Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Stopping For The Twelve Apostles

The Twelve  Apostles

So this is where the land goes
south: pink crumbling stacks,
geology on speed, earth-clouds.

So fast when one of them dropped
its brittle link with the mainland ––
‘London Bridge’ fallen to

‘London Arch’ –– the abrupt island
supported a population: two
startled tourists on hold

for a helicopter. I point my camera
into the wind’s wall, snap
another oblong of grandeur

(bite-sized, as befits
its current misnomer: the twelve
eroded to nine). As if

this balcony needs a wardrobe
of pantomime robes and fake beards
while the older names are still

nodding at us –– The Sow
and Piglets, Place Of Many Heads ––
up close and at bay

as the many-headed file
that shuffles past, clicks, turns
like a turnstile, except for

this couple in hoodies (though hers
is a kind of hooded coat
more like a blanket)

huddled together on the rim
of the flashes and grins,
wind-buffeted, slightly desperate

to pocket each other –– backed
into the guardrail,
having unpacked that portable

bedroom wall, the landscape
that matters. 

Well, that's the first thing I thought of when I read Katy's blog  today. I've been tinkering with the thing for years, ever since I went to Melbourne on a Vincent Buckley Poetry Fellowship in 2004. It never occurred to me that today might be numerically significant in any way. 12.12.12 = an excuse to post a poem and photo. But who needs excuses?

The other twelve that came to mind were the twelve kids I did a poetry workshop with earlier today, at the invitation of Tom Conaty, the principal. They were a delight, and the two hours passed like a dream. 

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Man In The Moon R.I.P.

Woman in Furs Watching the Moon
Just last August it was Neil Armstrong. Now another moon man has gone. While Armstrong made his 'giant leap' and left those griddled boot-prints on that windless scape, Moore was always the Man in the Moon, and not only because his monacle enhanced the likeness; the moon was his main obsession and speciality. Although nothing on the moon is named after him, he discovered and named the Eastern Sea, or Mare Orientale. He also discovered the 'transient lunar phenomenon', lingering glowing patches of light on the surface, a surface which he had already mapped in so much detail (before the NASA Apollo missions) that the Russians used his charts to correlate their first pictures of the far side. No wonder his first work of fiction was called Master of the Moon. Moore was far from transient himself. The first programme in 'The Sky At Night' aired the same month I was born, April 1957. Below is a short sequence I have been tinkering with for the past few months:    


At Farthings*

We meet the monocled Man
in the Moon, who couldn’t care less
how he comes across, gruff, infectious

schoolboy, knockabout clown ––
reserving a Tory scowl
for women, gays (saluting Enoch Powell) ––

speaking in Spitfire bursts,
never sunk, always immersed
stardusted, drunk

on the wealth of that spilled purse.

A Field, Schull, West Cork, 1973

Mark it, the first, and so far
only time I slept in the open
gazing up into the vaults ––
brushed by a passing
inquisitive summer rain ––
tasting the pattern.

Light Verse

To see how deeply grooved
everything is, leave your camera set
at 30 seconds, gaping on a cloudless night.

Neither analogue nor digital,
old starlight’s always cut with a needle ––
silver-plated, pristine, pulled

from the earth’s dark sleeve, each track
is authentic, a classic.

Bun a tSleibh, County Wicklow

A clear, cold night, earth-lit
by the tip of my friend’s cigarette.

I pointed and traced the arc-weld
of The Milky Way, filling his head

with stars, distances, density –– ‘Fuck off,
sure that’s only a bit of old smoke.’

A Last Word From Our Host

At 82, in an interview,
asked if he believes in god or if ‘all matter’
came from the Big Bang: ‘Ask me that
in ten years and I’ll be able to tell you.’

*The name of Sir Patrick Moore’s house.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Dream: Host-Making

Washed up on the beach at Bastardstown
Dreamed one of the strangest dreams last night. I woke with it fresh in my head, fell asleep again and forgot about it till a couple of hours ago, shortly before I went to bed.

The dream appeared to be in two stages (or scenes), like a short film. What I can remember is this:

Stage 1: a logged tree was being processed inside some large noisy machine. Sparks were flying, branches had been sheared off and the trunk was being brutally reduced to a kind of softened white pith.

