have withdrawn from all the conquered land after 67 (another win or die war) will not be argued by me. But why did the Arab world, who is so "concerned" with the well being of their Palestinian "brothers", (namely Egypt) did not demand to get the Gaza strip back in 79? They demanded, and got every last inch of Sinai. Why did Jordan didn't demand the West Bank in 95? I'll tell why. Because the Palestinians are a thorn in Israels ass and the Arabs like them to stay that way. Why Does the Arab world, namely Iran, instead of sending doctors, civil engineers, building schools and infrastructure, why instead of that do they send weapons and weapon expert? See the reason above. You are talking about 67 borders. Why after the war of 48 didn't Jordan and Egypt establish a Palestinian state and instead kept those areas as their own? You are talking about the people who lived there before us. How far back do you want to look? Jewish people lived in that land and were kicked out. There was never in all of history a Palestinian state except for 1 day after the deceleration in 48 and that state died as a sad side effect to the failed attempt to destroy Israel. It's very easy to blame "big, bad" Israel in all the shit that is going on (and you will never hear me say that Israel is totally blameless) but again, I suggest knowing the facts, all the facts not only those that fit you worldview, before doing that.

AMIT: By the way, you craftily managed to dodge my more urgent concern that if Hamas could, each and every one of their missiles would have hit a school. Or perhaps you disagree on that too?

BRENDAN: I am not going to get further involved in this discussion, Amit, not because I don't stand by the opinions previously stated, but owing to the fact that this is an endless argumentative swamp with heated emotions going back and forth for the last half-century and more. This is one of the so-called "intractable" problems, with the Indo-Pakistani conflict over Kashmir running a close second. The Northern Ireland business was up there as well for about thirty years but wonder of wonders (!) we managed to hammer out an Agreement in 1998 which left the area under UK sovereignty for the forseeable future but brought Nationalists into a power-sharing political settlement in NI for the first time since the partition of the island in 1922. If we can hammer out our differences, which actually go back far longer to the early 1600s when the Crown repopulated confiscated lands with Protestant settlers brought over from the British mainland (maybe that sounds a little familiar), then there is some hope that Israelis and Palestinians might one day do the same.

AMIT: I know you too well, Brendan, to know that you won't change you mind and I too, have no intention to get any further into it. I was actually debating long and hard before I wrote my first reply but decided it's important to give my point of view because there are too many people out there who like you (at least judging by your words), think that Israel is 100% in the wrong while the Palestinians are 100% in the right. In my experience people who see the world in black and white are, in most cases, wrong. That's actually what bothers me the most Brendan, that I never once heard you indicate that you feel any other way. That's the reason I kind of insisted on getting an answer to my question about Hamas' intentions. But I guess answering it will force you to admit that maybe, just maybe, the Palestinians are not always the "good guy" in this ongoing tragedy. About the possibility of ever seeing this conflict resolved. I remember clearly when I read the newspaper about Rabin and Arafat's meeting (ironically I was a soldier in the West Bank at the time..). I'm not exaggerating when I'm saying that I was shivering with excitement at the thought that this senseless war (is there any other kind) is finally about to be over. I was actually imagining myself getting in a car, driving up north through Lebanon, Syria, and into Europe. 20 years later I'm much less of an optimist and much more of a realist and I do not believe that I will see peace in my lifetime. And that's all I'm going to say.


POSTSCRIPT: Dear Amit – I believe the Palestinian people are the victims in the ongoing situation but I do NOT think they are 100% correct. In fact, they have been pawns of a corrupt local political leadership – Arafat and the PLO for many years – not to mention the manipulation of their condition by other Arab states and Iran as a way of striking at Israel. The situation is extremely complicated and it is certainly not black-and-white. Hamas can be seen as a reaction against the PLO and these two groups hate each other intensely. In any case Hamas won the last election in Gaza and they were duly punished for it by both the USA and the EU through withdrawal of aid funds: they were not supposed to win. As I said in my first post the problem needs a political, not a military, solution. The best chance came at Camp David in 2000 when Barak met Arafat and the Clinton government were trying hard to reach a settlement. Clinton was also very active in the Northern Ireland settlement which was also very difficult but managed to reach a compromise agreement. By and large, this agreement continues to work in spite of occasional violence by hardline idiots such as the Real IRA (the Omagh bombing) and ongoing distrust between Protestants and Catholics. After all, the problem goes back 400 years, but all sides finally came to the conclusion that violence was not the answer. The two situations are historically quite different, I know, but the need for a political settlement is the parallel that draws them together. In order for that to happen both sides need a credible political leadership with overwhelming support from its electorate and a bit of help from the outside, preferably the USA. This happened to come about in 1997-1998 after Tony Blair replaced John Major as the British prime minister, after Sinn Féin under Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness had convinced the membership of the IRA to accept their political lead, and both sides had their leadership confirmed by very strong electoral support. And of course Clinton was there and ready to help. Unfortunately this combination didn’t work two years later at Camp David. Barak, like Rabin before him, was entirely credible to the Israeli electorate, not least because of his military record. Arafat, fearful of his own position, was the one who faltered. Then, of course, we had Ariel Sharon and his provocative march to the Temple Mount and the Second Intifada. Now we have Netanyahu, and I’m not even sure who we have on the Palestinian side. Bush simply didn’t want to get involved and Obama has a load of other problems on his mind. So I agree with you … it doesn’t look good. Nevertheless, the only possible settlement will be political when the factors I have outlined above (hopefully) come together again.

