There lived a girl in the end row,
fairest in all the land,
and all the men from all around
came suitors for her hand.
The boss man’s son sent his own men
to bring her to his house
and swore that she would never leave
until she was his spouse.
“Take all I have away from me,
take honour, jewels and life;
take me out of all memory:
I’ll never be your wife.”
“You have one night, my pretty one:
if you and I aren’t wed
before another day is done,
you’ll see your mother dead.”
Then as she wept alone that night,
her double left her glass
and stole through halls to the son’s room
where no one saw her pass.
The son smiled as she slipped inside,
regal and unafraid,
but in a flash she seized his knife
and stabbed him with his blade.
She twisted it in his black heart
till no red blood was left;
she did not strike with her right hand,
she struck him with the left.
Then back she glided through the house
to the poor woman’s room
and took her by her good right hand
and led her smiling home.
The boss man wept over his son
and searched both high and low
but never found the murderer
whose left hand struck the blow.
Mysterium, the ox and ass
and other faux-naif beliefs
in emblematic bas-reliefs
beside Annas and Caiaphas
show forth in a medieval frieze:
the midnight walk to Christmas Mass,
the stars and moon all frosted glass,
grass blades and abbey carp ponds freeze.
Parades of ensigns and cornets
of horse trail regimental flags,
the troop of drooping colours flags
to brassy flourish of cornets;
blind crusades across endless steppes
pitch camp; the sacrificial host
receives the sacrificial Host,
hostage to Fortune’s crass missteps.
The thick-lipped bewitched monarchy,
inbred true bloodlines’ royal sports,
trip dimly through their royal sports,
idiot spawn of purity.
What unheimlich manoeuvre could
void us before we choke to death,
gavaged with every shibboleth,
the forcemeat offal of our blood;
ineffables we effing parse
in polysemous homonyms
cured by Gulliver’s Houyhnhnms
with doses from a Yahoo’s arse.
No onomatopoeia sounds
the same, a tongue on its home ground
can’t even reproduce a sound,
the token effort Babel grounds.
God’s soundscape that we cannot bate
returns no answer known to us;
deep in the clouds of Perseus,
the black hole’s grace notes resonate.
My rich phantasmagoria,
spewn molten, congeals black and dun,
dejection cone of scoria
post solidus, heat spent and done.
put one word down and then it’s gone
with a sardonic gloria,
a true Roman oblivion.
But out of folios thrown down,
a dead leaf mulch of red and brown
under bare branches’ bony sway,
green growth may break through to the light
in crocus mauve and snowdrop white
saffron gold-hearted, in new day.
The blue echoes the sun’s bronze gong,
Rings in the round dance of the hours;
Heliotropes and sunflowers,
Purple and blue, play tagalong
In resonance the whole day long,
And lesser arcs of groves and bowers
Give shelter from the summer showers
And noon’s strokes when they beat so strong.
Now every day you rise with me,
My tutelary deity
Aurora, brushing back the night
In swathes of indigo and bice
Like plumes of birds of paradise,
With rosy fingers, my first light.
You exasperate me
And it so sucks to be
This way, but everything else
And earth’s imbecile weight
Of mortal fear and hate
Shakes walls hewn to ensure you’re
Bring however much grief,
It comes as a relief
When all that is good and true
Love, from the start, with two in one,
is paradox, a harmony
in counterpoint, an all or none
leap to rejoin my vis-a-vis
with no thought to the pro and con
engagement between you and me,
ready for what will be anon,
an opposite identity.
So, fronted by your sweet defile,
I slap and beat, not to defile,
but to ignite your torrid heat
so that, flagrant, you may, my dove,
burned in the Phoenix fires of love,
rise white and pure, affirmed, complete.
Death and the Diva
Phaedra, ravished by the sun
in her blood, and due disgrace,
threw over her stepson
to court a more entire embrace.
Carmen flung off her mantilla
for a shroud, to sample keener
pangs than she felt from her killer,
so thrilled, for all her proud demeanour,
she wooed the knife destined to spill her
hourglass figure in the arena.
Violetta, in one last orgasm
of song, descanted her assumption
scaled in a final tonic spasm,
whelmed in a red tide of consumption.
And Juliet found satiety
in her tomb, an end so sweet,
ardently as Semele
writhing in a carnal heat.
The sinister black butterflies
arise at twilight, taking flight
to flutter under pallid skies
in utter quiet and alight
on ashen lawns, a pall that lies
across grass sickened by their blight.
Crepuscular, in subfusc guise,
vespertine harbingers of night,
their ultrablack scales’ dust deep-dyes
the Stygian scene to blot out sight;
probosces suck up blood that dries
in clotted pools absorbing light.
Evening, exsanguinated, dies,
leached lifeless by a thirsty flight
of sinister black butterflies.
For some unknown reason, I forgot to put this on here when I first wrote it. Rectified.
The Death of Seamus Heaney
My inspiration kicked in right on cue:
these opening lines, written on the back
of my copy of his own ‘Opened Ground’
with a change of pen ink halfway down,
observed the classic, tragic unities
of one catastrophe, one time, one place.
And is it so always the artist’s way
to fall passionately for their medium?
Hodler or Monet at their loves’ bedsides,
painting ceaselessly, automatic hands;
the mason’s chisel slides out of the groove
as he stares transfixed at the epitath.
I’m going out to get royally drunk
tonight in honour of a dead king
known by his signs: he had the common touch
that cured the Evil, passed incognito
among his subjects, wearing the disguise
of a plain and simple honest man.
The earth, his mother goddess, takes him back
within herself, to lie beneath the hills
with the Daoine Sidhe in the mounds:
the giant bones that formed Old Ireland
articulating landscape, making sense
of place, sinewed and sweetly fleshed with names.
The Arrival of Autumn
Red gates open in the hills,
gold gates bound in bronze and copper
on oiled hinges, massive valves
knobbed with bosses of ripe apples;
the sighing handmaidens of wind
strewing the processional route
with quilted gilt arras of leaves.