Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Child's Imagination

It doesn't take much. Under a hedge was a tunnel, a tree was a fortress, long grass was crawling with unfriendly natives, wildlife, whatever.

The Fort

When the shed was loaded with turf, Martin and I dug a bunker, mounted hurlies, one to the front, two through the slits in the back wall and spent all afternoon watching for Germans invading from Fahy’s or crawling on their bellies through the long grass behind Glynn’s.

Sometimes we took our rifles onto the roof. Shot, we plummeted to our deaths on the lawn or maybe we parachuted with pillow-cases, before dashing for cover under a hail of enemy fire.

Now and then we came charging, guns blazing, picking off enemy between the gooseberry bushes; occasionally we fired on jets, watched their jet-trails pour smoke into the sky before ditching over the horizon, somewhere beyond Stonepark.

All winter our bunker dwindled, till May saw the shed empty. Good thing too, Geoff Hurst wouldn’t want turf stacked in the back of the Wembley net.
Our shed filled with turf.....

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Beginning of Science

Long before Saint Patrick,
leather-footed musicians
would keyhole dawn
to catch the sun in ice candles.

They played those flames on strings,
their spikes of sound,
for children’s whistling eyes and lunatics,
who, in their distance, danced.

Fire caged in ice, ice in their hands;
music lit from within;
ambition began;
separation became a beauty.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Emigration out of Ireland

I honestly thought that the subject of this poem belonged to an Ireland that had passed. I was conscious of the fact that it described a state of affairs unrecognizable to an increasing number of readers, and like most people, believed that Ireland's affluence was here to stay. It’s a poem I felt achieved what was intended, but was past its time.

Who could have guessed that the country would return in a flash to days of high emigration, high unemployment, inflation, lowered wages, and empty houses.

It may not be as bleak in today's rural Ireland as the poem describes, after all we're falling from a richer place, but it is the 2011 version of same and I no longer believe the poem has lost its relevance.

Inheriting The Land.

Here the sea is no more than a sigh in a shell,
conversations speed past, pole high, Dublin to Galway
and music is the wind whistling beneath a door.
Slightness describes Summer's step,
stonework its skies; a little light drips
from its edges but it's falling from a miser's hand.
Across the fields the church, within its necklace
of dead congregations, is a rusty hinge;
a place filled with a century's stillness.
And the ivy-choked trees lean closer together
like old men guessing at each others' words.

If you were to fly over these patchwork hills,
along the hedgerows and through the lightless haggards,
you'd never meet a soul. The old farmers are sitting
in their twilight kitchens, their families standing
on the mantelpiece in the other room that's never used
with faces tanned beneath American skies.
Only the din of crows seeps into that silence;
crows more numerous than leaves on the sycamores,
always bickering, hogging the light,
building their cities, staking their inheritance.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Growing Up

Shortly you will trace lines,
join the herds,
leave your trail among the trails
meandering over the hills.

We are part of some eccentric’s
I wish I could tell you more,
my little love.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Where Are You.

Where are you.
Where are you child.
Among the spring green leaves
Naked as a lizard;
I hear your airy lilt,
Why are you humming.

From what remote well
Do these grotesque sounds come;
Dispatched, bleak cirrus
In the high skies of a child's voice,
Freezing all the forest
Into fairy-tale stillness.

Where are you,
Where are you child.
In what empty paradise;
Where's the tower that emits your eccentric song;
Against the frozen wings of which birds of paradise
Do you rub.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Often the well is dry


tired words
burst like plastic footballs.

Waiting on this sand-paper plain,
I am no more than a skull
propped up.

With biro for harpoon,
I remain still
in the little pool of my shadow,

turning questions over
on the spit of my mind;
I have burnt larks on my plate.


And when there is drought and nothing is growing, the first rain comes like a shower of diamonds.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Happiest Days

The happiest days were the days before worries or responsibilities, before time was important; summer afternoons at home in Roscommon, childhood days,nothing to do but watch swallows circling and put the eye low to the lawn, imagining.

This poem was included in an excellent anthology, edited by Niall MacMonagle,"Real Cool, poems to grow up with"(Marino Books,1994). This is the anthology I would recommend to anyone who is dipping their toes into poetry, an inspired choice of poems from editor Niall MacMonagle


On an evening
when apple was eating the worm,
tree grating the sun
with some clouds, dusty birds;
the green cloth
was spread to the orchard wall.

I watched bees collecting post
while cat was a tea cosy
with dozey trip-wire eyes.
Suddenly dog alarm in the hedge
comes bursting from the undergrowth:
big game hunter
and cat gone steeplejack.

Then dog winks
and we stretch out,
and I go back to being a microscope
eyeball deep in daisies.

Another poem I've posted previously comes from the same time:

Where The Poetry Comes From

Fathomless blue;
Blue sky.

Two swallows proclaiming it
Are extravagant

Dancers in an empty ballroom.
A church bell chimes

Two, three, five o’clock;
No matter;

Tracing curves to unending time;
A route to south Africa?

Fathomed true;
Blue sky.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The baby in the tree

The baby in the tree
is screaming.

High above the pathway
near the black tips
of the sycamore branches
he is gaping,
white membraned luminous.

How did he get there?

He blew there in the wind;
it took him
like a flag from his cot
till he was stretched
across the boughs
like the wings of a bat.

And who sees him?

I do;
all his hopeless writhing,
too high for the passerby.
And his screams:
too high,
too high for the passerby.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

In Mayo

Some places remain in your head all your life. Not intact, but fragments that still convey (broadly) the appearance of the place. So you return, and your geography is completely off but the essence is right.
As a student of Geology, I spent a week mapping in Finney near Lough Nafooey in Co. Mayo. A wonderful time and a wonderful place. The fragments have stayed with me ever since. When I wrote a poem “In Mayo” sometime around 1990, it was Finney I was thinking of.

See for a range of photos from this beautiful area. From “Sunfire”:

In Mayo

The sky:

rags on bushes
in a wintry gale.

The barbed-wire fence:

a lunatic's music
sprinting down the valley.

The mountains:

tossed heads
with their silvery sheen.

Telephone wire:

daisy-chained voices
humming out of tune.

The lake:

a shirt that blew
off a line.

Rowan tree:

tongue on the mountain
shaping high C.