I had no info on Hamas declaring they intended to hit schools with their rockets, and doubt they could have done so anyway. This was the only point in our public exchange when the tone became a little personal … “craftily …”?

Our public exchange of views is officially over, by mutual agreement, and I want you to know that I do not hold a completely black-and-white view of the situation. Hope to see you soon and exchange a couple of beers!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

489. Prince Charles

Birthday Boy. Same year.
I am five days older than this idiot.

like fire
lights up the world.

Banners unfurled
and toes upcurled
we walk the wire

with equanimity.
An infinity
of glowing light

underlies the night
and we know
from long ago

the fire of desire
can turn. And burn
us into anonymity.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

488. Prague Concerto

Snow in the wind, my thoughts
slide over to the Winter Queen, so easily
brought to mind in this unbombed
Central European city: War, having
taken its pound of flesh from the people
spared its buildings.

The Munich betrayal. Heydrich.
No wonder they feel the way they do.
Chamberlain. J’aime Berlin.

I visited you before and after.
In the summer of 1989, the border
was a nest of guns and barbed wire
with apologetic young recruits
going through your bags. In 1991,
when I came again with my family,
all of that stuff had gone.

The river, the Charles Bridge, the palace,
all of that stuff was still there.

The West betrayed you, England and France,
and condemned you to a half-century
of misery: fascists followed by communists,
and if I were Czech, I’d be angry.

Surprisingly, you are not angry. Rueful,
I think is the tone. You sure as hell
got rid of the Sudeten Germans, every
last single one of the Nazi bastards,
which in its way is a pity, when you think

Of Kafka, for example, no Sudeten farmer,
just a person who thought and wrote in German,
and most of that has been lost. Also Slovakia,
who were not much help to you during the war.
Pity the countries with no seas as shelter!

Land borders in Europe pay no attention
to the people who happen to live within them
and never really have. The Versailles Conference,
post-Great War, was supposed to change all that
and didn’t. They simply carved up Europe
and set the seeds for the next great war.

And they carved up the Arab world as well,
drawing straight lines with rulers on maps,
setting up "mandates" for France and Britain,
promising everything to everyone, including,
of course, the Jews. Which is why, Ladies & Gentleman,
we get 9/11, the problems that continue today.

No, I haven’t forgotten about Prague. The food
improves (MacDonald’s was a step up, if you can imagine!)
and the beer has always been good. It is a quaint
and lovely city with its old clock towers and cobblestones,
with its trace of the nostalgic Old World “Mitteleuropa”,
which hasn’t been seen since the 1930s. America

has a great deal going for it, or had at one stage,
but it will never never replace, with its Disney dreams,
the real and honest thing.

487. Elvis: "Last Train to Memphis"

I was a small Irish kid in Germany in 1958 (my Dad worked in the AFEX system as an accountant) when Elvis came over as an army draftee. A family friend got his autograph for me which I lost soon after (damn & double-damn!) and this is the point where this book - the first of a two-part biography - closes. The first part of this biography takes us back from the arrival in Germany to Elvis' birth in Tupelo, to his family's move to Memphis, his geeky high school days, the $12 guitar his father bought for him, and his burning desire to cut a record. This brought him to Sam Phillips and Sun Records. This early recording took off thanks to radio play throughout the South and a series of live gigs followed,  getting ever bigger and bigger. Soon things became so big they nearly got out of control. From some peculiar mixture of gospel, hillbilly, and Negro blues Elvis had hit on a new sound that caught the imagination of teenage America. By the age of 21 (1956) he was pulling in huge audiences and the music moguls were taking an interest. The predatory ex-Carnie barker "Colonel" Tom Parker moved in to guide this boy along and in his manipulatory and conniving ways made Elvis a national phenomenon.

What makes this story so fascinating is the way it is told. The author, an early fan of the music, spent 11 years tracking down all the surviving friends and associates of Elvis and tells the story as if he were looking through a keyhole, recording conversations and first impressions and opinions from such a wide number of people that you begin to feel you are there yourself. The way this book was put together is extremely impressive: by no means is it your "standard" biography. Whether you like the music or not (I did even then, I still do!) you cannot help but get caught up in the story. After such a meteoric rise you just know that a fall is bound to come: hubris, as we know from the wise old Greeks, is followed by nemesis.

A second volume of the biography entitled "Careless Love" charts the course of Elvis' career from the time he was released from the army to his early death at the age of 42. That will require another review.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

486. In Reply to a Letter from an English Friend

We don't hate the Brits, Ben. We used to, that's true, but we don't any more. They seem to get along pretty well with us, too, much better than, say, with the modern-day Scots! The divorce - politically speaking - has been decisive and complete, apart from the dispute over the kids in Norn Iron and even that has been levelled down thanks to the IRA campaign, although nobody will admit that was the real reason. Terrorists!! Local boys (and girls) if you want to know the truth. The Queen could finally come over after a hundred years, and she was very welcome. On the personal level the old antagonisms just don't exist any more. We still have the old songs, of course. They're great old songs, so no reason to throw them out! And we still have the Gaelic tradition - the poetry and sagas and what one might describe as our 'national' character  - going back to the early centuries, both BC and AD. This will never never die out and our very strong sense of place and all the multiple layers of our long and colourful history can still inspire the rising generations ... and people like me!

