Saturday, November 02, 2013

502. Sideterms

Nothing is over, not a thing,
until time actually ceases.
And as you stand below, waiting down in the street
looking up, open-mouthed,
wondering, speculating,
nothing at all happens.
nothing for 20, 30, 40 seconds,

and when such silent moments exist
in this flickering world
there will be no further kisses, grunts, or gunshots.
And so
turn away, young Damian,
turn aside from life and love

for love is a heavy thing to carry
with its sagging burden of lust,
its well-fed writhing bodies,
its financial speculations.
Many unheard voices, crying out.
mouth the hope, I hope I hope
never to do/see this again

and since the world is round
those fat Chinese make it heavy
living, as they do on the edge,
sucking up noodleas, failing to emigrate,
and so they drag us down, the bastards,
causing climate change.

I write letters to world leaders
about this, about other serious things,
and they respond, ever so
brittle but quite polite, advising me
to fuck off and go away. In Newcastle
the girls are the real problem on weekends
but not as bad as in Dublin. There you need
strong arms & unfailing waves of charm
to herd the howling hags homeward.

Disco, disco, Saturday night!
and so legless are
the lazy lanes of pleasure
that I measure
essence in grams, not ounces.

Friday, August 30, 2013

501. Recollections

We were snoozing happily in our hammocks
when, with a surfeit of roaring soaring sound,
the invasion arrived around teatime
and from waters, rushing in a writhing ring,
a feeble hand arose from the waves
absent Excalibur.

The smothered fish lay along the shore,
and the mountains sank into the sea.

This is not good, I remember thinking,
as I raced to the palace of the Queen,
the heady heave and clash of arms behind me,
but her bloated face was a bawdy green
and a cloud of flies were buzzing around:
‘ I perceive, milady, the realm is sinking’.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

496. Wild Geese

On the rain-sodden field at Fontenoy
there is nothing to be seen or remembered
but a misty view of Belgium, formerly France,
just outside the town of Tournai.
And here are no ghosts,
no galloping horses,
no spirits moaning in the air.

I return to the waiting car,
settle into its lingering warmth,
and turn my mind to the evening:
back to Brussels or on to Paris?
There, there are many ghosts,
perhaps no galloping horses,
but lighter spirits in the air.

That year of Bonnie Prince Charlie
when the butcher Duke of Cumberland,
who won the slaughter at Culloden,
was soundly defeated here,
is rarely recalled. So many
wretched, reeling years
have sadly intervened.

And it was my young clansman Liam,
sweet Liam Óg Ó Laighin,
a harpist of darling promise,
who, following his father and grandfather,
grew to military age in France
and happily joined the regiment
whose flag you see below.

1745: Banner of the Irish Brigade
(Invalides Military Museum, Paris)

Young Liam, Liam, ochóne,
you did not survive the battering day
although the hard-fought field was won.
And you were carried to your father’s home
by six young sorrowful comrades,
and sadly laid to rest. The weathered stone
lies broken under a grove of elms.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

495. Souvenir

In a mist-filled snow 
cast in grey shadows 
sat an old green bench 
with flaking paint; 
it had a beady-eyed crow at its end 
who crossly flew away 
when we approached. 

I don’t really know, you said, 
what I’ll do; and I said, 
I know, darling, but I’m sure 
it will be all right. And then 
I brushed the snowflakes 
away from your eyes 
and kissed you. 

That was in Istanbul
where old green steamers went lurching across the Horn
softly, silently puffing …

I have grown old 
and resent each bedridden day 
spent thinking; I particularly 
despise the night, each 
sleepless night and deep 
where ancient memories 
softly creep.

494. Emigration

I’ll be going down to New York town 
to meet my love, my sweet young man, 
who has worked so hard to make our home 
away across the broad Atlantic. I must 
take a step away from friends, from relations, 
from my weeping mother, who will never 
see me again. My father spits silently in the fire 
and I know how he feels. 

