Friday, April 25, 2008

327. fionnuala

all along the riverrun bawdy,
she sometimes leaves her lights on
then opens her window a wee little crack,
so as to let the ghosts get in
and let the ghosts get back;

sometimes she leaves her lights on,
all bright in a surrounding sea of black
along the river rank and tawdry,
and the ghosts float in and take their ease,
pale disembodied memories.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

326. Ireland in October

A cold fierce rain
lashes the windows;
pulling across the curtains
as the evening draws in,
we lay more sods of turf
upon the faintly flickering,
sputtering fire, then nurse
our drams of single malt.
We listen to, for we cannot ignore,
the half-human shrieks
of the wild Atlantic winds.

I don't know, says Uncle Liam,
how much of this you can understand.

in this whitewashed cottage
planted, perversely,
on the edge of nearly nowhere
sits a four-poster bed
with sagging springs
in a room no longer used
nor visited, occupied now
by dust and sepia photographs,
wherein the procreative urge
unleashed seven generations
of this failing family.

The pounding rain, the heartless wind,
now as in times past
and in the coming days to be,
deride our aspirations;
mock our faltering, our timid
sense of connection,
our humanity.

On that bedroom wall
housed in an ancient frame
is a faded stitching sampler:
"God Bless Our Happy Home",
piously, if a little uncertainly
accomplished, by her own hand,
by Emily May MacCarthy
on October 20, 1843.
She was the fifth of eleven children
and one of the seven
who starved to death
along with her despairing parents.

In the photographs, dapper
gentlemen with large moustaches
stare into the unforgiving lens
with set expressions
of puzzled defiance; they pose,
stiffly, among tasteful studio
backdrops: a small side table,
a pillar or two, potted palms.
James Boyle Roche. Photographer.
15 Bridge Street. Ennis

is stamped within an oval
in the corner: the building
still exists, the ground floor
is now a fast-food restaurant.

Wedding couples,
equally unrelaxed, stare
sightlessly from the past;
they stare at me across a canyon
of mutual incomprehension:
I could not even begin
to understand these people.
He sits, she stands,
but she places a tentative
pleading hand
upon his rigid manly shoulder.

There is another
strangely out-of-place picture
of my great-great-uncle Marteen,
shot dead in the civil war.
A cocky 24-year-old
with a cheeky grin,
he is brandishing
an enormous revolver
and smokes a jaunty cigarette.
I can tell from the look of him
we could have had a drink,
he would have cut through
the damp lace-curtain piety,
the respectability,the fear.

But the rain will have none of it:
it comes down in buckets,
it comes down in cascades.
You will never never
never be free, it says:
in this country you will
never be released.

Liam is uncharacteristically
subdued, even embarrassed:
he shifts from foot to foot, in front
of the now warm and blazing fire.

there are so many old photographs
here and there on the dresser,
even more on the sideboards:
cloche hats on smiling elegant women,
baggy suits on the gents, all caps and hats;
they grin and squint in the harsh sunlight
of those long forgotten days, sporting
fashionable shortened neckties:
my unknown, all but unknowable
dead ancestors.

A flicker of sympathy
if not of recognition
slips through
this threnody of regret.

Listen, I think I'm going to bed,
it's been a really long day, I say.
Liam frowns. An awkward
silence ensues: Emmmm ...
Listen to me. There's something
I really need to tell you.
It's about the family ....


It will keep for another hundred years

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

325. Up to Tokyo for Kao's Wedding

The Band made the trip up to the Big Smoke last Sunday to play at Kao's reception. I came up by bus the previous day and spent a long liquid evening renewing acquaintance with Alan, the manager of Dubliner's in Ikebukuro, and met a number of other Irish lads who showed up, including Mike, who is pissed off big time with all the chaps in suits and significant neckties that pass for the Irish elite in Tokyo. He suggested a new organization called RIJ (Real Irish in Japan) and we all immediately agreed to join just to shut him up and get on with the pints and the talk. Good craic, and not a spot of bother with the head the next morning which is a sure guarantee the beer was good. The reception next day was held in a French restaurant, Chez Pierre, and I got talking to Pierre himself who hails from Brittany ("anozzer Kelt!!")and says he's been in Japan for 40 years.