We have the national or more precisely, tribal, failing of falling in love with Ireland, the landscape, the people, the whole surrounding atmosphere, and although this is touching, I suppose, it is more than a little weird! Nobody who leaves Ireland can ever stop talking about it.

The most important thing is that we are a free country again, the only sensible and natural way in which the Irish can exist and openly deal with the world, and we are a relatively 'elderly' free country at that, in the sense that younger generations have no interest in how we broke the chains of oppression and simply take their freedom for granted. Overall, I think this is a good thing. Our people grow up this way and they think it is a human right and they can't understand why other countries don't have the same privileges. So a lot of our nurses and activists go over to Palestine to get shot at by Israelis .... because the Palestinians are the same as the Irish, man, 150-200 years ago!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

485. Jumpers

We live in a world of make-believe
day after day after day after day.

I raise a tired fist and feebly say
Hello, hello. It seems that things
are getting out of hand. Herodotus said

a number of interesting things, he pings
on the Ancient World, the BC bit,
long before the AD slice we live in,

being a dangerous man for opinions
altogether. So-o-o-o hard to decide whether
he’d be telling the truth. In a booth

not far from Birmingham I met a man
living in a world of make-believe
who told me something I still remember:

Listen to Herodotus, ya prick,
So I, being young and thick

listened to the man coming over the airwaves,
fading in and out from 350 BC.

It didn’t help or relieve, just sought to heave
the same old problems around, to shunt the cunts
as it were: was Melpomene your suffering mother?

She was young, you know, in the early Nazi days
and thought it was all very fine. Berlin in the sunlight.
Her summer frock. Bathing on the Wannsee with SS boys,
No notion the Fuehrer was out of his mind.

I wish you would go away,
no longer linger no longer stay:
your language is offensive!

Listen to Herodotus.

The defensive part is not the art
that wins a War: toujours, toujours l’audace
lands you dead or else a cripple.

Yes, I enjoy a little tipple
now and again with friends, it makes amends
for the other crap I end up doing.

I have had my fill of war.
You don’t know what you’re fighting for
after the first year runs into the second.

A fecund lady has always been my dream,
broad hips, big tits, something to grab hold of,
but I always end up with slight little girls,

little waifs who slit their wrists, have problems,
who arouse my protective instincts, and who,
if you get that far, are not a very good fuck.

I need a blonde beaming girl who doesn’t read books,
who doesn’t speak in connected sentences,
who understands money .... !

Girlfriends are one thing, wives are another!
I was told that by my mother: she said, may God
direct you to the Right Woman, young idiot, etc.

My little Chinese girl has left me. Of course she has.
She was so cute and young and smart and elegant:
no doddering chav is allowed these things …

if but only for a while

and so my creaking heart still sings. Dangerously.
I smile. A sunny smile. I know, I know it is all a game
and other sweet girls will flutter along

like moths to murder in the flame. They want
a certain something. And so, dear God, do I.
Herodotus was saying, before you interrupted

that different people behave in different ways
and he was fascinated by this: he writes, whenever
the Persians had something seriously to decide
they went about it twice. Initially, they were quite
sober and rational, questioning, very very open to advice,
but then they went off and got totally drunk or stoned
and listened to no-one, to see if feelings would coincide.
As I stare, as I glare at my iPhone 5 today
this still makes sense in every way.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

484. Some Random Thoughts on the English Language

When you think, I think,
you don’t want to think too hard:
step lightly over the earth, skip over it,
because there are quicksands and tarpits
and yawning manholes, never mind the landmines,
scattered here and there and everywhere
going by names we have learned to trust,
such as love and loyalty, honour and family,
a collection of abstract, uncountable nouns.

For those who speak only one language,
a sense of false confidence conceals the danger
inherent in the missing abyss of comparison;
why do you go to “the” store instead of “a” store?
What difference does that make? Only the same
as when you love “the” woman instead of “a” woman,
or when you look to “the” future instead of “a” future.
These are such small little things, inconsequential,
unless you start to think about them. But never

think too hard, it wears out the brain, makes you weary,
takes away the jolt and taste of your morning coffee.
(Now where the hell did that word ‘coffee’ come from?)
Paddling your canoe in your khaki shorts past a bamboo grove
you are using four words borrowed from other languages.
But the nouns, oh the nouns, are not the real problem!
It’s the verbs. Those goddam verbs! Descriptions of time
must exist in all languages, and are either smooth or clunky:
if I had but known what he had been thinking of proposing

I should quite possibly not have been quite so willing as I was.
This is the beauty of pidgin, crossover languages, border talk:
He talk smooth-smooth. I say OK. Later I say fuck you.
You can’t argue with the meaning, although it’s not Jane Austen,
nor Dickens or Trollope or Thackeray. Also, it’s not the brutal
vernacular most of us would choose to speak in. Yet it works.
This is the thing about language all around this globe we live in.
It’s no use raising your voice and bellowing at foreigners.
It really really doesn’t act as an aid to understanding. It don’t.

