Poems

 

Oysters

It feels good everyone says so,
warm and small like a doll’s
house and because it never housed
anyone with the money to exercise change
all the fireplaces intact
and the eight-paned internal window
of the basement bedroom
looking into the low hallway,
(although the concrete floor must
have been mud before) and
the garden earth full of artefacts –
pram wheels, green glass, china milk
bottle tops, monstrously thick
broken crockery
and seam after seam of oyster shells
because that’s what they ate,
washed down with stout
the pastrycook assistants,
butcher boys and nursemaids who
lived in these poor rooms
with their grand pretensions
all decked out in miniature
the piano nobile windows
on the first floor the laughable
appropriate architraving
for servants and their betters
and yet at night when
I hear certain noises and the cats stare
when the picture of Our Lady
of Guadalupe is transported
by the optical illusion of the Camden Passage
lamp and the eight panes of glass
to hover over the narrow basement stairs
despite all my childhood fantasises
of time travel and poking Henry the Eighth
in his fat sectarian brocade
with my future finger,
I am afraid
I’ll see them:
so small and sickly pre-
penicillin pus-filled.
I imagine them like the Irish fairies
low-sized, half-human, queer-looking.
I’ve never liked oysters
on the table either
rough and slithery
dirty-looking
and capable of killing you
like some awful 19th Century disease
like general paralysis of the insane,like syphilis. 

 

 

Wuthering Heights

for Kraige Trueman

It’s never far away from me despite
being no longer young or romantic
and when Dora runs free across the pergola
she reminds me more of Kate Bush
than a Norwegian Forest Cat.
It was the darkness
that captured me years ago:
Lockwood in his oaken Georgian bed
the sliding panels like a coffin
Cathy calling outside
the cruelty of her arm sawn across the glass.
Even in my dreams last night when Liadain
came down to the basement
frantic to tell me that someone was
calling and knocking in the back garden
outside my casement window
and even in my stark terror when I lifted
my head from under the covers
in the lightening room –
which I could see was empty now
except for Dora’s shaggy silhouette –
I couldn’t help asking the dream-Liadain
even though I knew the real Liadain
was still asleep in her own room
was it like Wuthering Heights?

 

 

Gazebo

Gazebo was the word my mother
used to describe a mad exhibitionist
or a queer hawk. For example,
so-and-so was going around like a
right gazebo. Naturally I imagined
a gazebo had legs and travelled so
I was surprised to see my first one
on an English village green, going
nowhere, the wedding couple
toasting each other under its rippling
blue and white canopy as cricket bats
smacked slowly in the heat. My mother
grew up near landed gentry and
the gazebos hidden in their walled gardens
must have entered her language
like escaped seeds,
growing into wild tramps
that straggled along the Rathkeale road,
on strange, overblown feet.

 

 

Facing the Public

My mother never simply asked, it was
I’m asking you for the last time, I’m imploring you
not to go up that road again late for Mass. 

She never had slight trouble sleeping, it was
Never, never, for one moment did I get a wink,
as long as my head lay upon that pillow.
 
She never grumbled, because No one likes a grumbler,
I never grumble but the pain I have in my two knees this night
there isn’t a person alive who would stand for it.
 
She didn’t have an operation; she died in the Mercy Hospital
and came back to life only when Father Twohig beckoned
from the foot of her blood-drenched bed.

She didn’t own a shop and a pub, she told bemused waitresses
that she was urgently running a business in the country,
when she insisted that we were served first.

She didn’t do the Stations of the Cross
she sorrowed the length and breadth of the church.
Yet, she could chalk up a picture in a handful of words

conjure a person in a mouthful of speech; she took off her customers
to a Capital T, captivating us all in the kitchen and
drawing a bigger audience than she bargained for.

How often we became aware of that silent listener
when he betrayed himself with a creak, a sneeze or a cough.
How long had he been standing, waiting in the shop?

We looked at each other with haunted faces.
I being the youngest, would get the task of serving him
his jar of Old Time Irish, his quarter pound of ham,

writing his messages into The Book, red-faced and dumb
before his replete and amused look.
Meanwhile inside, my mother held a tea towel to her brow.

Never, never, never would she be able, as long as she lived,
even if she got Ireland free in the morning, no, no,
she would never be able to face the public again.

 from Facing the Public, Anvil Press 2009

Flowers in the Attic

I hate Dublin and the radiography lectures
and the X-ray department even more,
they laugh at my Cork accent and one
of them said Aids is a North Side disease.
I don’t want to be here with the snobby girls
with the Donnybrook accents or the registrar
who has nick-named me Cork even though
he is kind. The girl who loves sailing
asks every single one of us what our fathers
do – owning a pub
sounds like something dirty now.
Alone for a moment, I crawl into the shower
with Flowers in the Attic and a cinema-sized
bag of Maltesers. Minutes later, Sister
Patricia taps on the door. She smiles
at her fellow Corkonian.  I know she cycles
the underground corridors of  St. Vincent’s
in the dark evenings, her white veil flying.
I know she knows a fellow oddball.
Now, Tina. I hide my trashy book behind my back.
When you’ve wiped your face, you’ll
have to come back to Nuclear Physics.
The Siemens engineer’s been in there
for the last five minutes. I’m nearly twenty-one
scared I’m pregnant,
no qualifications, no hope yet
mournfully following her white habit.

 

 

 

 

 from Oh Bart, Rack Press 2012
page12_1

Can Dentists Be Trusted? 
(for Tatiana and Peter)
 
There are the ones you only visit once,
like the fellow in Phibsboro, Dublin
who roared ‘Jesus Fucking Christ’
his leg up on the dentist’s chair
as he pulled out
my embarrassed tooth.

Or the one who told me to lie
about being pregnant
so I could have crowns
that I never said
I wanted
free on the NHS.

The man in Kensington
who told me he loved
the Irish, really
then died five years later
leaving me the legacy
of an HIV test.

Others, you have to stay with.
But if they are private
they may want all your teeth
in the end.
You could find yourself
opening wide
while laid out on the chair
like a corpse
with a coin in its mouth
travelling
towards the underworld.

from Can Dentists Be Trusted, Anvil Press 2004

page11_1Cows

are mostly silent,
sharp-shouldered,
fertile,
moist-eyed,
long-lashed,
cream-coloured,
or black,
or black and white,
or brown,
or brown and white,
or red,
or red and white
(white with red ears
the ones from the underworld),
motherly,
slow-walking,
vegetarian,
horny
and gentle,
all women dread
to be called
cows.

from All Alcoholics are Charmers, Anvil Press 1998

page16_1Jaunty

Light strikes the clock!
I’ve waited five hours
for you to come
crashing in,
apologising,
kissing my feet,
and jaunty.
Jaunty! I’ll give you
jaunty – I’ve waited
while my mouth dried up –
a wrinkled raisin of fear –
saw the crash
put you in the ambulance
attended the funeral
bawled at the grave
comforted the orphan
collected the insurance –
all these long
clock ticking hours
till you came in,
apologising,
kissing my feet
and jaunty.
from The Iniscarra Bar and Cycle Rest, Rockingham Press 1995