Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Lines For The Diceman

i. m. Thom McGinty

Good to know you might turn up
in the frieze of faces on Grafton Street,
familiar stranger surprising us
in something from your wardrobe-gallery,

a walking painting say, holding its own
gilded ornate frame, the face
white as a mask, Mona Lisa
in a black cat-suit, cracking a murky smile.

Dead-slow, solemnly careful
among eddies of Christmas shoppers, summer dawdlers,
tourists, street-traders, Guards...
mindful of each sound-proofed step, sure-

footed as an acrobat, spaced in, treading your own
high wire. When we looked
at you looking through us
we took in the joke that jumped -- a spark of silence --

eye to eye, mind to mind,
across Grafton Street's  canyon of swirling clockwork noise.
You're gone now forever (back
into the box with Jack)

and scanning the quickslow, giddy, sedate
everyday street-portrait  ---  its procession
of invisible masks  --- the eye misses you.
Old master, Diceman, conductor

of the ungrooved thought, catcher
of the thrown glance, are you still there?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Reverse

–– Cornelius Gijsbrechts, 1670

Although his trompe l’oeil, ‘The Reverse
of a Painting’, is intended to deceive,
one double-take is all it takes to leave
the expected for the micro-universe:

nested rectangles, the frame’s pale grain, the buff
canvas stretched and pinned with tiny tacks,
the price on a ticket fixed with sealing wax ––
range-findings, star-charts, more than enough.

Beyond a trick then, his scrupulous look
at what is overlooked –– details that wait
behind what hangs in MoMA or The Tate ––
lifted the world of appearance off its hook,

turned it to the wall and then applied
equal pressure to the other side.

          from Haunt (Salmon Poetry, 2015)

Wednesday, April 02, 2014


Two surprises this morning.

Firstly, just before waking, I met two alive-dead people in a dream. One was the vice principal of the art school I attended in Dún Laoghaire (now the IADT), Trevor Scott. Trevor later became a friend, then he died prematurely from cancer in the early noughties, at 58, a year older than I am now.

In my dream Trevor was judging some kind of exhibition/show. I expected to get a prize and was disappointed when Trevor awarded the prize to someone else without mentioning my work (whatever that may have been, a photograph?). Then I was talking to Trevor and somehow my mother came into the conversation. Trevor spoke warmly about her. I think he said she was a very kind person. Then, as happens in dreams, my mother was there in the room, in a wheelchair I think, with a shawl over her knees, as she would have been in her last years if she were out and about. I went to her and I think she told me she loved me, and I began to weep and told her that I would always love her, and we embraced. Though I have been aware of mum's shadowy presence the odd time, this is the first time I recall actually speaking to her in a dream since she died two years ago. When I woke I wondered about this, then remembered it was my birthday.

Getting out of bed, I was led into the kitchen by our son, to be presented with a birthday gift, a chocolate cake and other goodies, and a big happy birthday hug from him and my wife (and he later made me a lovely little birthday card in school).

The photo above was taken from outside, looking through the window, and shows mum in her chair, among the evening reflections.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Birthday

My mother was born on this day in 1918. She died just over two years ago. In the top photo she's on the right, standing next to her sister Moira. They were the eldest in a family of seven. Moira died not long before my mother (about a year or so) at 95.

I took the middle photo while on holiday with her in 2001. That's another sister, Nuala, on the right (under the sunhat). I have my cousins to thank for urging me to take this holiday, something I should have done far more often with her. Though it became a nightmare towards the end of those two weeks (9/11 took place and Nuala had a stroke on the day we departed), the first week was something of an idyll.

The lower photo was taken on the day before her last birthday in 2011 (she was going into the nursing home the next day for her two week 'intermittent stay').

I think about my mother every day: amalgam of memories, a presence at once both vivid and vague, the vitality she lost as she grew older and more dependent, the pain she went through increasingly with osteoarthritis ('singing in my bones' as she'd say).

I had remembered this was her birthday up till yesterday. This morning, I must have had other things on my mind because it didn't hit me till the early afternoon. Nuala's birthday was on the 10th of March and I regularly muddled the dates, so that might have had something to do with it.

Her siblings are almost all dead now, apart from her older brother Dermot, whom I spoke to not long ago. He's in his nineties and apparently in good health.

There's a poem I was working on till I abandoned it recently. I'll post the last draft here because it relates to my mother, but it's another person's memory of her, the younger brother Niall who died in November 2012. On our way back from yet another funeral (Nuala's) Niall told me about this, hence the title:

Something My Uncle Said

Not long before he died, following my mother
and her sisters, he passed me this blurry memory,
somewhere in England –– Liverpool? ––
he is a schoolboy getting off the train

to change for another, the one
that will take him home to Burnham on Sea
(for one of those holidays that are made for 
rhapsodising, squinting back along the tracks
at Shangri-La filmed through a Vaselined lens).

His older sister, my mother, is there to meet him
and see him safely home –– guardian
who will takes him walking on the dunes
and reads him Winnie The Pooh and AA Milne.

I didn’t ask whether he finds her immediately or
has to look for her, because
something else is there too, off to the side,
the soundtrack he will carry with him through the years:
relentless thunder of bombs and presumably sirens,
the war I only ever heard of or saw in films.