Ain’t that a shame? Please God, finally, let everyone speak English
so we don’t have to bother with learning all their foreign tongues,
and the world will all be One. If you actually believe that, pal,
you are living in La-la Land. Never happen. Everyone changes it.
When the Irish had to learn English or starve they fuckin hated it,
what a stupid thick-arsed language, they thought, and immediately
set out to improve it, adding rhythms and colours and tone to this …
this black-and-white atrocity. All over the world, in Jamaica, in Singapore,
in Kenya, in India and Pakistan, Fiji and Samoa, people do the same!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

483. The Uncertain Knight

Night falls, the mountains fade,
and the lamps are lit in the east.
After the feast I know you must retire
with the other women. I cast a sigh
for I have caught your roving eye
as I shuffle closer to the fire.

Night falls, the fountains hiss
and sing in the garden, a splash
of water on stone. I feel so alone
no matter what I try. My father
is a beast within me, a clash,
an abyss of water and burning fire.

Night falls, and I clutch my sword,
in which I place no trust, the blade
is sharp, keen steel, it has no rust
and it mocks me. How can any girl
really love me? I place you above me
in this, in all, in whatever’s made.

482. Irish-Americans

Americans of Irish Ancestry

Nothing means nothing at all
until historians knock, come in to call
and place their markers here and there.
Never knew what was happening, I swear,
until I read your best-selling book,
Mister or Missus or Mizz.

I was living through historic times
with no sense of a change, the range
of the stones we threw was paramount,
and as a revolution this would not amount
to much, but it did in Palestine. I am amazed
how the rebel Irish set the tone, dazed

by the way everyone else gets shot down
or clubbed or imprisoned, in India,
South Africa, Syria, you fuckin name it,
and I know we are the the guys to blame
for telling people to get off their knees
and stand up. Cousin Martin back in the day

was living in Amerikay, minding his own
bizness, getting along so easily as the Irish do,
when they fucked him into the military, sent
him off to Vietnam. I don’t like this, says Martin,
gazing on the departing body bags. I think this
could soon be me: no return to Éireann mo chroí!

It was a very bad war to send in the Irish,
because like the Mexican War a century before
they felt a certain sympathy for the other side.
Who’s beating the fuck out of whom and why?
Racism kicked in, and also loyalty to friends,
but it was a wrong war against the wrong people

with a need to make amends. I don’t know
if we can ever do so. Every single bloody war
America starts, and by God they start a lot of them,
the Irish are right there by their side. They say
they are Americans now. I believe that, how

could you not believe them? It’s in your face, it’s true,
but for God’s sake stop being stupid, stop being dense,
stop pushing, and have a little bit of sense! Our belief
is still with that Shining City Upon the Hill, and the will
to be a free people living in a free country.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

481. Dutch Cicadas

Cicadas march on to their shift at daybreak, since
you'll never hear the buggers at night. They have
their factory horn: drop your cocks and grab your socks!
It’s reveille, a revelry of summer sounds. A summer morn
as long as these rockers are around, a pervading blight
which can either drive you nuts, or make you reach
for Pina Coladas on the beach, your sunglasses just so,
waiting for that heiress from Indiana. Juliana was still

Queen of the Netherlands when my father fucked off
for New York and didn’t like it. New Amsterdam was a joke
with nothing left but misspelt names: Harlem, the Bronx,
Roosevelt. He lit off with another bloke for Miami Beach
on Trailways Buses through the Deep South, his mouth
opened wide, a constant O of wonder. A lynching in Georgia,
a bottom pinching of a Charleston Beauty. But that was a fat
old white man, member of the Klan, so he was all right.

Travelling on by day and night, the sun a constant trial,
for the Hollanders of his generation did not grow tanned
but proceeded from pink to red to scarlet to near imminent
self-explosion: a phial (bah!) even a gallon of sun lotion
came as little relief. Stubborn, pig-headed, Dutch beyond belief,
he headed for salvation, immolation, between the sea and sand!
Of course he made it. Not only that he met my stunning mother,
stole her off some New York hood. She liked his peeling nose

and reckoned things might turn out good with an honest man.
She was right about that. Pretty girls know men will chase them
for a certain while: be bad, if you like, but make your pile
before the party's over. My Mommy wasn't a hard case, not really,
she wanted out soon. She married my Daddy, Dirk Van Roon,
and lived happily ever after. My sister and I grew up in style,
amid songs and love and laughter. But they are sadly dead now,
as so many people we love are dead. The lines have been read.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

480. Consolation

“Love don't make things nice - it ruins everything.
It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren't here to make things perfect.
We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and to love the wrong people and die.”

- Moonstruck

You know the way you just
run into people, as if by accident?
Strangers, I mean; this is
definitely the main theme
in all our lives. I've often heard
children can’t choose their parents.
So what? I say parents can’t choose
their kids. You take what you get,
but when it comes to chance encounters,
you never know what will happen.

This is a poem about you, by the way.
OK, I may not know your name, sorry,
but I know you very well. This same stuff
has also happened to you, don’t even
begin to deny it. How did you meet
the first boy or girl you ever slept with?
How did you meet the person you married?
When did you start thinking, Omigod,
I wish, I wish I’d waited. Never at all?

Liar. But that’s all right, because we all
tell lies to ourselves. We have to prop up
the façade of who we think we are, who
we think we want to be. Hey, it’s normal.
Otherwise you go quietly insane, take pills,
jump off some fuckin bridge, steer the car
in the oncoming lane. Reality is not good for people.
We need all those little ways of avoiding it,
so if we don’t fall down the stairs, don't get shot,
don't board the wrong plane, we make it to old age.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

479. Afghanistan

There is an Afghan strain in me, loud and ebullient,
as I wear helmets with colourful fluttering streamers
that match my marvellous pantaloons. I tease
my hair into ringlets, put dark kohl under my eyes,
and look sexy, decadent and dangerous.