Stage 2: Bits of processed tree (the size and shape of round loaves?) were floating along a slow stream inside a low arched tunnel. Workers in ragged clothes were stooping and tearing pieces of the wood, putting them in their mouths and chewing till these became a kind of softened bolus. The work was sacred, holy, because I somehow understood (though I don't think this was stated or illustrated in any way) that these bits of chewed white wood were being collected and, at a further stage, would eventually become consecrated communion hosts.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dürer: Six Pillows

Albrecht Dürer Sechs Kissen (Six Pillows), 1493

A pillow-fight-crossword on paper,
two across, three down, each character

is crosshatched, sculpted, made stand
up for itself, a face pulled

and patted, twisted, plumped
tipsy and crumple-drunk

as insomnia (a lamp left on
numbingly bright in the brain)

or it might be impressions left
by three couples who’ve slipped

out for something, their pillows
keeping their talks on hold.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Late Addition To The Lament

The Prince Consort, Edinburgh Book Fair

(for Norman MacCaig, on his birthday)

He has drappit the mirk-daurk craig
on hummle, muckle Norman MacCaig:
wan-fag, twa-fag, at lang-an-last three: ––
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Photo: Statue of The Prince Consort, Edinburgh Book Fair, 2010

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Spares (part 3)

The Day That's In It

Two sensations that remain married in my mouth: the delectable shock of the first kiss and the first oyster.

Every parade is asking to be rained on.

The best sex is always close to comedy. Within minutes, seconds, an ominous iceberg melts to a tiny puddle, a drawbridge slaps down on a fort that’s become a bouncy castle, rectitude vanishes, high moral ground hasn’t a hope.  

The gods are born jealous, and will always be shrill and demanding as colicky babies. Attempting to dress them in the grown-up clothes of The Enlightenment always looks silly.

Friday, November 09, 2012

More Spares

Couple Asleep On A Bus, Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow
The muddied colours of sleep, the mind mixing its palette.

The veneration for the opaque, hermetically sealed poem suggests a kind of hopeful necrophilia: listening intently for that muffled knocking, the corpse masturbating in its coffin.

On Radio 4, a woman on the joys of wandering naked in a garden with fellow naturists, sniffing the roses, etc. As if, while enacting a reversal of Adam and Eve’s discovery, they should forget to notice each other’s nakedness, forget to notice each other. And that, essentially, is what ‘naturism’ is, dressing for indifference, as if this were, somehow, a virtue.

The oldest ‘profession’ is hardly something as civilised as a prostitute. Instead, try: hunter / torturer / executioner.

Everyone nourishes a secret desire to be owned, my people.

The Poet’s Lounge: the one place where they are obliged, by law, to serve language that’s 100 proof.

That tabloid shriek of disgust –– ‘Animals!’ –– is an unforgivable insult to the whale, the shrike, the hyena.

Human and humane are almost always antonyms.  

Recently I heard a respected scientist declare that he never gives anything to beggars. Ideally, every good scientist is equipped with a well-honed curiosity and a hunger for evidence. To dismiss beggars en masse, on no evidence apart from their status as indigent people, suggests a profound lack of equipment. It is very bad science.

Auden (who sang the praises of the permeable limestone landscape) called poetry ‘memorable speech.’ I think great, or even just good, poems should have at least an element of this; they should resonate in the way that a good song or piece of music does. If they manage this I will forgive them much, including a good deal of impermeability.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Wilde Kisses

Lipstick on Oscar Wilde's grave.
Thanks to Katy Evans Bush for reminding me it is Oscar Wilde's birthday. And it was a photo Katy put on her blog, of Wilde's gravestone showered with lipsticked kisses (as in the photo above), along with an interview I later read with Merlin Holland (from which the quote below is taken), that prompted the sonnet I've posted here. As of December last year they have erected a glass screen around Wilde's grave to prevent his fans' defacement/adornment.

Oscar’s Grave

It is touching that they remember him with such affection.
But on the other hand it is really tiresome – Merlin Holland

Scrub off those lipstick kisses
pressed on the pale stone
and they’ll return, shades
of pink, terracotta, snail grey.

Would he have blanched, haunted
by atrocious wallpaper?
Or seen the outline, an illustration
for some story he might ––

if he could gather his thought:
a prince whose elegant name
deserted him, having stolen
the life he should have lived

and the death also, eyelids
breathed on, kissed closed.

[photographer unknown]

Sunday, August 26, 2012

So Neil Armstrong Has Gone Back To The Moon

Almost full moon, Wexford
I wasn't going to post anything about Neil Armstrong, who died yesterday, because I didn't believe I'd have anything to say. But it was my era, the late 60s and early 70s, those surges of nightmare and optimism. And that sudden obsession with the moon: the first colour photos filling the supplements, up close but unreal, as if the ground were carved out of rain-cloud, the amazing Earth bright and lurid as a beach ball, the frail-looking LEM, something a child might fashion from cardboard and baking foil, the Michelin Men in their bouncy suits, their little flag that had to be wired rigid so as not to wilt, and those griddled, bear-like footprints that may remain in that weatherless museum for whatever comes: our future selves, ET, the stars' faceplate... 

