martinas-pictures-069.jpgFacing 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


The Green Storybook

For Fiona

Today, the first edition – 1947 – with fine cross –

hatched illustrations arrives from eBay,

in a cellophane-covered never-before-

seen dust wrapper. The apple-coloured

jacket was long gone by the time the Green

Storybook fell into my chubby hands in the

sixties. I taught myself to read from that book,

Enid Blyton’s distinctive script

running across the darker green cloth cover.

I would look for her again and again,

the Secret Garden door,

that first Royal Flush, the miracle

of the black marks straightening themselves

out into sense across the page,

saying this way, this way

you’ll escape.



 from Oh Bart, Rack Press 2012

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
towards the underworld.

from Can Dentists Be Trusted, Anvil Press 2004


are mostly silent,
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),
and gentle,
all women dread
to be called

from All Alcoholics are Charmers, Anvil Press 1998


Light strikes the clock!
I’ve waited five hours
for you to come
crashing in,
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,
kissing my feet
and jaunty.
from The Iniscarra Bar and Cycle Rest, Rockingham Press 1995