Saturday, December 31, 2011

Painting Poems

A number of years ago I wrote a series of poems about a painting session. Beside namesake Michael O’Dea and three other artists working at their easels, I sat writing solidly on the weather, ambience, painting process, progress of the painting and anything else that came to mind. To anyone passing, it would have looked like I was writing a painting.

The series is still sitting in my computer waiting to be included in a suitable collection, (or for a beneficent lover of art and poetry), but unusually the model and that same painting did make it into a poetry book. The painting became the cover for Micheal O’Siadhail’s collection “Love Life”.

Came in from the rain,
slate, strangled light,

streets streaming
green red wrack,

a city of disappearing,
quenching presences,

into stillness,
taut concentration.

Her back: a flame;
centre of the room,

on the wooden platform,
the scarlet gown;

her hair tied up, hand:
a teardrop on mahogany.
The chevron shadow beneath her chin,
seagull-winged clavicles,
almond-eyed navel,
lush ravine of her groin,
parabola shade beneath her breast,
arc-topped thighs:

he exposes these like an archaeologist
dusting a stone’s markings
into the light of day.

Skin, flesh, fat,
water and blood,
lymph and bone.

Light diminishes;
all changes
like a moving sky.


From the murk
a lighter hue,
a suggestion of form
rising toward definition.

Colours delineated,
form emerges;
features arriving last,
buttons sewn onto a coat.

He hopes for an effervescence,
a sparkling quality,
the extra melody that plays
beneath an achieved harmony.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Imagining the Emigrant's Sadness

Coming back from a holiday in Scotland,I got a very strong sense of sadness. It has to do with watching the slow diminishing of first the people,then the harbour,then the town,the town's environs,the country.

Loch Ryan is Pink.

Loch Ryan is pink.
Stranraer is curling up in a corner
with its people shrinking inside it.
I'm watching the hills' colour draining away
so they become just shadows of a land.
Only the gulls are real and even they
look more like discarded wrappers.

I am looking back over the stern
with the wind pouring down the port-side,
a wisp of the emigrant's sadness blows over me.
This receding shore to another Irishman
might have been Lough Foyle or Cobh or Sligo
and the light at Malin or Tory might
have been the last twinkle before the ship
buried itself in the Atlantic darkness.
The last beads of land would have been treasure
to be stored but instead they are like water.

As the day funnels even further to the west
Scotland makes itself small; somehow it seems
to be leaving us; turning away. The ship's trace
is a luminous wake and a highway of smoke;
you, who have left no trace, are already forgotten.
I imagine them homeless on board a Christmas tree
bobbing on an ocean between two continents.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bank Exterior, St Stephen's Green

This scene goes back a number of years: a down-and-out seeing himself in a bank window,venting self-hatred to its cold but affluent exterior - the wealth in the building that should be in the people.Even more appropriate now than then as more and more of our people suffer to keep those buildings sparkling.

Today I saw

Today I saw a man
watching a reflection
smoke his cigarette.
When the sun collected on his pate
the reflection wiped the sweat away.

Today I saw a reflection
scorn a man. He moved closer;
it did too
till their noses almost touched,
their shabby coats sewn into one.

He shook his right fist,
the reflection shook its left,
words passed between them.

Today I saw a man
turn with hatred from his reflection
or was it the reflection
that turned away from him.

I suppose I could have hit a happier note for the season that's in it; anyway HAPPY CHRISTMAS, see you on the other side!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Jesus' Blood

In 1971 Gavin Bryars was working on a film about people living rough in London when some people launched into drunken song. One, who was not drinking, sang "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet".

The song’s optimism, in striking contrast to the man’s living conditions, is extraordinarily moving; the direct statement of faith in his song is beautiful and somehow reassuring of the human spirit. The album "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet” was released in 1993 and nominated for a Mercury Award that same year. Sadly the singer had died before being able to share Gavin Bryars’ success.

This poem was written after listening to the album. It helped that his voice wavered like my father’s.

An Old Man Sings.

An old man sings;
I have not got the words, nor the art,
nor the understanding to convey to you
the sadness of that song.
It is as if he has always lived;
it is as if he lived as a bird that flew
through every battle, every famine,
every massacre.

And as he sings,
the words come clear and strong and wavering;
words that wash through his veins as surely
as blood does; words that have been left
among the homeless. Yet, when he sings,
he touches each one like a treasure.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Dance

The film Heaven's Gate will always stay in my memory for its wonderful dance sequences. Spectacular, exubrant, joyful; not many films have brought sequences of such joyful abandon.


I remember getting the same sense of exhilaration from the dance scene in Brian Friel's play "Dancing at Lughnasa".That brief explosion of exubrance that serves to highlight the degree to which the Mundy sisters are oppressed in their normal existence (and the heights joyfulness locked away in their hearts) in rural Donegal.

What an escape those house and cross road dances must have been in the hard times of 18th and 19th century Ireland. It's unlikely most of us can even imagine.

From Pat O'Connor's film of "Dancing at Lughnasa" (1998)

See how, like lightest waves at play, the airy dancers fleet;
And scarcely feels the floor the wings of those harmonious feet.
Ob, are they flying shadows from their native forms set free?
Or phantoms in the fairy ring that summer moonbeams see?
As, by the gentle zephyr blown, some light mist flees in air,
As skiffs that skim adown the tide, when silver waves are fair,
So sports the docile footstep to the heave of that sweet measure,
As music wafts the form aloft at its melodious pleasure,

from The Dance by Friedrich von Schiller

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bringing Misery

Apropos of the last posting, it seems that we are designed to distance ourselves from emotions that are negative. How else can we view the horrors of famine and war, then within moments, revert to our carefree selves. In times of personal tragedy be so distraught and yet glibly allow our politicians wage wars on dodgy pretexts, and frequently in our name.

Wars for economic reasons, thinly veiled as humanitarian bringing unspeakable misery and heartbreak to millions.

This Don McCullin image captures the horror of war in one face; I write it and turn away.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Shock of Death

The greatest shock is touching the marble face of someone so loved and the message arriving through your fingers: this is no longer him.

The Viewing.

Dead: the colour of old cream,
his eyes shuttered shut;
so neat, besuited and slim,
weight he lost dying.

They made a basket of his fingers
with a rosary spilling down;
everyone said he looked lovely
but when I touched his face,
it wasn’t him at all.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


This is from a series that was based on carnival masks. Masks are associated with fancy dress and fun, but masks are worn for concealment too. These include the criminal's mask,the facial expressions of a con-man,the poker face, teacher's discipling demeanour, the actor, politician, policeman, etc.These are the faces we present in our daily transactions, the myriad approaches we adopt with everyone we meet.

My head is an eggshell
intact, hollow.

Left on the ground
weather leaves its stains;

on the outside I smile that smile
which passers-by notice less and less.

All I can do
is keep widening the smile;

wider and wilder,
eventually grotesque.

They start running;
I am left alone.

(from Felos ainda serra; pub. Amastra-N-Galar, 2005)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kitty Fenlon’s Last Day

That day Kitty Fenlon,
propped up in her bed,
was staring at the bedspread.

Snow melting in her eyes
fell, tiny bells,
into the valley far below.

Suddenly, arms spread wide,
a blizzard of hair,
she swept outward

off her ledge,
into the sky
across the room.

We stared at her
non-plussed face,
the four pillows tucked behind her.

(previously pub. in the sHop)