Anyway, all this comes by way of my old friend Anthony Glavin. I remembered this morning that he had written something that would be appropriate to the occasion, a single quatrain from Living In Hiroshimahis great unfinished sequence that seems to have something to say about practically every major event in the 20th Century, be it personal or historical. So here it is, a postcard from the future past:


       'One small step ... a giant leap ... ' And there,
       Blue-white, a sea-pearl, eyeing us from empty space ....

       My headset's gone –– repeat, You quite asleep, girl?
       Ghost-zone. Interference. Wish you were here.

       from The Wrong Side of the Alps (The Gallery Press, 1989)

I'll finish by quoting part of a statement released by Neil Armstrong's family, a lovely last flourish that Anthony would have appreciated:

'... and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the Moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.'

Monday, August 06, 2012


Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

No better name for it. The flight director
admits ‘I get butterflies every now and then.’

After the excitement of the spidery
EDL, the never-tried-before

sky-crane, the flare of rockets, the softened thud,
the red dust recovering on the earless plain ––

there are little alien sounds, clicks
and the hum of motors, calibrated wheels

laying down, scrupulous and slow,
an incremental script in the pristine

pigment scattered just so. It focuses, sniffs ––
carbon? carbon? yes? yes? no? ––

and gets the better of us, bomb-detection robot
on an abandoned street, face pressed

to a steamed-up kitchen window: night
and the neighbours have switched on their blinds;

what are the sepia-pink shadows –– that loom, blur
and disappear –– doing now?

Photo, taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, shows Curiosity having deployed its parachute.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Nebulous Lullaby

 Inside The Homunculus*

Some things we can say
about Eta Carinae:

It was catalogued by Halley.
The Chinese knew it as Tseen She

meaning Heaven’s Alter.
It likely a binary, a pair

of supergiants, the smaller
hugged and tugged by the larger.

It is four or five million
times brighter than our sun.

It is around eight thousand light years
distant, so really quite near, 

just a couple of doors
down our galactic avenue, our neighbours

are apparently blowing their tops
and won’t stop

until, in some already ancient tomorrow,
their whole house, finally, blows

(so, next Tuesday, a blue burn in the night sky
bright enough to read by,

or, if our luck’s out, a gamma ray
might come glancing this way).

The universe is a blast
and stars far from steadfast

as they know well, those avid watchers
in their burnished towers

who might murmur: twinkle, twinkle
luminous blue variable 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hard Landings

Descending, Dublin

I had the displeasure of flying Ryanair again recently, to Malaga and back. Actually, the flight itself was fine and the cramped seating wasn't that uncomfortable for a shortish flight, a bit like being on a crowded 46A bus traveling over occasionally bumpy roads (the dark blue and yellow colour scheme was also very C.I.E.). No, the problem was the landing. I sensed it might be a bad one as we came to the last suspended rush, a held breath before the undercarriage –– all that separates our fuselage (so much plastic and alloy, paper and air) –– from the implacably hard, racing earth. Too fast, I thought, and too vertical, this is going to be yet another hard-arsed, Ryanair jolt to the spine. I braced myself by gripping the seat in front. Sure enough, there was a shocking, almighty WHUMP before the reverse-thrust roar kicked in, and I knew we'd survived.

Melodramatic? Maybe, but when I entrust myself to those who will convey my one, mortal incarnation 12,000 meters above where it rightly belongs I expect them to be mindful of my/our frailty. Not all Ryanair landings are this unpleasant (just most of them in my experience); I've noticed that when the engines are given an extra boost just before the wheels meet the runway the landing is lovely and smooth. Knowing Ryanair's obsession with cost-saving, I have speculated whether the pilots have been instructed (off the record) to cut their engines (or reduce power) prior to landing to save fuel. Is this possible, or even legal re airline safety regulations?

Incidentally, years ago, on what may have been my first (hard) Ryanair landing, when I heard that ridiculous cavalry trumpet over the intercom (actually to celebrate another flight arriving on or ahead of schedule), I mistakenly thought it was a kind of one-off joke, gallows humour along the lines of: 'Gee guys, apologies for the terrible landing, but hey, we're still in one piece!'