The music went down well and we had to do several encores. Afterwards, Kenji & Koji and myself headed off for Paddy Foley's in Roppongi where we had a fair few jars and met Paul, the barman, who had just arrived in Japan six weeks ago. I gave Paul one of our homemade CDs to stick on -- and the manager came over and asked us to play a gig!! Ah, well, too bad we don't live in Tokyo. Not really, I can't stand the place ....!!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

324. The Dark Ungentle Art of Murder

Love and death, possessing and killing,
Are the dark foundations of the human soul.
-- Emile Zola

O happy snappy little prole
Sign yourself upon the dole.
Go out on Friday, Saturday night,
And get yourself into a fight.
Smash the bloke who spills your drink,
Go with feelings, never think.
A pint glass is the warrior’s cup,
So chase the girls and knock ‘em up.
Social Services, police?
Wind ‘em up and never cease.
Football’s the modern field of battle,
So go in with your mates and rattle
Their cages. Towering rages
Make you a man among men!
And then, in a short while, when
Sadly you end up on a slab,
Sliced and diced by Dr. McNab
At the age of twenty, twenty-one,
You’ll have fought and you’ll have won
You little tit, your little bit
In restoring dear old Britain
To things that once were written
By poets and sages
About the Dark Ages.

John MacDonald found a corpse, put it under the sofa,
Waited till it came to life and hit it with a poker,
Sold its eyes for souvenirs, sold its blood for whisky,
Kept its bones for dumb-bells to use when he was fifty

George Tremayne was a man of fame
Well known in local parts;
He smiled and broke the young girls’ hearts,
But then broke one too many:
He seduced my sister Jenny.
Now George lies deep in the earth beneath,
I was grave and polite; I sent a wreath.

Unfriendly friendly universe,
I pack your stars into my purse

A weak cheer for our weary warriors
As they tread their hard way home;
Dispensers of Death, and yet,
It was through no wish of their own.
They are eager for love once more,
For simple acceptance; no foreign shore
Of unburied corpses, nor stink of war;
Eager to return to placid streams,
To ignore their dark unsettled dreams
And live as once they lived before.
But every man who was there can say
It never quite works out that way.
They need sweet sleep so badly,
And have no further wish to fight;
They would return their medals gladly,
For just one dreamless, peaceful night.

Every desire is a fear, every fear is a desire.

Doctor Mortimer duly arrived from Devon
On that clear September morning.
Holmes and I had had warning
But nothing under the canopy of Heaven
Could have prepared us for the Tale he told.
That Hound from Hell upon the Moors!

Heave aboot, ye Knaves and Hoors,
And roll them spittin’ cannons out!
Take aim, amidships, wait for the shout,
And dream on gold and jewels.

She would not think him half so cruel
Were she smiling prettily before him now
Instead of mouldering in the tomb;
Alive, at first, but with no room,
So very little room to move,
But time to think, before she died,
Of the earth and stones above her.
He had long since ceased to love her,
And arranged it all; if only to prove
The art of murder should best be applied
To enhance the fear of approaching doom.
Her fingernails torn to shreds, he imagines.
The darkness, the solitude, the weight:
Calculations of his cold dark hate.

He’s alive, he’s fuckin faking!
Chak ….. Chakka - Chak
Well, he’s f---in dead now.