This pleases me exceedingly.

I know dancing boys with bums like peaches,
alas, alas, on the other side of the river!

When the British came the first time
we murdered Sekundar Burnes, assassinated
their commissar McNaughten, and simply waited.
Elphinstone was an old man, a weak commander,
he decided to retreat to British India.

Hoo, hoo, hoo, what a fool!
We cut them to pieces, murdered them all
in the snowy passes from Gandamak to Jalalabad.
What a wonderful killing time that was,
and the old grandfathers made songs and poems.

Now we have the Feringhi again, not Russians,
but Amerikhani, Anghrezi, some others.
Why do they keep returning? One wonders,
since the result is ever and always the same.
They die, we die, and in the end they leave.

It has always been so.
historical reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Anglo-Afghan_War

Sunday, July 29, 2012

478. Dietramszell


Hindenburg in his declining years
came often, old Prussian as he was,
to soften the hardness, tamp down
his fears. He was so old, near death.

Each gasping breath brought pain:
He, first to know his time was over,
knew that the War had been long ago
but that the politics would remain.

I imagine him in this Bavarian setting,
the low green slopes and distant mountains,
cap-doffings in the street, “Gruess Gott!”
The greetings of God, Herr Feldmarschall!

His steps would have taken him to the church
which stands still now at the bottom of a hill,
and he would have gone in, the Old Junker,
sweeping aside sectarian differences.

Bavarians were well known for being Catholic,
soft and fond of beer. It took Prussian steel
to instill real fear of God! Pause in the annex:
Fallen for Germany, 241 names, this small town.

Slightly abashed, the Field Marshall proceeds.
The main door is opened and glory explodes:
there is no other word, all is white and gold
and decorative and completely unrestrained!

This is the 18th century brought to life again:
baroque, rococo, architecture possibly designed
by pastry chefs, inedible incredible swirls of plaster.
The Field Marshall blinks once, twice. He smiles.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

477. The Return to Ireland of Conor MacArt

Fill ar ais go hÉirinn de Conor MacArt

Three years in a darkened prison, by God,
and myself snivelling and whining for food,
kissing hands of any man who brought me water.

God blast the heathen Jew and Paynim!
I would roar in my black and fearful cell
and the rats would cock their heads to listen.

Bert, my servant, had been summarily executed,
thanks be to God, he with no more stories to tell,
caught stealing bread from homeless orphans.

‘Twas that bread that barely kept me alive
until the summons came, a flood of sunlight,
illuminating stones, the source of a shriek of pain.

The chains and manacles were roughly removed,
and I was bathed and shaved and pomaded.
Arra, this is looking good, says I to myself.

A ship. The Great Suleiman has paid your ransom
I was curtly told, and I confess I was none too pleased,
but then we fell among moustachioed Cypriot pirates.

There was a great furore and a clanging of swords
and when they came down to kill us all, I sang
Kyrie, Kyrie Eleison, Kyrie Kyrie Eleison.

They dropped to their blood-drenched shaggy knees
and asked if I was a priest. I was, I told them,
and was escorted most politely to the upper deck.

I did solemn funeral ceremonies for the Christian dead
while the Turks were simply cast over the side.
I suggested a collection for the widows and children.

Now that I had money I was ablaze to get ashore
and was dropped, feigning illness, on an island called Rhodes.
It took me half a year to get to Marsillia in France.

Erstwhile friends, with exceptions, feigned not to know me,
and it was a weary journey from the south to the north.
At long last I gazed on the turbulent, grey northern sea.

England? No, I hardly think so. That Queen is no friend.
But a long sea journey will cost more than I possess.
Sadly, regretfully, I settled on robbery and murder.

Green and yellow, under clouds, beyond blue rushing waves,
appear the long and longed-for shorelines of Erin.
Home is the wanderer, what fate will await me now?

Friday, July 13, 2012

476. Heartaches (a wee shortie)

are like bonebreaks:
You'll never walk again!
You think it's true,
but then you do.

Friday, July 06, 2012

475. War

A few friendly farts around the table
do not come amiss, a new friendship starts
before language kicks in. Most of the lads
of whatever nation, of whatever station,
laugh at the same jokes. We are yokels.
Wars, I think, are made easy to start
because of male simplicity of the heart.

We need women to keep us sane,
balanced, keeping to the narrow lane
of things that matter. And as we become
older and fatter, the truth sinks in,
that it is young men with their flags unfurled,
heavy on the booze and with nothing to lose,
that make revolutions in this world.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

474. Cahirciveen, 1720

False friends beam slyly in the taproom
and thy name is now unknown to me,
thou Jezebel! The very doors of hell
yawn wide in a field in daylight
my bruiséd soul to greet. A breeze
whistles through the woods, and I,
who once would fawn, dissemble fright,
who would once yield, go weak in my knees,
go light of head, run fey in your sight,
am but a warp in a winding sheet.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

473. Game Suspended

Lounging about, as we do,
in that limbo-like, that lingering time
where nothing happens, the now and then
where we find ourselves asking
which constructs are actually true,
and which but gatherings of desire,
simple deep derivative desires,
or if or whether or when
we retreat or get physically flung
arse over tip, chest over chin,
to be lost without trace, again to begin,
or to be stretched and hung, alone, apart,
shuttled off in rattling old cattle cars
to the rag and bone shop of the heart.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

472. Mister Death Leans Down

When your bones are mangled
people try, they try to be so gentle,
but every movement hurts: such activity,
many many people talking all at once,
all of them in a foreign language.

