Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Crowd Control




        taut with anticipation, grabbing photographs of the crowd

        for their own special consideration. 


        at ease,  the satisfying  tug of leashes in their fists,

        the occasional pulling of a dog up short; 

        (an enthusiastic dog must learn to relish).


        boys who have the bristling love for smashing glass

        cooped up in their heads.  


       the passion for cleansing forever tugging

       and the stains of humanity spreading through the streets.

Trolls, Kings and Other Solitary Souls

Many years ago, while on a geology fieldtrip in Norway, I had an interesting experience that clarified for me the origin of those ever so popular trolls in the tourist shops there.
One day, while mapping in the mountains, I came into a very remote and lonely valley that had at the far end of it a single stone cottage. A strange sight in that remoteness, I walked towards it to investigate. But as I approached, I saw there was an old person bent over, working at something on the ground. I approached slowly and with growing apprehension. The person seemed totally unaware of me and continued at his or her task.
Being in such a wilderness, so remote and alone, all the possibilities of the old fairytales solidified in my mind. A childish fear flooded over me. I moved towards the forbidding spectre, heart in my mouth. It wasn’t until the last moment that I saw that it was a gnarled old tree.
As did Patrick Kavanagh in his ‘Christmas Childhood,’ one crisp moonlit Christmas morning, I saw the three kings travelling up the hills outside Roscommon. It was a magical Christmas sight, and I stopped to look at it for a long time.
Now I am looking out at some scattered hawthorns on the slopes of the hills above Barnesmore. They pitch themselves against the winter gales and flaying rain. They stand, rooted in boulder strewn, thin soil, crabbed old codgers with tobacco coloured dead bracken all about. On another day, when the mist is heavy, they bend into the wind and prepare to walk. For eons they have passed travelers on the road without a word, or maybe they have lisped some message that seemed to come from souls long since departed.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Heaven or not, we are reborn

Padded out from a stand of sycamores,
confident, purposeful.
Stopped opposite the newly dug ridges
to listen for the lithe young collie.
Glanced behind, indecisive for a moment,
ambled on.
Loped past the gable where the dark-haired boy
kicks a football,
slipped through a hole in the hedge
onto the road.
the fox, stretched lifeless on the grass,
a cloud of flies at its eyes,
already stinking of resurrection.
Happy Christmas, by the way; see you on the  other side.

Saturday, December 19, 2015


We change,
time moves us  along.
Our loves change like trees,
like fires,
like buildings. 

They become our old books,


The catalogue lists fond memories,

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Visceral Art

The best art sends you away carrying some of the mood the artist wanted to convey, but you  have to be an active participant; in the case below, you must imagine yourself in that confined, airless vault. 

A friend’s conversation on the German artist Hans Holbein sent me back to his work, in particular, ‘Dead Christ Entombed’.
Not the only artist to depict the dead Christ to extraordinary effect, (Mantegna’s brilliant ‘Dead Christ’ with its jaw-dropping perspective is an obvious example), however Holbein has gone for the horror of the real in a way that distinguishes it from the others.
The undignified image of our stripped God is usually softened with closed eyes, a coterie of mourners, a cloth that drapes down artistically. Not here. This God is stuck, eyes wide open, in a vault that is unbearably claustrophobic. His beard, stiff in rigor mortis, accentuating the lack of room, his mouth open as though death came in the effort to get one last breath from this sliver of space. No details spared, prominent  belly-button and bump of genitalia, discolouring wounds, the all to human anatomy.
The hand at the centre of the painting has the usually absent, but here deadly accurate, colour of bruising; the nail-hole like an eye, eyeballing the viewer. This is a man with all the shocking vulnerability that can be portrayed in an emaciated human body. 
If I was a painter, I would retire after painting that.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Achilles Heel



Sunday evening, Father in gold gilt

weaving words and incense

into a melange

of heavenalia.

Monday noon,

wavy hair, brush eyebrows

strolling common touch

down Goff Street.

Sunday evening, in gold gilt again;

my eyes snagged

on his odd socks

all through Benediction.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Weekend of Rain

Two days of torrential, flailing rain. Biblical levels, and more tomorrow. Sure, the scenery disappears, but in the city lights wriggle away from their sources, in doorways shadows become carnivorous.

