1. Selected Poems

Recent uncollected poems

Fox News

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?”
‘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


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 on 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 right 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.


from A Mystic Dream of 4 (Quaternia Press 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 about 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!
Death (Part 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)

The Joey Trinity

     for Una

There were three budgies in one Joey
co-equal but not co-existing:
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.

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.
Amber's Epiphany

Was it Christmas Eve you came,
"the worst time of the year"
and nobody speaking of snow?
We were all on our best behaviour,
trying to live up to your name,
Amber - between 'stop' and 'go'.

But O the icing on the cake:
when you removed your shoulder wrap
and bright tattoos shone all around,
shepherds and wise men, nudged awake,
drew nigh to view that starry map;
the cat knelt on the ground.


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.
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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