Think, stay conscious, concentrate!
What … what happened? One minute
cruising along, iPod on the speakers,
last lesson coming up at this company
and then a ten-day break to follow.

Next thing Mister Death leans down,
skids you neatly into the oncoming lane
and lets you watch for a second or two:
you know exactly what’s going to happen
and not a damn thing you can do.

The guy who hit me was not a truck
I’m glad to say, and I’m also glad to say
he wasn’t hurt himself. His first question
as I dangled out the door, presumably dying,
was ‘Hey, dude, do you have insurance?’

I nodded. Bummer, I’ll be late for work.
I tried to lie down, just take a little nap,
when total strangers started slapping me
and behaving in a very impolite, a most
un-Japanese manner. Sirens, sirens …


Apologies. I’m still trying to make sense of this thing.
I’ve been in hospital for the last six weeks
(which would explain the blessed silence).
In time, I’m told, everything will more or less work again
and there will be no permanent physical damage.
I’m not fishing for sympathy here – you’ll know that if you know me.
But I still cannot figure out what the hell happened!!
Being a Celt, no matter how many generations along,
I am only half-Christian and aware of the Other World.
I look upon this as a direct and painful warning.
I have been doing something seriously wrong in my life.
Apparently, I’ve been given one last chance to fix it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

471. Inennan

I want to hold you
but I cannot hold you …
not in front of a policeman
not when the lights are turning green
not when people are looking
not when your eyes are shining
not when a cough is coming
not when a war still rages
not when the climate changes
not when children are sad and hungry 

unless perhaps when it rains
and we can smile in one another’s eyes
and hide under a big umbrella 

but the people will bump into us
from before and behind and say,
move along, move along, move along!



移動する移動する移動する 。

Friday, March 23, 2012

470. The Master

Last in, first out
Is what they used say
In the factories: the layoffs
Sensed before they happened.

And in Belfast, at H & W
Where they built the Titanic,
The Taigs would go first.
The natural order.

I think more and more
Of Louis MacNeice.
Of all the poets in the world,
He is the closest to my soul.

Protean, entirely unimpressed,
Shouldering the black guilt of Ulster
And simultaneously shrugging it off,
Every poem a new beginning.

Auden felt awe as his powers failed.
Spender more or less had given up.
Only Dylan Thomas ploughed on,
Sound-intoxicated, incomprehensible.

Larkin, I think, had little to say.
Heaney, Longley and Paul Muldoon
Owe Northern debts of gratitude,
As so, in my Southern way, do I.

A sample of MacNeice:http://dublinerinjapan.blogspot.jp/2004/07/louis-macneice-dangerously-good-poem.html

Sunday, March 11, 2012

469. Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Beannachtaí na Feile Padraig (Happy Saint Patrick's Day) to all my friends -- and to any enemies as well, what the hell! ... since it's not really any specific day any more a but an extended period every year in the middle of March when you get to thinking about the country and not just what it means to those of us who were born there but for all the people of Irish ancestry all over the world and for the people of any nationality or ethnic background who can tune into the music and the craic and get a sense of what this small country poised between Europe and America has come to add to the ongoing story of our human race, adding great moments of hilarity and good cheer in spite of a history that could have crushed any people less resilient: A pity beyond all telling, Yeats tells us, is hid in the heart of love.

Mary Black:   A Song for Ireland

Friday, February 24, 2012

468. Réimse Beag Glas (the little green field)

Five thousand feckin years if it’s a day
and would yeh look at them cows, shitting,
bedamn, on the same old lumpy grass.

They do be your fields now, Donal Óg,
and your dear departed father’s before you
although the oul granddad wouldn’t have had

tuppence three farthing to rub together,
God between us and harm, and the wife
with a tongue on her that could slice lemons.

You’ll be speaking of me Daddy’s mam?
Ahh, sure, what if I am, Donal my dear,
and she the pride of all five counties?

You’ll be careful now in your choice of words.
I will of course. I will indeed. Would you
look over beyond now at Tim Daly’s tree

where the rooks, unclean birds, do be rising
with the harsh rattling call of their kind,
it’s as though they remember the day.

They were there themselves on the day
or their grandsires surely, swooping down
on the men in the boots and red coats

as young Timmy Daly swung from the bough
with the blessings and thanks of Farmer George,
that fat bloated king of the English.

That day is long gone, Donal Óg,
as we live in the comfort of a difficult peace.
There should be some thought of our children.

Boy children grow up to be men
and the girls grow up to give birth to men:
I fear this business will never be finished.

It is anger and memory that disturbs your soul,
mo chara, mo fear álainn. Sit thee down. Turn
away from this strange and bitter mystery.

There is peace in the land, mo buachaill ghile,
where the cows are patriotic Irish cows,
dropping their Irish dung on Irish fields.

But there are caves and caverns beneath
where the unsung dead cry out for vengeance
and you can hear them in your dreams!