I am sorry (I am not sorry) for I wish to get away 
and live a life away from Ireland, for Ireland 
beautiful and grand as it is, truly, crushes 
the hearts of its downtrodden women. And I am not 
and never will be a downtrodden woman. 
I read books, some of which I understand, 
and some of which I don’t, but never mind, 
I am a proud and nervous nationalist. 

Ireland looms out of the darkness. 
It sits there, balefully, in the wide Atlantic Sea. 
Aviators say, thanks, Christ God, land at last, 
a place we can crash or land upon. As did 
Alcock and Brown in Clifden in 1919 
long before Lucky Lindbergh. It’s there. 
Land at last, the farmhouses and the fields, 
waiting to welcome or kill you. 

Ireland is a place we all want to leave 
or stay in forever. 

I will take this ship called Titanic.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

493. Overnight at the governor's mansion

7-character, regular verse:

清秋幕府井梧寒, 獨宿江城蠟炬殘。
永夜角聲悲自語, 中天月色好誰看?
風塵荏苒音書絕, 關塞蕭條行陸難。
已忍伶俜十年事, 強移棲息一枝安。

Clear and cold is this autumn night with parasol trees in the courtyard.
Alone in this river town, I watch the flame of a guttering candle.
From the dark outside comes the plaintive note of a bugle,
and though the moon is in mid-heaven, is there no-one to share with me?
My messengers are scattered amid clouds of rain and sand
and the city gates are closed to the traveller: high mountains are walls in my way.
I, who have borne the last ten years of pitiable existence,
find here a perch, a little branch, I feel safe for the night.

(a non-precise rather cavalier translation which needs an extra line co contain the limpid Chinese, but the essence is there.)

Du Fu, 712-770

Friday, January 11, 2013

492. Light as Lilac, Heavy as Falling Stone

A country river, an old willow tree,
there I first met my love and she met me,
how my heart misbehaved! She gave
me a ribbon still warm from her breast,
a pink ribbon, I think, which I caressed
and from that time I was enslaved ...

to love only her and her alone,
and so on. But this actually happened,

and as I decipher these spidery scrawls,
the discovered diaries of 18th century Uncle John,
I think what a sentimental fool he was, to be sure,
but a dangerous man with the rapier,
a deadly shot with those early pistols!

Well, you had to be impressive, really,
with ancient pretensions to aristo birth
and no bloody money to speak of.
Fend off the rivals and carry off the girl!
Naturallement! You’d be looking at
ten thousand (pounds) if you were lucky.

He continues:

The zephrys blow upon the trees
as I gaze upon wild raging moors.
My heart contracts to an aching please
to open up those shuttered doors!

This is pretty slick, almost modern.
Johnny is getting into his groove here.
The girl replies (we think), since nearly
all girls reply to love letters in some way
if even to say don’t send them any more.

Her replies are sadly lost to history.

The girl’s family were blithely unaware,
blissfully blinded to this mutual passion,
and so carefully set up an arranged marriage
for Georgiana (for that is her name, poor girl)
to a somewhat equal male companion.

John goes berserk!

He wants to challenge the guy to a duel!
Of course he will kill him, slash or boom,
so Georgiana exerts feminine perspicacity
and takes to her bed for three weeks.
The prospective suitor backs off rather quickly

for who wants a sickly wife, when your plan
is to have, say, six to maybe 14 children?

John, not surprisingly, moves in:
He writes to the parents …

My dear Lord and Lady R ------ ham
It is with the greatest regret that I have been informed
of the severe illness of your beloved daughter
whom I have been given to understand is a person
of the greatest refinement, and a credit to her sex,
which she is not getting a lot of, thanks to you,
and which I am damn sure I can do something about!

The latter part of the letter, I believe,
was not included.

He writes (by messenger) to Georgiana:

I don’t want your money.
I want your cunny.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED)
somewhat mischievously cites this
as the first appearance of the slang term,
but this is untrue, academically unsound.

So … what happened, then?
Did Georgiana and John get married?
Ho, yes, indeed! Had a load of kids.
And were they happy forever after? Don’t  
ask silly questions. Romance, my dears,
burns out, burns out in every marriage.