Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Inauguration

This seems to have been a custom among the Celtic tribes until the first few centuries of the modern era. The Doge of Venice "married" the sea by throwing in a ring to the passing waves from his richly-caparisoned gondola. The not-so-ancient Celts seem to have had a more direct approach ....

Conch shells, a blare of trumpets,
a flare of the band of pipes.
My poor old father is dead.
I am the new king.
I plan to get rid of
most of his old advisers.
In the meantime
I have to publicly fuck a horse.

There's no way out of it.
Tradition demands it.
I asked if I could choose a horse I liked
but was told to be patient,
that the priests would arrange it all.
Also, the poor bloody horse
has to show signs of satisfaction.

Dear God!

Here am I with my Latin and Greek,
a student of Heraclitus,
soaring along with Homer
but dependent on the sighs
of a large-arsed animal.
It gives a new meaning to riding.

My people are both fierce and loyal
and we face a bitter war:
strangers have come among us.
They look to me to lead them and I will
but I cannot be their king
until I fuck the horse.

I don't want to fuck a horse.
This is an ancient and stupid custom.
I don't want to shame myself
except with David, whom I love,
and that in private.

I shall have to marry
after the horse, of course,
one of the daughters of the O Cahans,
a sharp-nosed family of usurers
who count their money.

O God, here we go.
This day of dread has arrived.
The clansmen in bright colours and banners
are drunk already; wives and daughters
rush to set-aside tents.

I feel sick.

I am dressed in ancient robes
and dangling, tinkling, medallions.
They lead me out to a stage of new wood
in the centre of a grove of ancient oaks
and I beg my knees to carry me on.

A great cheer and the high-pitched Gaelic cry
thunders as I mount the steps.
I wave with all the enthusiasm
of a man condemned to the gallows
and wait, wait for the horse.

O God, here she comes,
a two-year-old mare from the looks of her,
as they whack and chivvy her up the ramp;
the poor thing looks as nervous as I feel
and I stroke her nose in sympathy.

Hello, darling.

Then there's the mumbling of the priests,
a suspicious breed in any association;
cold hard-eyed men with soft and flabby hands
who murmur in a code of memorized words,
who feed on fear and superstition.

One of these hooded halflings
looses the cords of my trousers
and I stand, ashamed, before my people.
He grins at me, the idiot, and I smack him hard
and a cheer comes up from the multitude.

O yes, we like violence.

Lugh of Light, Mananaan of the Sea,
come down, ye gods, and save me!
But the gods are silent. They are always silent.
I stand there, drooping, I cannot do this,
the innocent horse is also silent.

The whores of the town are sent up to me
to get me going, and a wave of laughter
ripples among the gathered throng;
mothers shade the eyes of their daughters
but laugh along with their husbands.

Do I want to be king?
I must be king: a terrible war, I know, is coming.

The whores do their business, I start to rise,
then mount the ladder behind the horse.
It has to be done.
It has to be done.
What shame.
What barbarism.

It doesn't take long,
I pretend it takes longer.
I raise my fist and scream,
Will you follow me to the death?
Yes, they roar, they will.
Yes, they roar, yes and yes and yes!
This is what I need.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


There are
five trees behind
my grandfather's house
two apple and three pear
and they shake, I swear
at different times

and as a child
I was frightened by them
when I went out
by night to do my business
as we had at the time
no indoor plumbing.

My grandfather had
along with most of rural Ireland
no electricity either
and the old oil lamps
trimmed at the wick
cast a soft and golden glow

and these little warm lights
would call to each other
across ancient fields
across the acres
and the stars would be fiercely burning
above in the inky sky.

Cold and clear
was the tingling water
with a faint little hint of lime
splashing down into sturdy barrels
from the rush of gurgling gutters
draining the rains of the roof

and in the byre there was Bridie
and her calf, I forget her name
then a dozen or more nervous old hens
that had no names at all
under threat from the swift red fox
coming over the fields.

In the harsh cold of winter
the neighbours would come by
and there'd be talk and news
of the children over beyond
in New York and Chicago
and Birmingham

and on the rare occasion
there'd be the quiet honour
of the shanachie's visit
when the word of mouth
would bring, failing death,
all of the neighbours in.

I was small, those times
only a wee little chit of a child
but I was big if I could live and grow
and remember. My grandfather
put his hard old hand upon my head
and squeezed my arm, he knew that

and there was the open fireplace
where sods of turf would be deftly thrown
on the burning red-green-orange flames
and the porter bottles, placed on the stones
would sweat and glisten, begin to expand
until the caps would go with a "pop"

and the men in their old battered hats
weather-beaten, chap-knuckled
would murmur to each other in Irish
while their women, in frocks and lipstick,
exchanged pointed pleasantries
until the shanachie shuffled in.

He was a shabby weedy little chap
until he raised his face and showed his eyes.
This story, he said, speaking in English
happened, it is true, a long time ago
but our people even then in the long-gone times
were the same as you, our people today

and then there was silence, a settling down
and for the next three or maybe seven hours
he carried us far and then further away
to the glow of the world we had come from
back to Niamh and Oisin, to King Niall
to the hall of the Red Branch Knights.

It was the magic of the voice that did it
just from the listening he could make you see
and I had no idea I was listening to stories
that were a thousand years old or more
and there was no single hint of cobwebs
nor of ancient creaking hinges; everything
everything was as fresh as clear as a drop of dew
on a trembling morning leaf.