I can hear them clearly, Donal mo chara,
had I a mind to listen, which I do not advise,
for they would lead us on to fear and madness.

Ours is a green and lovely land
carried to the brink of its own destruction
by sióga dona, by the ghosts of history.

Donal, Donal, put your eyes
on the field . Good man yerself.
Put your eyes on the cows. Put your

mind in their minds, was it five thousand
years you said? Aye, that was the figure,
with five thousand more on the way.

Glossary of Irish terms:

Donal Óg -- young Donal, lit. Donal the Young.
mo chara, mo fear álainn -- my friend, my lovely man.
mo buachaill ghile -- my gallant boy.
sióga dona -- evil spirits.

Friday, February 17, 2012

467. The Conversion to Islam of Conor MacArt (Part 7)

An Comhshó a Ioslam de Conchubhair Mac Airt


Níl aon chairde ar nós an sean-cairde.
Tá siad na cinn chun grá agus an brón.*


Holy fuckin Jaysus, here am I in Jerusalem,
dragged out from the dripping tunnels below
with nary a penny to my name. Mazeltov,
says some hairy beaming Jewish gentleman
as he wields a large and rusty Turkish scimitar.
Your most devoted, says I, bending the knee,
I am on an archaeological quest, I am a man of science,
and I greatly fear my poor servant has perished …
Not in the least, a miracle, he is alive, alive!
God Almighty, so he is. My misery is complete!
There he sits, beaming, fackinellmytethortuwozagonner!
I smile weakly, what will I tell O’Sullivan? I collapse.

Days later, on a diet of locusts and honey, I revive
and review the circumstances. Our secret mission
to undermine, to betray these hirsute Hebrews has failed,
and I turn to a steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup.
Eat, eat, eat, cries Rachel, the moustachioed burly mother
of Nathan, the man of the ancient Turkish sword. You are
most kind, says I, lapping it up like a kitten. Just imagine,
she chortles, a man of science in these unsettled days!
Haha, I agree, reaching for my spectacles which I cannot find,
then my bruised and bursting head, still, Thank God, on my shoulders.
You are most kind, dear lady, I murmur, most kind indeed,
but I realise my rapier and pistol are no longer to be seen.

As I was going over the Cork and Kerry mountains
I met with Captain Farrell and his money he was counting
with your Ring-Dumma-Doo-Dumma-Da, no chicken soup
in those easy breezy days. Eat, eat, says the urgent Rachel.
I slurped it to the dregs, (mmm, lovely!) reconsidering my situation.
I was a spy, let’s face it, more or less caught in the act,
under the orders of the sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent,
to whom God should take a spanner, the only living man who could
cause me to shiver more than the murderous Shane O’Neill.
Shane was far far away and gone from the present shenanigans,
thanks be to God, Saint Patrick, and their respective holy mothers:
I never want to behold those mad light eyes again!

A shudder ran through me. You can’t help that thinking of Shane,
and doesn’t the oul wan, Rachel, run up to me with arms outstretched,
poor poor little boy, you are cold, knocking me over with her bosoms,
when Nathan pops in the door, all very bright and cheery: Konbor!
which is what they do be calling me, God bless their little brains,
I have with me your loyal servant, he is so so worried about you!
and in walks Bert, the shifty-eyed blackmailer, the bold rapparee,
Appytaseeyerinthepink , says he, reporting for duty, Sahh! We ogle,
if such a thing can be said, one another. Orrlbleedindeadthebleedinbloighters,
he remarks complacently. So much for the men. Orlbutyouandme. Sahh!
Very good, sergeant, see to my kit would you? Orlloikefackingorninnit?
What? I beg your pardon! Fackingorninnit? Just you and me, sah. Sahh!

Oh, God … (to be continued)


* There are no friends like old friends.
They are the ones to bring you love and sadness.

Links to previous sections below:

Why bother? It's a bit of a story, that's why, and both Mr Dickens and Mr Thackeray have departed this world. A pair of Englishmen, to be sure, no fault of their own, but stories like theirs still need to be told.

Dubliner in Japan: 428. The Conversion to Islam of Conor MacArt
Dubliner in Japan: 429. The Conversion to Islam of Conor MacArt (part 2)
Dubliner in Japan: 430. The Conversion to Islam of Conor MacArt (Part 3)
Dubliner in Japan: 432. The Conversion to Islam of Conor Mac Art (part 4)
Dubliner in Japan: 433. The Conversion to Islam of Conor Mac Art (part 5)
Dubliner in Japan: 433.5 The Conversion to Islam of Conor MacArt (Part 6)

Friday, February 10, 2012

466. Crossover

My life is in your hands, she said,
and my first ignoble thought, forgive me,
was why was she saying this?

We’d only known each other three weeks
and she was a cute lovely girl and all that
but we hadn’t, umm, you know … done anything?

My father comes from the old country, she said,
and he is so strict. My mother, she is worse!
My older brothers, Daoad and Amir,
they always always beat up my boyfriends
and I hate them! But with you I feel good.

Me, I wasn’t feeling ecstatic at this news,
for I had had a glimpse of Daoad and Amir,
those hairy gorillas, and could only imagine
what the father was like. Never mind the mother.

Ehh, do you have any sisters, says I, to move
this dreadful family saga along. Oh, she dead.
She betrayed my cousin so my uncle kill her.

