Tuesday, June 2, 2020

How Little Has Changed

I’m reading poetry from China,
first century BC,
and thinking ‘how little has changed’.

And now I see a video of a white policeman
murdering a black man,
and I’m thinking ‘how little has changed’.

Now I see a man,
white and powerful, using this to gain advantage
and I think ‘how little has changed’.

And I wonder how so little has changed:
that, even now, an autocrat may gain the favour of citizens
while fellow citizens die.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

On a Rock of Flails

The cormorants are oil slick standing
on a rock of flails, a witch's exile.

Beseech, forever perhaps, the frozen ocean, twinned sky
with outstretched wings;
mimic, why not, the eagle like a famine victim;

as widows gather where a church used to be,
keeping watch for their salvation.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Lowerymore River at Barnesmore Gap

Sinuous river, beer-brown water,
easing past bows
where heaped
granite stones, rounded beneath
numberless years flow,
curl tighter
your mosaic bronze bed
shining now
under inter-crossed
ripples grinning
back straw-coloured sunlight.

Monday, May 25, 2020

The Swans of Derravaragh

The story of the Children of Lir is familiar to many Irish people from Irish folklore; the story originates, I believe, in Scandinavia. It is the sad tale of four siblings who are transformed into swans for 900 years; their step-mother couldn't quite muster the courage to murder them but could not live with the jealousy of  her husband's love for them. The story is heart-wrenchingly sad, but still does not quite distill all the sadness that's in the story.
The siblings will spend 300 years on Lough Derravaragh, 300 on the Sea of Moyle, 300 on Inish Glora. This is my Lough Derravaragh poem. (Please google 'Children of Lir' if you aren't familiar with the story)

On Lough Derravaragh the swans had their fill
of waterweed, pondweed, wild celery and grass;
their songs carried so sweetly over the water
that people travelled to listen and be transported.

Daily their father came to speak with them;
they related their stories. Aoife  was banished
to the high skies, and happiness
was as blue is patched into a cloudy sky.

They saw their father age, grow slower in thought
and speech; bitterness grew with self-recrimination
till finally he could not face them; the rock on which he sat
left bare,their songs became plaintiff and spare.

Three hundred years they spent on that lake,
three hundred years on its iron-coloured water;
the sounds of human life carrying down from the fields, and
the passing years counted in growth and decay, growth and decay.

Friday, May 22, 2020

An Long Corcra - The Purple Ship

An Long Corcra

An spéir glas leathsféarúil,
díon craiceáilte mo theach,
bobaire lán le cruthaíocht.

Na páirceanna gorma spraíúil,
droimneach mar bhraillín sa gaoth
faoi righne na sléibhte dearga.

Agus mise, captaen an long corcra,
ag seoladh farraige mór mo shaol,
gan aird a thabhairt ar compás nó réalta
                                                    ar bith.

I don't think I'd have written this in English; what a pleasure it is to be writing poems trí Gaeilge, and again, if any reader spots a grammatical error I'd be very grateful for the correspondence. Here's a translation.

The Purple Ship

The hemispherical green sky,
mad roof of my house,
prankster full of invention.

The playful blue fields,
undulating like a sheet in the wind
under the strict red mountains.

And myself, captain of the purple ship,
navigating the ocean of my life
without compass or star.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Person

He paints all sorts. Familiar scenes,
but there’s always something missing:
a tree with trunk and crown, no middle,
house with windows, blank space no door.

He lives rough;
his back the wall of his bedroom.
He listens to a radio, low static-filled sounds
that dribble from his privacy into the street.

I’m looking at the doorway;
the paintwork is scorched.
It’s been like that for a while now;
he, himself, is missing.

Monday, May 18, 2020

And then


And then

           And then

   And then

You get to where you are.

       After all that

  After all of it

        After all that

You arrive at where you are.




This is where I have arrived at.

Personal Observation

The page invites words like snow invites footsteps;

the climber’s challenge of a cliff with no footholds.

Countless times my imagination has proven itself to be 

(i) the empty snowscape
(ii) unfit for the challenge.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Trump Watch

For years I couldn't quite grasp how Germany walked itself into despotism. Now I'm beginning to get it.

Friday, May 15, 2020


We recorded trains speeding past:
successions of windows,
film strips flashing across our eyes,
flapping away into the night.

You described trains passing apartment windows
in an Italian city: photographs of strangers:
a cup halfway to a mouth,
a head bent to a drawer.

A photographic exhibition:
snapshots of the disconnected
lives of modern cities;
ephemeral existences, dispensable people.

In your apartment we watched our footage,
it delighted us: trains are film strips;
they roll and roll and roll
and each frame is a kind of death.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Butterfly Poem

One solar bright afternoon, I stopped to watch
a butterfly white wings with orange tips
fluttering for a few moments above the May
green foliage on the roadside at Lough Eske,
then settling on a leaf, a candle flame suddenly still.