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dream: Ghosts

Nuala's chair after rain.
Odd, disturbing dream last night, perhaps because I was back in my own bed (our bed) after having spent a week away, in Clifden and, later, Galway, with friends.

It seemed as if I was awake, and perhaps I was, half-awake. I was conscious of a presence just outside the bedroom door, which I can't quite see from the bed as it is in the same wall that the headrest backs against; also, a filing cabinet partly obscures it. Was the door open? I think so. My aunt Nuala, or rather her ghost, was standing outside, or so I thought (she died over two years ago). I have the impression that I was calling her to come in. There was urgency, but also fear. Did I really want her to come in? And was my mother there also? Were there other presences? The dream has faded, was already fading when it, or something else, woke me at around 4.30. I had to read for half an hour before going back to sleep (Richard Ford's Canada, which I took on holiday and am now thoroughly immersed in).

I also had a disturbing dream while in Clifden. I just recall one vivid scene. A skinny, long-limbed man/creature jumped or fell off a high cliff into the sea. Would he/it be killed? No. The dream-camera suddenly zoomed down and revealed it walking purposefully across the sea floor. Then it was up close, in my face, a strange Hokusai ghost/Gollum figure. And i woke. Part of the dream's inspiration no doubt comes from watching my friends Pat and Chris diving into the sea earlier that day. No great heights were involved, just rocks a few feet above the water. But it was unnerving as there was a (very slight) danger that they could strike an underwater shelf that extended a little distance beyond the rock's base, so they had to run before diving, to clear it.

[Photo above is of Nuala's chair, taken perhaps six years ago, after a day of heavy rain]

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


gate, N6, Galway
I finally watched Garage on DVD the night before last. I am ashamed that it has taken this long. As Wiki says, Garage 'is a 2007 Irish film directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by Mark O'Halloran, the same team behind Adam and Paul. It stars Pat ShorttAnne-Marie Duff and Conor J. Ryan. The film tells the story of a lonely petrol station attendant and how he slowly begins to come out of his shell.' I must add that it was edited (beautifully) by my cousin, Isobel Stephenson, who won an IFTA for her work on Love/Hate.

The film is about loneliness and innocence, and the inevitable loss of the latter; about the tragic collision of three different kinds of innocence: that of the central character, Josie (a wide-eyed, child-like man brilliantly played by Pat Shortt), that of the 15-year old boy who befriends him and, to a lesser extent, the innocence and naivety of the trucker who thinks he is doing Josie a favour by giving him a porn video. Of course the video is a ticking bomb that will have to detonate. 

There is plenty of bittersweet comedy in Garage. The film is perfectly cast. It distills a certain kind of midlands Ireland, slightly off the beaten track, the business on its last legs, a backdrop of overgrown lanes, high bramble, fields of deep, grazing silences, an Edenic stillness and lushness. There is even an apple; more than one in fact. To quote Derek Mahon's 'Garage In County Cork': 

Surely a whitewashed suntrap at the back
Gave way to hens, wild thyme, and the first few
Shadowy yards of an overgrown cart track,
Tyres in the branches such as Noah knew –

Yes, surely it did, and does. Innocence collides with innocence and begets knowledge (of a kind). And the tragedy, when it comes, closes without an apparent ripple, as quietly inevitable as the encroaching sunrise, the evening foretold by the film's mute chorus, which in this instance may well be a horse. Ah, the horse! You'll have to see the film to find out what I mean. Look out for the last shot, that final frame: perfect filming, and the editing is pure genius. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day

At The Fringe, Edinburgh

It seems, now, I will never find
your shoes, father, let alone fit in them,
though I still hope to follow the cold trail
of adventure in your smile, your spark
that landed me here, where
even though I am a father in my turn,
my footing is far from certain.

Rumours rustle in the visible
branches of my family tree. An uncle
traced you, found a married man. But no
he did not (or maybe it slipped his mind).
A cousin heard you might have lived in Medicine Hat ––
Medicine Hat! Such a marvellous name
I tried it on for size, for a while.

A French Canadian soldier, my mother said,
neglecting to mention which war
claimed you, so I grew up thinking
World War Two, realising eventually
it ended a decade too early.
Tentative questions raised that flicker of pain,
slaps from a self-interrogation.