An extra, I keep coming to that station
to stand among the noise and clots of steam
and the too-close sounds of something else, out
of my world, punching great industrial holes
in the ordinary noises of a city,
making me search harder for a face
milling among the faces on the platform,
blank, intent or bewildered as my own.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Tis The Season To Be haunted

So here's a list of what I believe are some of the best ghost stories I've come across. I use the term 'ghost story' fairly loosely. Let's say these are stories concerned with visits by, or encounters with, persons who may be considered as from beyond any earthly plot, such as the caller in Joyce Carol Oates' unsettling story. I'm leaving out novels for now, though I was delighted to be invited to write an introduction to a forthcoming special edition of one of the greatest ghost novels I've read, Thomas Tessier's Fog Heart. The best ghost stories may not always be the scariest, but those are the ones I prefer. I also enjoy the occasional merging of ghost and horror story (as in Bowen's 'Demon' or Greene's 'Little Place...'), but I have zero interest in 'splatter' or 'shock' horror; such relish in blood-letting always seems to me to be the equivalent of cheap CGI, i.e. non-special effects.

Please feel free to add, but only stories that scared you shitless (or at least gave you a genuine shiver, the sensation of someone walking over your grave):

Elizabeth Bowen: 'The Demon Lover'
Ray Bradbury: 'The Emissary'
Joyce Carol Oates: 'Where Is Here?'
M.R. James: 'Oh, Whistle, And I'll Come To You, My Lad', 'A School Story'
Graham Greene: 'A Little Place Off the Edgeware Road', 'The End of the Party'
Rosemary Timperley: 'Harry'
Stephen King: '1048', 'The Man in the Black Suit', Gramma'
Robert Hichens: 'How Love Came to Professor Guildea'
Roddy Doyle: 'The Pram'
A.M. Burrage: 'The Sweeper'
H.G. Wells: 'The Red Room'
L.P. Hartley: 'WS'
Joe Hill: 'Last Breath'

A few of the writers on this list, such as M.R. James or Joyce Carol Oates, have probably written so many good ghost/scary stories that deserve their own lists. And I am certain that I have forgotten many stories by other writers that are perhaps as good as these. I simply put down those I found unforgettable.

A note on how I structured the list: I have placed Elizabeth Bowen's 'The Demon Lover' at the top of the list because it is marvelous, one of the most beautifully written (and disturbing) stories I've ever read. Oates' is another gem so it comes second, etcetera.

Roald Dahl published what may well be the best anthology of ghost stories a couple of decades ago (I'd love to see a better one), simply called 'Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories'. In his intro he noted that some of the very greatest ghost stories are by women, such as Timperley's 'Harry', which Dahl's book introduced me to. I think every good writer attempts at least one from time to time, and Roddy Doyle's 'The Pram' is an excellent newcomer.

The title of my forthcoming collection (of poetry rather than ghost stories) is 'Haunt'.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Louring storm, Dublin Mts.
Another dream-post. Just wanted to record an odd one I woke from early this morning. A landscape/weather dream.

I was somewhere in a countryside similar to Wicklow. Can't recall who I was with but I noticed, on the slope of a neighboring mountain (like The Sugarloaf), a curious disturbance in a slate-dark raincloud. It was trailing a kind of thin vortex or mini-tornado. As I watched, mesmerised, I gradually became aware that the tornado was spreading, widening, becoming absurdly broad. And it appeared to be approaching.

The rest of the dream is a vague, anxious muddle. I think there was an attempt to escape in a car, which wouldn't start. Also an impression of others fleeing, on possibly blocked roads. Not a fully fledged nightmare, the trappings never quite cohered into that all-engulfing dread that rocks you awake with a dry mouth and hammering heart. But it was real enough while I was in it. And that morphing slaty cloud is with me still. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Happy Birth / Mother's Day Mum

grandmama & wean
I suppose there will come a time in the not too distant future when I will stop posting about my mother. Not yet though, not when her birthday coincides with Mother's Day just over a year since she died.

My wife reminded me, as usual. And it did occur to me that my wife should be included, being a mother. So I sneaked out of the house this morning and dithered in Superquinn (M&S wasn't open yet), feeling like a pathetic twit trying to decide what would be appropriate, thought-wise, price-wise, protocol-wise in general. I hadn't a clue really, so I bought the usual for both of them; that is, a thin but elegant clutch of lilies (5 Stems For The Price of 3) for my wife and and a bunch of yellow-red tulips for mum. My wife had already bought some potted pansies to put on mum's grave a few days before. I thought I might take both these and the tulips to lay on her plot in Deansgrange. But then I thought that the tulips will be nice to have in the house, as a little tribute to mum, and they'll last here for a little while longer out of the forecasted snow.

I ended up driving there in the late afternoon with my cousin Fiachra, whom I had picked up so that he could come back here and do some work on my computer (our docklands project). The cemetery was busy, full of impatient-seeming drivers weaving too quickly in and out of those parked on the double yellow. We found the grave fairly easily. I had a basic idea where it was, just off the path near where the main road takes a slight bend, a tall wall to the right and two statues of the Virgin on the left (mum's near the second, more immaculate one). Fiachra was the one who spotted it first. It's my grandparents' grave, the dark headstone not yet bearing mum's name.

My mother never visited any graves as far as I recall. She didn't put much stock in the death-stuff. What do you say to a grave? Anything I suppose. I stood facing the stone, as many do: solemn rituals under the slab-coloured wintery sky, a cold wind getting into gear. I didn't wait, just picked up the dead carnations and roses we'd left there on her death's anniversary last month, set down the pansies, said happy birthday and headed back to the car.

[photo of mum and the wean taken 2 years ago on her 92nd birthday]