Tuesday, July 22, 2008

336. Geoghan's Ghost


Aequam memento rebus in arduis
seruare mentem, non secus in bonis
ab insolenti temperatam
laetitia, moriture Delli,

--- Horace, Odes, Book II, iii.

Geoghan tempers his moods of disquiet
with appeals to ancient personal gods,
pre-Christian, yes, that goes without saying,
but also pre-Celtic: he seems to gallop across
the millennia instead of a few mere centuries,
swearing or perhaps just furiously praying,
as he races to catch the 16A to Beaumont
with shoelaces undone and his long dark coat
wantonly flapping in the wind that whishes
and whooshes, aweela, wet from the slimegreen sea.
Geoghan invokes secret unheard of names and powers
that were hoary with age in the time of Baal
and Amon Ra; where has he learned these fearful
Stone Age imprecations? Surely not at home
with the mammy and daddy and his three sisters,
one of whom plays the harp and the other two
dainty violins, there in the plateglass bungalow
picked out from the All-Ireland Book of Designs
for Virtuously Vulgar Modern Living, garnished
with garden gnomes imported fresh from England,
Happy and Smiley, Doc and Dopey, Harold Wilson.
Geoghan’s oul fella was a turf accountant, as we say,
with our penchant these days for the gombeen genteel,
our building maintenance operators, our facilitators,
our elderly female recluses, kept well away from society
and formerly known as nuns; the priests, heaven help us,
are still in evidence, and you’ll find a fair few number
when fire alarms ring in the jollier parts of the city:
Come out there, Father, amn’t I holdin yer trousers?
Young Geoghan was never much good at manly sports,
at thumping others for the possession of a pig’s bladder
and then kicking it up and away like all our national teams
so that your heart could weep out of sheer frustration:
ah, would you pass or dribble, and not from yer bloody mouth?
But … but he had a steady sort of way about him,
not at all what you’d expect at the Christian Brothers
where they’d be beating away all that shite and nonsense
the minute you’d look up to stare in their dark flushed faces;
the fact is, they could feel something; and they were afraid of him,
not that at first I felt the same myself; no, that was later
when he’d look at me with those strange sea-washed eyes,
grey-green, pebbly, distant, unspeakably cold and old,
and it was then you’d feel the odd involuntary shiver
and would offer a joke or a beer, anything to break the tension.
Well, he died, of course, our poor unknowable friend,
and it is the matter of his end I wish to speak of.


Inde fit ut raro, qui se vixisse beatum
dicat et exacto contentus tempore vita
cedat uti conviva satur, reperire queamus.
-- Horace, Satires, Book I, i.

It’s only now I’ve decided to break my long silence;
I was afraid, quite frankly, of powers I could not control,
and I didn’t have the protection or belief of poor queer Geoghan.
I was brought up with the mumbo-jumbo of an executed god,
a new departure in religious thinking, when you stop to think,
for here’s a god who becomes the sacrifice, not the demanding recipient,
a god who says turn the other cheek and then does fuckall for you
Geoghan saw through all that. Let me tell you what happened.
He got it in his head, seriously, he could stop the war in Iraq
and so prayed for forty days and nights, each day with two bottles of wine
(red and white) just around the corner from Trinity at the Lincoln Inn,
then, his vigil over, he proceeded, ceremoniously, to forlorn Ballsbridge
and the rounded concrete fortress of the unlovely American Embassy.
There for a while he disappeared, and his nervous band of acolytes
(I was not among them) stubbed endless cigarettes on the grey pavements
and waited and waited and waited for a sign. None, of course, came.
After three days helicopters arose like dragonflies in the clapped-out
dishwatery mauve and filthy pink of a ho-hum Dublin dawn
and shots were fired, we heard them, and the Air Force was called out,
all three of our serviceable planes, they went sqwark … sqwark … sqwark
to each other on the radio, like demented parrots, and we could all hear them
on Radio One; overall, it wasn't a great day for Ireland’s Intrepid Airmen,
with the other two muppets cheering them on from the ground,
their oul’ airplanes wouldn’t kick over when they’d stuck in the keys.

O Kathleen Mavourneen, the grey dawn is breaking,
The horn of the hunter is heard on the hill;
The lark from her light wing the bright dew is shaking …

and so we hared over to Howth Head and Killiney, to the high ground,
to the two encircling, ensnaring arms of this fiercely possessive city,
and from there we could see it all, but what we saw can never be agreed.
The Americans … Irish military gunships? …tried to shut down the whole business
with their broken old record, their fee-fi-fo-fum of GWOT and Guantanamo,
but you might as well try to stop the tide as stop the Irish from talking,
although nobody (this happens a lot in Ireland) could quite agree. Only I could see
a strange awkward figure hovering, balancing there in the whooshing air,
his coattails flapping like the dark raven’s wings on Cuchulainn’s shoulder,
his mouth open in an O with a force of words that only I could hear
and yet barely make out, with the rush of the wind and the clatter of the blades,
and yet it sounded like … Hilatoth …Hilagath … Hilga .. Hilgamoth?
the sacred and doubtless secret name of a long-forgotten but unburied god,
and then Geoghan transposed into a flash of light and his form was gone forever.
No body was ever recovered. And the war in Iraq went on and on.