Oh, really?
Yah, my father he must apologise.
Anyway, you kiss me now?

My lips for some reason ran dry,
some temporary saliva failing, and I
took a rather quick look around …

O God! Is that Daoad (or Amir) outside
looking in the window? No, a shadow.
I’m starting to have feelings about shadows.

Look, Zaynab, I really like you a lot …
I know. I am a treasure. Many boys want me.
But you, you don’t only want my body,
you love my mind. I like that in you.

Ah, of course. To be sure.

I like you, you are Irish boy, Irish boys
are strong and brave, good lovers.
I dart a glance again at the window.

O God, that’s him!
doubt without a Daoud,
no, I mean … emm, I need to visit the gents!

Of course, my dear. Don’t be long.
Where is the back door? Unseen by me,
Amir arrives, smiles at his sister,
and picks up my half-finished pint of beer.

Gone then, is he? O like a puff of wind.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

465. The Facebook Poem

 ( aka Cellphone Sally)

Perhaps a coupla hundred contacts
on Facebook, then, as if you could tell
who or what the hell. Might know, see,
37 of these people, but as for the rest,
they pop up as a constant surprise.
Could be for the best, this ebb and flow,
day to day before your eyes, as through
anew this jagged world you come and go:
try not to be cruel, try to be kind!
Wannabe friends? Oh, I don't mind.
So ... that's how you collect all these
stunningly gorgeous Japanese women
(well, according to their own photographs)
who ding on you but don't have to meet you??
Telecomputers become their social tool
which for them is ... so exactly cool,
it tickles their feminine mystique:
don't touch, don't see, don't speak!
Look, look at them on the trains and buses
tap-tap-tapping with polished nails,
having a great time altogether! I think
if smartphones had a disposable stiff extension
for discreet use, say, in a shopping mall
(come on Samsung, come on Apple!)
there'd be no further need for marriage,
no further need for lads at all.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

464. Moon Faraway Person Thinking

Looking at the Moon and Thinking of One Far Away


海上生明月, 天涯共此時。
情人怨遙夜, 竟夕起相思。
滅燭憐光滿, 披衣覺露滋。
不堪盈手贈, 還寢夢佳期。

Over the sea the moon
brightens heaven, brings
to separated hearts
thoughts in the night.

It is no darker
though I blow out my candle.
It is no warmer
though I put on my coat.

So I leave my message
with the moon,
and I go to my bed
hoping for dreams.

-- 張 九 齡 Zhang Jiuling

Translator's note: I hope your computer is able to read and transmit the Chinese characters of the original poem, if for no other reason than that they are so concise and elegant! A difficulty arises in all translations from the Chinese (or Japanese) in that the brevity and directness of the style causes all kinds of technical problems in attempts to reproduce the content in English while adhering to the driving spirit of the poem. The mental worlds surrounding our varied languages and ways of thinking are different, of course, and never more so than when dealing with faraway cultures. Although this poem was composed more than a thousand years ago it is as fresh as the day it was written! You will notice there are three 4-line stanzas in the translation whereas the original is composed of 4 separate stanzas made up by each horizontal line divided into two sections of five Chinese characters apiece. The first stanza of the translation actually combines the first two stanzas of the original, i.e the first half of the poem. This was done on purpose by me in order to maintain the velocity as well as the content of the poem ... and if you can understand that, welcome to the world of translation!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

463. Rewrites

The road was a ribbon of moonlight across the purple moor
when the highwayman came riding, riding up to my front door.
Sirrah, raged he, in tones of dudgeon and high incense:
no more delay, I pray, please pay for your TV license!


Come pensive nun, devout and pure,
sober, steadfast and demure.
Let's go out and have some fun:
we'll dance the fandango and the tango,
and I'll have you home by half past one.


There is sweet music here which softer lies
thn tired eyelids upon tired eyes;
when it gets too much I make it stop
and switch my iPod to hip hop.


The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold
and his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
with ulullating cries they surrounded my car,
and sold me five rugs and a bug in a jar.


When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I think of fine ladies I have caught
and hope the latest won't be the last.


I will arise now and go to Inisfree,
and a cabin I will build there of clay and wattles made;
nine whiskey stills shall I have there, all made just for me,
smoke dope in a purple glow, then doze off in the shade.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
And I remember how he said to me,
you can't take pleasure with you,
you must take your pleasures now,
with girls brought in from Vegas
and gamblers from Macau.


No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
This much is surely plain.
Half-serious, half glitter and tinsella,
A man is in fact a peninsula.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

462. Sussex

Down the village street she goes,
past Tescos, past the illiterate graffiti
delimiting horizons. Wee Timmy & Sheila
are away with the mother, never him,
and beyond is the sea, Portsmouth!
I’ll join the Navy, lose ten stone
and stop shopping at the Paki corner store,
every lost ounce will keep Britain free
as once it were before.

Now the French are over the sea ,
behaving themselves,
and the good old days are o’er;
I can’t go running down the docks
like I did with Maggie and Silly Liz
nor act the happy whore. My life
will change, you’ll see, and a range
of opportunities, those things

will open out before me, no more
charity communities, no more
pill-popping take on life. I will
attack France, they seem to need it,
and they are right across the water
within, you might say, spitting distance.
Never mind Iraq and Afghanistan
so far the fuck away you’d be having no interest.
You need wars with people you know.