     Rain Street


   Down the street

   rain lights running

   drizzling concrete        

   sizzling lake.

   Flashes red flashes

   running in rivulets

   yachting cartons

   crowd in a grate.

   Umbrella shadows

   with foot halo splashes

   shirt collar drippings

   shoes under siege.

   Gutters play bongos

   for galvanize tappers

   tyres make clashes

   spangling streams.

   And faces in windows

   unravel down panes

   their cigarettes burning

   their signature stains.

   Then squinting bus queue

   like socks on a line

   become runaway legs

   legs like twine.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Gerhard Richter's Lesende (1994) is a beautiful study of the play of light on this young woman's profile. There is a beautiful peace in the work. It is poetry in light.

The sunlight on the back of your neck,
ear-lobes, hair;
the page-reflected glow onto your chin,
dimming upward towards your eyes;
all else, darkness around you.
If I’d never seen that you are beautiful;
that day, the light that chose to steal up behind you,
to settle on you  so gently, but dazzlingly;
that light would have been light enough
to reflect forever in my mind.

Friday, November 27, 2015



He, who covered my body

with snail-trails,

whose hands were wrack

swept over my skin,

kisses on my back

a colony of shell fish.


He, who would have crossed a mountain range

for an hour between my thighs

now crawls over me

with wizened passion.

Gutted of love,

he comes clawing,


and insults me with lies

that have made greater pincers 

of his mouth than his hands.


What does he see in me ?


Meat to excite him,

his groper's desires,

even his fingertips betray him.

But no more,

the erotic becomes ugly,

decrepit manoeuvres disconnected

from their original meanings;

the touches stain you.


I have watched him slither from my gaze

a thousand times a night 

while slipping the word love 

from his vocabulary;

watched him develop this communication

of knives and forks.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Eerie art

Reflections in puddles and pools can throw reality into the most unexpected compositions of forms and colours. Juxtaposed with the watery medium's actual surroundings, the resulting artistic effect can be stunning.
I find this to be  particularly true of bog holes. The spare beauty of the landscapes, the bleakness of winter skies in Ireland, the suggestion, (since they tend to be oblong, rectangular), of an ethereal grave. If I stop to look, I'm likely to find myself  absorbed into melancholic thoughts.

Bog Hole

Mute Michael laid out on water

shivers like a flag.

Fissures of sky rake him,

his mouth worms.

Night, extinguishing the bog cotton,

finds him alone

treading visions,

dressed in bottomless black.
Detail from painting by Elaine Leigh. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Time to Honour Kathleen Lynn

Suffragist, labour activist and nationalist, Kathleen Florence Lynn lived most of her life in Rathmines, and has been shamefully forgotten in a city she served selflessly and tirelessly.

She was born in County Mayo in 1874, daughter of Church of Ireland Rector, Robert Lynn. Some of her education was received at Alexandra College, Dublin; she qualified with degrees in medicine, surgery and obstetrics from the Royal University in 1899. In 1909 she was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.During the Lock Out of 1913, she became involved in the relief efforts for workers and their families. This commitment to the welfare of Dublin’s poor became a driving force for the rest of her life.

Her activities brought her close to Countess Markievicz and James Connolly. She was appointed Chief Medical Officer with rank of the Captain of the Irish Citizen Army, and served in that position during the Easter Rising. Part of the City Hall Garrison, at the time they surrendered, it was Kathleen who was in command. Imprisoned after the Rising; following her release she became an active member of Sinn Féin. She was elected TD for Dublin County on the anti-treaty side in 1923. After failing to be re-elected in 1927, her involvement in politics diminished; she did remain active with the Rathmines urban district council until 1930.

Lynn lived and ran a practice at 9 Belgrave Road, Rathmines. Her commitment to Dublin’s poor was exemplified by her work at Saint Ultan's Hospital, which she founded, along with Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, in 1919 to care for impoverished mothers and infants. It was a pioneering initiative, the first infant hospital in Ireland.

