5. Selected poems

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’,

As Hamilton once wrote 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, Auden, Yeats.

September 2013


from A Mystic Dream of 4




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 Curragh Chase

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!




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 Curragh Chase!


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’.





Buck Mulligan, plump and statelee,

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?)

And 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 boo-oosing shed

By the Parable of the Plums.


While gastronome Leopold spurns

The Burton for chic Davy Byrne’s

Gorgonzola n’ red

Wine gone to the head

Reels into the Library by 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

Bloom limply can mark her affliction.


A visit to Mrs Purefoy

The 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.

The revellers co-urinate.

On fresh linen sheet

Tell-tale potted meat

Where Blazes has shifted of late.


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 The Irish Times, Bloomsday 2012




from Safe House

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

for Una


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

for Eoin


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!


South Island

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




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.



The Bony


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 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:

O they have a job to do

but not a word to my son.



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