Spectacle may be the Grand Canyon’s sheer fall or
a bengal tiger crouching on a snow-bound Himalayan crag;
but in the vastness of a Donegal hedgerow
it is a splinter of life flying between paper-thin wings
more dazzling than rose petals

Monday, May 11, 2020

Speckled Water

The pools

the pools of stones

hide the eels


the eels of mottled water

I dipped my foot


I dipped my foot

into the teeth

the teeth of writhing water 

oh how it ran

ran from me

shiny side of a ripple

how those teeth took my foot

the eels of speckled water

Saturday, May 9, 2020

From a Child's Window

The child is at the window; he is there every evening
at this time, as the clouds of the world are catching fire. He knows
the fields behind his house: the hay-shed with the tunnels through the bales,
the wrecked car under the elders where some of the hens are laying,
the field with the maze of pathways through the furze.

Beyond that, the railway line where the lesser known world begins.
He has been there, where the fields are wide and there are no houses,
to the water hole where the small fish dart from weed cover to weed cover;
that’s where the prairie begins, where cowboys travel alone.

To the left, the railway line cuts straight to the white gates;
he has seen the gates; beyond them trains travel days, weeks
across parched deserts, open steppes, past wadis, oases. The passengers
seldom look: tuxedoed gentlemen with glinting teeth are tipping whiskeys
lit by a million lights in crystal glasses to feather-boa’d women
whose champagne drinks sparkle back from the tips of their slender arms.

He knows the station is to the right, and there’s the bridge he loves to stand on
when the four o’clock is coming through. The excitement as the engine appears,
slowing to the platform, then starts up, and the carriage roofs passing beneath him,
he loves that; then the last of it, the tail slithering away from the station.

Where to? He does not know. It goes into a place he has no thoughts on;
the evening train into the hours he sleeps through; that is where darkness is.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

International Incident in Local Pub

Early twenties, long fair hair, blue-jeaned, Dutch I'd guess. Camping on the beach probably; sitting now with her travelling companion at the next table. 

I’m in the only bar in the locality, Friday night, thronged with locals enjoying the weekly music. The two girls have a different style, they’re noticed, but that’s the height of it; you get summer visitors in these parts.

At the bar, shimmying, the local Ronaldo. Thirty-five-ish, pint in one handmassaging roll of  belly between tee-shirt and jeans with the other; he’s outlining a game-plan to three acolytes: ‘gwan horse!’ 

But the girl’s spread-eagled on his cross hairs and the performance is for her. He’s watching, every few minutes his eyes travelling over to her table.

And suddenly he’s off to her table. He’s full-sail on the open sea, and that’s noticed too, but that’s the height of it.

He asks her to dance.

On the dance floor he’s doing a jive-waltz-dribble sort of thing, interrupted occasionally to lob the odd word down her ear-hole. There’s twirl, lots of twirl, and twinkling feet; the locals know the story, little smiles on their faces, the pair are the only ones dancing.

Back at the bar, anticipation-pricked, he’s warming the lads; shimmies becoming daintier, more intricate like; he calls another pint......and a glass.

The glass crosses the floor, the pint with it.

Stool patted, down goes the arse and it’s chat, chat, chittidy, chattedy, chit-chat; he massages his belly and then another pint.

Glass ?”

No thanks.”

 Back at the bar, horn-filled, brimmin; Rono, ya beauty!

But they bolt. The two girls gone. The discovery takes a moment or two. 

He roars, runs after them,  across the lounge, out the door, slams it shut; leaves the lads scattered, astounded feathers behind him.

And the music, as they say, played on.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Late Afternoon in a Different Time

Late Afternoon

The sky was ablaze with gorse,
I played hide and seek on the tracks between

till a high wind tired of that, so I took the boat out onto the lake,
went fishing for pike.

Countries changed into dogs, bears, ugly guys with misplaced noses;
I looked at the hills, they were wreathed in white thorn,

then turning onto my stomach, I let the sun lie on my back
while I read a little, Treasure Island.

The swallows were wheeling over Wyoming canyons;
I shifted in my rocky lair, but could see no indians coming;

there was a stirring under the palm tree,
and a spider walked up my arm, I watched him for awhile;

he had made a scrawny web of Italy so I blew on him
and the sun moved toward five.

I could see the burst football was not about to play,
so I poked my finger into the blue and looked at it with one eye shut;

the sun was a scorching white ball that no one could look at directly;
I mopped the sweat from my forehead and drained my canteen dry,

then turned onto my side. There were blossoms on the apple trees
and a voice like metal came through the privet hedge.

The voice was calling tea-time; a familiar voice to be sure,
but an escapee from another sky.