She died on 13 September 1955, and was buried in Deans Grange Cemetery with full military honours.

Her sympathies with the Republican cause brought her into conflict with her family, her gender mitigated against her in her profession. In spite of all this, she persisted and is one of Ireland's great unsung heroines. Perhaps the new children’s hospital will be named after her; one way or the other, it is now time to honour Kathleen Lynn.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Two New Books: Poetry from Gerry Boland, and Pilgrim Heritage in Cork

Two launchings for your diary. I’m  delighted to be launching Gerry Boland’s new collection of poems, In the Space Between (Arlen House) in King House, Boyle at 12.00 noon on Saturday 28th November.
The second is Dr Louise Nugent and Dr Richard Scriven's Wells, Graves & Statues: Exploring the heritage and culture of pilgrimage in medieval and modern Cork, which will be launched at 7pm on Wednesday the 25th of  November at St Fin Barre's Cathedral, Cork City.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Who Has Seen the Old Men?

Poverty makes  old look older.  Clothes become outer skin. Identified by their clothing, faces become unseen. We discount the clothes before there is ever the beginning of engagement with the person's face. And so, having dehumanised many of the most needy, we can live, happily avoiding the poverty on our streets.
Who Has Seen The Old Men?
Who has seen the old men
getting their suits
tanned to their backs? 

Ghost of a check,
button-holes frayed,
crew-cut threads.

Years worn on face
and on cloth;
the cloth becomes the face.

And when the Summer colours
come clashing
on the young, 

who will see
the old men
in their ashen clothes?

Friday, November 13, 2015

A love poem

I Give You       


This tree's dripping fruit

to place in your mouth

to ripen your tongue.


The water guttering down

these green leaves

to be a trellis of fingers

about you.


This soft drizzle of sunlight

to fall gentle as the petals

of meadowsweet on your cheeks.


This bindweed and all tendrils

to hook and bind

our desires together.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

What Does He See Where I See Only Stone?

What does he see where I see only stone?

The man is still, his gaze fixed on the ground

but that gaze compels you to look again;

in such  moments a mind might overreach the stars.


I see my reflection, he says;

I see my hair no longer covers my head,

its silver ring above my ears, he says,

is like gorse cleared from a hill-top.

And, he says, I see the child struggling

in the young branches of childhood,

the school doors fanning him on and on

through corridors of captivity, a whirligig

through years, disremembering his own footsteps.

I see the would-be lover, and he loved his hair;

he put a shine in his eye like I polish a shoe;

and his full bracelet of teeth; my God, he could smile.

I see how time subtracts: aging dreams

till they become hobbled old goats that have outstared you,

till they have become unbelievable.

My young loves reflected back have their young faces still

but I would be afraid to see them now.

My plans and projects are shunted, rusting old carriages;

I don't visit them anymore. 


The old man's arms are folded so fingers lie like stripes

on his right arm, forage in the dark woolen sleeve

of his left. His head is slightly forward,

his eyes unblinking as though entranced

by weeds growing on the floor of a pond.


I see too that I never held the reins of a life,

that indifference is a colander, indecision has the grasp

of a hand without fingers. Days are punched down

like receipts onto a nail; named, counted, collected,

they grow into months; life flitting across the pages 

of a calendar, falling  into the holes between Christmases.

And I remember those Christmases

long ago when I was young, the totting up  ̶

over a drink  ̶̶ of departed faces and the wishes,

the wish-bone skinny wishes for the coming year

that smouldered beside a glass of stout and then went out.


I see those faces whose roots entangled with my own,

how arrogance blinded me so I could not see

it was the carpet of their roots that buoyed me up

until recently, feeling them slip away,

feeling the cold gaps they’ve left around me, I discovered

it wasn’t I that put the colours in my head,

and with that discovery much has toppled

that hindered my view. I see, as though from a height,

my head is indistinguishable from all the others

rushing like froth from this life that we call



Now his face is raised, his eyes red-rimmed

with the racing bobbin that’s in his head:

I saw the ground and the scuffed toe to my shoe;

a lifetime might have no other measure than

its number of worn out shoes.