Recent uncollected poems:
‘Like solder weeping off the soldering iron’
i.m. Gus McEvoy
Reading the Heaney poem that begins: ‘When all the others were away at Mass’ the fourth line (here as title) prompts a grin and takes me back through Carroll’s looking glass:
as if it were a piece of art nouveau, the floor is silver speckled round your chair with solder splashes from the steady flow of students seeking radio repairs.
The Coleraine campus backed onto The Bann as if determined to keep facing East; some might have dubbed our lab The Vatican “Two Catholics, and one of them’s a priest!”
An early start to say Mass at first light, your days were given to experiments then evenings in pursuit of Civil Rights, so these were not competing elements.
Forgive my adding one more jigsaw piece. McDonagh* neatly framed it plosively: Life is refracted through all of four P’s Prayer, Physics, Politics and Poetry.
*Rev. Enda McDonagh, Professor of Moral Theology and Canon Law
Was it the sung line a mighty fine town-o That set me at odds with the country cousin Who sat up nights with the loaded shotgun And claimed his bounty of fifteen bob Proofed on the bloody tongue?
Half a century of little ones’ little ones Now urban themselves, stark in the moonlight They stop to establish the terms of the treaty Before vanishing into the hedge.
Until the morning after the builders Had skimmed the newly concreted driveway I woke to the Hollywood dainty paw prints; The knife in my hand, raw words on my lips: “Nothing to say for yourself?”
from The Eyes of Isaac Newton (Dedalus 2017)
I know the pupil of the eye dilates according to the loss of ambient glow; the pupil, properly an empty space, a framing of the window of the soul, may also register astonishment; as my own must have done, I realise, reading on Wikipedia (to my shame) something new that Every Boy Should Know concerning the humanity of eyes: that sexual arousal does the same. But waking in the night and face to face stare into the maw of twin Black Holes is tantamount to angering The Fates, to risk collapse of this dark firmament.
To Seamus Heaney in Heaven
When word came I was midway in a letter to yourself… “What’s he after, now?” you ask. I had begun like Kavanagh’s swan, ‘head low with many apologies’, like Hamilton writing to Wordsworth: ‘occiditque legendo’ and keeping to the last the joke I knew you would enjoy, the one about the Greek tailor: Euripides? Eumenides? But you were already beyant, like Gunnar sharing poems with The Greats: Miłosz, Brodsky, Lowell, Hughes, Yeats.
Buck Mulligan, plump and state lee, Rags Stephen whose Mum’s RIP; the tower’s a kip Buck goes for a dip in the scrotumtightening sea.
‘Sir’ Stephen shows weary regard for someone who finds sums too hard; his foot in his mouth Old Deasy’s uncouth to our bullockbefriending bard.
Ineluctable modality plus a shaggy dog fatality; a bi-lingual rant la Plume de ma Tante? a nose-picking finality.
Inner organs of beasts and fowls, a letter from Blazes, Bloom scowls; its import denied, a kidney is fried; an effortless movement of bowels.
A letter from Martha, Bloom’s joy is tempered by meeting McCoy; no rent for the Pope, buy lotion and soap, a flower for one naughty boy.
A road-race to quicken the dead and put Paddy Dignam to bed; Parnell, the old fox, is not in his box; he died of a Tuesday, ‘tis said.
Fresh from omnium gatherums of Nelson’s and Freeman’s colúmns, our Stephen is led to the boosing shed by the Parable of the Plums.
While gastronome Leopold spurns The Burton for chic Davy Byrne’s gorgonzola and red wine gone to the head, to the Library by about-turns.
Where Stephen has taken the floor to lecture on cold Elsinore; the last Will is read on second-best bed then Exeunt All out the door.
Father Conmee, the Dignam boy and the (doublin’) hoi polloi criss-cross in the street, some Dedali meet all strain to salute The Viceroy.
Two barmaids discuss cons and pros of marriage to ‘the greasy nose’; by cider and Powers there’s more talk of flowers and somebody sings The Last Rose.
The Heroes of Ireland crowd in the court of RM Citizen; maligned as a cheat Bloom’s forced to retreat pursued by a dog-biscuit-tin.
While Gerty conceives of astriction, the strains of Retreat Benediction cross Sandymount Strand; self taken in hand limply Bloom will mark her affliction.
A visit to Mrs Purefoy; some medics press Bloom to enjoy full many a glass of Number One Bass; to Burke’s, at the news of a boy.
Nightsdream about women and wine enlivened by costume design; the leg of a duck earns Stephen a puck: The Horse has the neigh-saying line.
A refuge from Cissies and malt, The Cabman’s night shelter their halt; S. D. will have none of coffee and bun nor Bloom the tall tales of a salt.
Bloom, keyless, climbs over the gate, relief as they co-urinate; tell-tale potted meat on fresh linen sheet where Blazes has shifted his weight.