-- US Marines, Fallujah 2004

Here’s a cracking new idea:
You ready?
- She’s a blonde/ brunette/ a redhead
- She’s young and sexy
- She’s got a filthy rich husband
- He’s old and fat
- She likes you
- She makes passionate love to you
- She says she adores you
- She wants you, needs you, etc.
- She begs you to kill her husband
- She’ll inherit the money
- You’ll wait until things cool down
- You’ll “meet”, you’ll get married
- You’ll live happily ever after

Me, I was in the Boy Scouts
So I know a thing or two,
( a couple of years in the Army as well,
but, truth to tell, Scouts is all you need
to learn depravity, get up to speed)
So this is what I’ll say to you:
She’ll be sitting on a sunny beach,
Out of call and out of reach,
Cuddling with her personal banker
While you, you trusting silly wanker,
Will be sprawled out at your leisure,
Doing 20 years at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

Dreamsister, dream once more of me
And I will sleepily dream of thee;
It is only in dreams my life has meaning,
When I hear you calling, softly keening.


My love and my mate
That I never thought dead
Till your horse came to me
With bridle trailing,
All blood from forehead
To polished saddle
Where you should be,
Either sitting or standing;
I gave one leap to the threshold,
A second to the gate,
A third upon its back.
I clapped my hands,
And off at a gallop;
I never lingered
Till I found you lying
By a little furze-bush
Without pope or bishop
Or priest or cleric
One prayer to whisper
But an old, old woman,
And her cloak about you,
And your blood in torrents –
Art O’Leary –
I did not wipe it off,
I drank it from my palms.

Yuri Andeeivich Kostolenko
Is an ordinary Russian (Ukrainian) thug,
Wears a leather jacket, shades, a gold rolex,
And if you ask him he might shrug and flex
His muscular beefy arms, perhaps display
His shrapnel scars, the weird tattoos
He got when he and his mate Sergei
Were high as kites and on the booze
With Spetznatz in Afghanistan; Yuri smiles
And gazes three, four thousand miles.
He leaves this world behind. He is not unkind
To animals and little children, not on purpose,
But he will chop off your fingers with a cleaver,
Extract your teeth with pliers, connect live wires
To sensitive parts, or blandly stick a telephone receiver
Up your arse or down your throat. No use talking.
Yuri never listens: Dollars or Euros do the walking.
War was a game; this, the same: Bizzinez is Bizzinez.

Sobibor survivors testified at the trial that Stangl used to ride into the camp and attend ‘selections’ dressed in a white riding habit. ‘How could you go to the camp in that get-up?’ ‘The roads were very bad,’ he replied. ‘Riding was really the best mode of transport.’ I tried once more. ‘Yes, but to attend the unloading of these people who were about to die in a white riding habit …?’ ‘It was hot,’ he said.
-- Gitta Sereny interview with Franz Stangl, ex-SS commandant of Sobibor.

The clouds come drifting from west to east,
Other days they drift from east to west;
Armies come with them from both directions,
Not once, not twice, but many times:
Russia, Germany; and also, Sweden and Austria,
For sometimes the wind blows north and south.
You wouldn’t want to be a simple peasant
Exposed on this martial gathering ground;
And you really wouldn’t want to be a Jew,
Not if you knew what was good for you.

The autumn of ’39 came in like a thunderclap.

It was more, this time, than foreign uniforms,
Some new king squeezing the land for tax,
Much more, so very much more than that:
A half-cocked racial theory had landed.
Auschwitz – Oswiecim – sums it up for us now,
But many survived Auschwitz, hardly any survived
Maidenek … Sobibor … Chelmno … Treblinka.
The utter disgrace of Europe, of historical mankind,
Begins with the philosophes of Enlightened Paris
And ends, logically, in the killing sheds of Poland.

My job
Was to do what I was told.

And this is just totally unacceptable.
This is not only bad, it is wrong.
One of the real reasons we hate the Nazis …
Dislike the Germans, in fact, since Caesar’s time,
A people arrogant in victory, abject in defeat;
Either at your throat, or kissing your feet …
Is their planned, industrial approach to murder,
Their cold inhuman efficiency.

They make the rest of us look stupid

Or rather, make us look good by default:
We prefer to kill in the heat of the moment,
Or when we feel tired, upset, disgruntled,
Or because we received a shitty letter from home,
Or a lot of the time, too much of the time,
Because we are drunk.
Then we just want to forget all about it –
Come home to those placid streams,

Block out bad dreams.