Have I other half-brothers? Sisters?
How many of your whip-tailed seeds made it home?
I suppose you’re gone now, burned
or buried, dog-tagged in stone,
but until I can mark, encircle
wherever you hung your hat, you’ll remain
enchanted, undead, prone, your face

furiously shifting and running, fast-
forwarding weather, the everyday
sky convoys, sea’s military colours,
crowd-faces in the street, on TV, armies
of old men –– all and none
remind me of you. My known
unknown, how have you shrunk, grown?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dream: Cloud

tipsy cloud, Sandymount
I was with my cousin, Dave. We were photographing a landscape (no idea where), both of us waiting for a singular cloud to drift into place, adjusting and perfecting the image. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dream: Drive

Another dream-fragment featuring my mother. I can only remember the last moment, before Johnny woke me (he had stayed the night). I was driving along the Clontarf coast road. My mother was beside me, but more of a sensation than a physical presence. I remember fairly clearly asking her (possibly more than once, it seemed important) to tell me her favourite place in Dublin. I woke before she could answer. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dream: Mum

evening startree
I woke this morning to the first halfway coherent memory of dreaming about my mother. The dream didn't hold very well. It's like a badly underexposed negative, solid with shadow. But I remember we were traveling together, staying in a kind of hotel or guest house. There were other people in the dream, even dimmer shadows, strangers. But the overall feeling was pleasant, a good helping of wish-fulfillment. I was doing something I wanted to do, being with her, and she with me. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Leaving, 1973*

The Leaving, 1973

I never miched before, so it feels strange,
too easy to stay in my seat as the bus pulls
away from my stop (Sandford Park, where the push
is on for the Leaving Cert.). Well out of range,
I hop off, drift downstream on Grafton Street’s
quick/slow shuffling pavements, where I catch
the breath of roasted coffee beans and let
Bewley’s (The Church of Take-The-Weight-Off-Your-Feet)

inhale me. In the basement, lunch money spent
on hot milky coffee and buns, I begin to orient
myself among the tidal people, drag and flow
of conversation, places and to be or go.
For three weeks I hold this course, till I can say
I sat for my Leaving in Bewley’s Oriental Café.

*for Shakespeare on his 448th birthday
who understood 
the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school

Friday, April 13, 2012



Found among my mother's papers,  little card 
less than one inch by two. But thick
and sturdy (a whole generation, a world in that sturdiness).
In clear black print on a battered cream background, the following:

Arrow points to your CORRECT weight
ONLY IF you stand still on platform until
red hand stops before dropping coin.

And the purple-stamped date: 13 APR   which, as it happens, is today’s date
how long (half a century?) later. To the right of this ––
below the bold printed Stones Pounds –– a purple arrow points
at the inch-tape figures, in between 2-6 and 2-7.
And below this, in bigger bolder letters:


O city of my birth, where was she coming from, or going,
what was on her mind, was I pestering her, did she need a pause
in the rhythm of her walking, what made her stop in the quietness
or busyness of a London street to weigh (two-year-old me, presumably)

and slip this into her handbag –– evidence for the jury
who weighs it now standing on the floor, the platform
of her cleared-out bedroom

where he waits for the red hand, the arrow, to stop quivering.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sketches of My Mother

from a sequence (Sketches of My Mother)

In the top drawer, so different from
the soft, neatly folded clothes: her necklaces ––
pearls and beads, the pink coral

trickle and click through my fingers –– feel
the precise weight of the tangle
of memory and dream.


Fatherless, my secret terror
is that some abrupt power may snatch her, freeze

my panicked ten-year-old stare through the windscreen
(for almost a whole half hour)

at the corner of the shopping centre where
she must reappear –– now! –– so my world can snap back.


Just once, at her dressing table, pawed
by my anxiety (‘but are you really
my mother or, or…’)
she swings round a scary-alien-face: ‘Ha!’


Her gentleness scales down the fear
of girls –– women with all their marvelous difference
never too strange or too far.


Yet sex is part of the great
unspoken, an ‘information’ booklet: blotchy
grey and white photos, the girl’s pubescent v
retouched to a modest blur ––

like her life-drawings, the shapes
worried and tentative, furred.
I will have to find that bare continuous line
for myself.


Her eye is for colours lifted
from an Irish landscape –– mossy and warm ––

or seascapes, like one she sketched
from the deck of a boat towing
yellowy moonlit waves, the African coast’s
mountains, taller than Dublin’s

and inset with pale cities: our day trip
from Torremolinos to Tangiers
receding as we watched, at home between continents.


Innocence, yes, though neither naïve nor saintly ––
a working part of her instinct: second eldest
in a family of seven, calm
at the eye of the tantrum: ‘Oh,
I was always the peacemaker’.