Now Molly’s awake in the bed with lots of bad thoughts in her head; to finish she’ll say sure, fine, right, okay, henceforth, you can take that as read!
from A Mystic Dream of 4 (Quaternia 2013)
From Gilgamesh through Homer to Li Po, From Chaucer to blind Milton I am proud To sit and watch my standing army grow, Yet cast a cold eye on the current crowd.
Whose heart was dancing with the daffodils? Whose villain of the piece was Ralph The Rover? Whose gardens that were bright with sinuous rills? Whose note of sadness on the beach at Dover?
If poetry makes nothing happen might The other way around be also true? He countered that when Science bade goodnight His versifying urge retired too.
He was no Swift, no Donne, nor yet a Pope; I liked the one about the telescope.
ELLEN De VERE (Romantic Attachment)
Dear Lord, but what a piece of work’s a man, What theorems and equations say he should Infer from one remark a whole life’s plan And never ask directly where he stood?
It’s true I did say that I could not live Contentedly apart from Curraghchase But could the goose not find the words to give A girl the chance to row back with good grace?
And as for Dora Wordsworth and her rant That I was too much wrapped up in my brother? Her perspicacity was much in want To write thus to Eliza, as another.
In any case he struck another match And all may judge who was the better catch!
LADY HELEN HAMILTON (Spouse)
A Lady, yes, but still without a carriage, Long treks to Dublin at a walking pace And there were always three souls in our marriage Or four, if you count Missy Curraghchase!
I knew about the whispers behind-backs That I was just a phantom of a wife, My absences the focus of attacks; As if my presence could enlarge his life?
But I was witness to his darker days, A genius, yes, but still a child half-grown; I weathered his precocious wants and ways And gave him three strong children of his own
And I was midwife when, against the odds, He brought forth his canal-bank set of quads.
DEATH (section III)
A feast or famine? – famine is my feast! Who lives or dies is in the penny’s toss. He kept his head down at his sums; at least He sought no profit from another’s loss.
He coined me five across the River Styx: First, Cousin Arthur, fountain of goodwill, Then Boyton, star of College politics And Uncle James, the lowly curate still.
He mourned these and moved on, as if by rote; The fourth, though, haunts him like Old Marley’s ghost: The vision of MacCullagh’s bloodied throat, So much alike, affecting him the most
And Wordsworth, in the poet’s own words ‘bound Within the sonnet’s scanty plot of ground’.
from Safe House (Dedalus 2010)
Proverbs For The Computer Age
An Apple a day keeps the hacker away
Baud news travels fast
Better to light one Intel than to cursor the darkness
When the mat’s away the mouse will play
Necessity is the motherboard of invention
Every blog has its day
Fight virus with virus
All that twitters is not scrolled
Let sleeping laptops lie
Beware of geeks bearing gifs
The Joey Trinity
There were three budgies in one Joey co-equal but not co-existent: The first taught wisdom through experience, seizing the chance of an open door to ascend into heaven. The second took after Father Peyton, setting up a crusading racket joyful, sorrowful, glorious by turns during the family rosary. The third mirabile dictu learned to say his name, the flesh made word and had the courage to crash-land on Dad’s bald head, occasioning some tongues of fire.
Give & Take
What would I give To hold you again In the crook of my left arm And have you hold on for dear life To the lobe of my left ear?
What would you take To hold me again In the crook of your left arm And have me hold on for dear life To the lobe of your left… No, I mean the right… The one that is not pierced!
for Peter Kuch
Contrast “one country, two islands!” with my “one island, two countries?” When, in the murdering seventies I finally put up my hands (having lived it, in Mahon’s gloss, bomb by bomb) and went south, I was homesick, twisting my mouth to chew on their soft vowel blas.
The sign at a Christchurch store – Just in, Midget Gems! – greets me kindly, calling me forth to a home-coming, glen to shore and the hamely tongue’s wee sweets: South Island, peaceable North.
from The King of Suburbia (Dedalus 2005)
When spring blew scuds of foam in from the bay and ferry foghorns lowed far out to sea, we kept your bed-sit, stayed in bed all day and schemed a future laced with Duty-Free. Then summer warmed us in the new estate the wedding portrait proud against bare wall and, scuppering the plans to decorate, the baby crawling backwards down the hall. Now autumn finds us in suburban bliss, two candles twinkling in a turnip head, we spend our passion in one goodnight kiss and put an extra blanket on the bed to dream the nursing home we’ll winter in and wipe the dribble from each other’s chin.
When I shared a bed in nineteen fifty-two or three with my bony father, I was led to believe that we were alone;
now I can own that when his bony frame closed in upon my back and he whispered something, my name? into my bony neck,
behind him lay his bony father and, behind, his bony grandfather, his bony great- grandfather….all that long-lined boniness, lying in state,
their collective bony weight pulling him down, but slow, a little heavier each year until he finally let go and I fear
he’s here now with the same bony crew, light as a feathery ton: Well, they have a job to do but not a word to my son.