But we rarely feel bad when our victims are unseen,
When there’s no personal memory of where we’ve been
Or of what we’ve done; we can drop a kiloton
Of bombs with mad persistence; from a distance
The blood and ruins, the scattered body parts,
Leave no scars upon our hearts.

We trained very hard for this mission and we knew what we had to do. When we pulled away from the target we were lifted up by a shock wave, and I knew in that moment that the mission was successful … When I looked down, what I saw was an area of roiling tar where before there was a city. Do I have any feelings of guilt? Well, I knew there were human beings down there and I felt sorry for them, but we were sent out to do a job and we did it. That’s the deal. Anyway, if it hadn’t been me somebody else would have done it.
-- Colonel Tibbets, commander of the ‘Enola Gay’.

Somebody else would have done it.
I suppose Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, could have said the same.
So could ‘Bomber Harris’, Dark Angel of Dresden.
So could so many others.

I think it’s a miracle to have made it this far,
All things considered. And also you, my friend,
Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat,
—Hypocrite lecteur, —mon semblable, —mon frère!

Thank God (!) for the common sense of the Soviets,
Which is not quite as silly as is it sounds,
When one thinks of the people on ‘Our Side’.

O, God, sweet Mary Jane,
I saw you coming down the lane –
Smoke without fire.
We shall lie within a silken room
In Sidon or in royal Tyre,
Or if you will
In Notting Hill,
Wherever you desire.

Love, reign on me!
Reign over us all.

The man wanted for killing a British woman in a Tokyo flat had charmed her by sketching her portrait, police in Japan have said. Lindsay Hawker was beaten, stripped then strangled before being buried in a bathtub of sand, they added. It also emerged that chief suspect Tatsuyo Ishihashi had been warned in the past over claims he had stalked a young woman. Miss Hawker’s naked body was found in Ishihashi’s apartment on Monday.***

Japan is a doddle, so safe and so wonderful, so polite,
You just walk around in a daze of incomprehension
For the first few months; then the reaction kicks in
And you start to hate the place, since you think the locals
Are having a laugh at you, which, to be honest, they are,
And then it doesn’t matter because you hit your second wind,
And then you start to understand bits of the language,
And then you start to actually speak it a bit, which means
You meet all kinds of interesting new people, and, by then
My friend, you are hooked. You go home on holidays, sure,
But you always want to come back. It’s not exotic, like Thailand;
It’s totally straight down the line but like some other planet.
Imagine they wear a watch showing twenty-five hours in a day
And you are stuck with the good old traditional twenty-four;
So you are in line for some of the time, sometimes minutes away,
But never completely in synch. Yes, well, that’s my take on Japan.
They know exactly what’s going down and you don’t have a clue.
Some people freak and run home; the oddballs kind of like it.

Poor young Lindsay. What happened you?
Where was the back-up, the gaijin friends?
Can’t tell you the number of times when this rash poet,
Soi-disant, befuddled, s-s-s-slightly discombobulated,
Discerned menacing shadows perhaps closing in,
When a voice from the darkness called out,
‘Everything OK, mate? Put you in a taxi, orright?’
The moment of danger … if it was danger … is over.
So, Lindsay, what went down?
Where were your friends when you needed them?
Didn’t you know this geek meant trouble?
I will never know, and I can’t double-guess;
I never even knew you, and there are hundreds
Of girls like you, but none quite like you, and we didn’t
Even live in the same city, and so on and so on …
But I can tell you this, or tell your family,
That every gaijin guy in this country,
Surrounded by 125 million Japanese,
Hoards a nugget of shame, his share of the blame,
That we couldn’t do better,
That we couldn’t protect you.

Brief Notes and Links

* Extract from Bagpipe Music by Louis MacNeice.
** Extract from Caoineadh Airt Ui Laoghaire (The Lament for Art O’Leary)
*** The Lindsay Hawker case

There are some other short, usually italicized, quotes from Edwin Muir, James Fenton, Charles Baudelaire and The Who. For better or worse, everything else is my own.