The heavy-headed roses have grown
dishevelled, swaying above her

as she stoops with secateurs
among straight, woody stems, extravagant thorns,

burying, I once pompously wrote,
‘her regret’ (At what? Not having lived

a more ordered or wildly-lived life? Not being sure
of herself or what she should do?).

More likely just pleasuring, becoming lost in
velvety pinks, creams, carmines

curling like old photographs
tattered and edged here and there

with tea-brown stains.


In a narrow alcove above her bed, plyboard shelves
sag a little, like hammocks, under the weight
of her cluster of books: Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs,
Belloc, Betjeman, A Child’s Garden of Verses,
Winnie The Pooh, The Larousse Encyclopaedia
of Greek Mythology, a Dream Dictionary (that warns
against dreams about weddings: funerals
in disguise), James’s Michener’s Iberia:
grown-up black and white photographs
of hot dust, sharp shadows, blood, sweat, age.
What else? The Wind In The Willows, Leaves of Grass.


Searching her room for Photoplay or She ––
glossies that might (unlike the monochrome Lady)
reveal a lucky breast, I lift the mattress

and find a Cosmopolitan that unfolds
a naked, hairy Burt Reynolds (his flashy grin
sporting a bent cigarillo) on a bearskin,
one elbow propped on the white-fanged muzzle,
a protective forearm lax between his thighs.

A man, masculine and vulnerable, absurd
as my own pink fantasies, the TV ad:
 ‘…and all because the lady loves Milk Tray’ ––

her long-vanished brand of cigarette, Kingsway
(a white pack with a red ribbon and gold crown),
her style –– the way she wore scarves, belts, slacks,
touches of elegance, flourishes, grace-notes
on a graph of yearning, how high and how far  ––

thirty years to celebrate, to love her
for making ‘a little something’ of her own desire.


There was Pound’s Fascist rant:

‘Oh how hideous it is
To see three generations of one house gathered together!
It is like an old tree with shoots
And with some branches rotted and falling.’

Then Raymond Carver’s (quieter, more honest) ‘Fear
of having to live with my mother in her old age
and mine’
                and here we are, and the greater fears

go blundering past like gale-force
window-rattling golems, far
too overblown to get a foot in the door.


As the home-help women help
my mother out of her clothes
and, if she can make it,
onto the shower stool,

some stay silent, while others
sprinkle a few words, names
like Darling or Dear. I think
she prefers the names. I do.

They drive from M50 estates ––
Clonee, Tyrrelstown, Blanchardstown,
late of that dusty-green cloak
of a continent –– carrying

the business of the world
helping, into our home.
And their own names sound like endearments –
Ola, Ayesha and the one

who is coming on Wednesday: Purity.


An afterlife: arthritic, room-bound
with one of our cats, Claire, Hillary, Toby…
comfortably draped on the TV’s

sleepy cornet of Coronation Street
or The Antiques Roadshow
while a bright patch of winter sun dulls

the orange coals: ‘Is it bad today?’
                                                      ‘Ah yes,
singing in my bones.’


But I remain wary of this
premature mourning, however inevitable,

admiring her doggedness, how on that slow train
boarded at the end of the first World War,

her ‘proper’ age never arrived,
so, at 93 (with her two sisters

nearest in age gone like supporting walls),
she confides as if for the first time:

‘It’s hard getting old.’


She’s driving a little too fast, as if we didn’t have
this whole day to tunnel through –
high-hedged shuttle of fields, hills, sky
a ladder of cloud-ribs, shadow-flits. She smiles

at something I can’t guess and the road rises
and plunges steep enough for a gulp
of vertigo as the canopy unzips and I see

ahead, slate-blue roughed with white, some cove
we visited so long ago I remember
the nested stones, cool sand. She turns to me
with that smile and makes it mine.

The above is excerpted from a loose sequence I was working on when she died last February. It feels odd to post this, a bit transgressive, almost a violation. I remember Philippe Jaccottet's visceral disgust (expressed in a poem of his) at the very notion of a writer bringing specific biographical details concerning a loved one, or anyone close to him/her, into a poem. But then I also remember Patrick Kavanagh's lovely poem in memory of his mother: 
'O you are not lying in the wet clay,
For it is a harvest evening now and we
Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight
And you smile up at us - eternally.' 
Or there is Heaney's poem from his (not at all loose) sequence of 'Clearances', about remembering peeling potatoes with his mother while he attended her death-bed: 
'So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.' 

So there are certainly precedents, not that I can ever measure up to them.
In any case, Happy Mother's Day mum.