Carlow Poem #167
It was a Saturday
and once again Malone
has to contemplate the trip
into Carlow town for the weekly shop:
tubs of margarine, buttermilk (preferably with
the blue-capped bottles that were increasingly hard to find),
The Irish Times and The Daily Mail,
Brennan’s Bread, Superquinn sausages, Clonakility Black Pudding,
and a final stop off in The Cigar Divan
on Dublin Street for his favourite brand of cigarillo.
Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid,
as Malone would often recite to Descartes,
his favourite piglet whom he let wander
around the kitchen, and occasionally
into the living room, a true sign of Malone’s love.
Malone would thumb a lift.
Stuck on the back of an old
Massey-Ferguson, hitched up beside
a smiling, gap-toothed farmer and his son,
Malone would sail into Carlow town,
a Celtic chieftain, king of all he surveyed,
or a Pharaoh on the back of his chariot,
depending which movie Malone thought he was in.
He loved this town.
It was his, like no other place
on God’s good earth was.
Its empty Sugar Factory tower,
there in the backdrop to the town,
a symbol of all it once was,
and all that it could have been. Its swans
growing in number by the day,
fed on slices of white bread,
the children in the park
hungry for the natural, wildlife,
untamed mothers squawking to protect their kids.
And the glass-faced buildings
springing up on the Kilkenny Road,
how Carlow squared up to Singapore,
the research centres of her I.T.,
where, these days, her sons and daughters
designed and programmed computers,
ignorant of Prokofiev, Stravinsky’s The Fire-Bird,
and the wild rantings of Lear as he rambled the moors.
O, how Malone could snarl and rant too!
Sometimes he could see Carlow
in the plastic-shoed leer of some yobo
from the far side of Graigue Bridge
hurling insults at tall, elegantly dressed
Lithuanian men at a distance safe enough to run.
And then he thought he heard it
in the soft leather-soled thread
of a ghostly priest on College Street,
clipped, pressing, urgent,
on some errand of mercy,
returned from the mission fields of Australia,
eager for the certainties of home
and pious still.
You are up there
with the ferret and the weasel
as a rather lowly creature –
not quite a rodent,
a sophisticated rat,
but not far off. So underground
I’ve never come across you
in dark or daylight.
Badgers I’ve seen, often squashed
on the road, or the odd fox
caught in the headlights
along a country road,
but I don’t think
I’ve ever come across a stoat.
I imagine you sleek
and silky, with a keen intelligence,
to hide away in dawn or dusk,
away from human contact,
finding all you need to survive
in the forgotten corners,
ditches, burrows, barns, and dumps.
And yet, you too know love,
what it is to ferret away
food for your offspring, to line
your nest for those who must
come next, and to long for
warm fur beside you on cold nights.
May I invoke a blessing,
from my Saint, Galway Kinnell.
May you know all your own rich loveliness,
a loveliness that is yours
and yours alone on this warm star
we share together.
And may you always bloom,
perhaps long after we are gone,
knowing within that each thing
must blossom from within,
an abundant, ceaseless, self-blessing
only it can know and give.
And I hope that you may remember,
when the time comes,
some of us thought of you this much.
Carlow Poem #71
You might be surprised
to receive this letter from me,
but I’ve been a closet fan
of your poetry for decades
(even as it appeared in obscure
I think you’ve done the right thing,
maintaining the humble farmhouse
outside of Myshall, in Ireland’s
second smallest county, reading
deeply in esoteric texts
all about the behaviour of animals
and the human animal, and yet,
strangely informed by the latest
theories in quantum mechanics.
To tell you the truth,
I think my band haven’t made
a decent album since The Unforgettable Fire,
despite all the critical hype
and success around The Joshua Tree,
and the arguments of the pseudo-intellectual
rock critics that we lost our way after Zooropa.
I see you as the Tom Waits of the poetry world,
full of obscure but true facts, keeping
your boots solidly grounded in pig-shite,
and with that deep perception you have
for the lives of the weirdos and fringe-characters
who haunt the villages and towns of Ireland
(and indeed the world. Believe me,
there are plenty of them in L.A.),
those who reveal most the absurdity
of the human condition
in a type of unrhymed poetry
or vers libre (so-called), that is
their very lives.
And so, here’s my proposition.
I’ll offer you my Ray-Bans,
leather suit and boots.
I’ll even supply the name of my hair-dresser.
And I’ll don your shite-covered wellington boots,
check shirt, worn corduroys, and felt hat,
and we’ll exchange places.
Don’t worry, Ali and the kids
won’t even notice the swop at this stage.
You’re welcome to the Grammy Awards,
and lifetime achievement accolades –
even the benefits of the tax dodge.
All I ever wanted was a contemplative life.
Carlow Poem #73
I was most surprised
when the carrier pigeon landed last week
with your letter tied to its leg.
It’s hard to deliver the post
to this part of Ireland,
what with the cut-backs in An Post
to contend with. Sorry for the delay,
but there was a rare slug
attacking the lettuce in my garden
and this received too much
of my attention in the last week.
I thoroughly agree with you,
U2 have been on a downward slide
since The Unforgettable Fire. But,
you’ll be happy to hear
I’ve bought all the albums since,
even after the dawn of i-Tunes
and Spotify. I’m rather loyal
and somewhat sentimental like that,
and my desire for obscure facts
leads me to want to know things like
who was the engineer on Pop,
and was Gavin Friday still your friend
and were you going to thank him
on this record like the last one.
By the way, I consider him
the closest thing we have to Tom Waits,
although something of a dandified,
Frenchified version, even though that sounds odd,
given the fact that he’s from Ballygall.
Maybe it’s the fact he was gay all along
explains this (I don’t know, I’m only guessing).
I’m very sorry to say
but I’ll have to turn down your proposition.
Whilst I can sing reasonably well
(although sounding more like Frank Sinatra
than Lou Reed or yourself),
I’m just too busy with the lettuce
and the carrots which need all
my tender love and care right now,
to get involved with the tinsel world
of show business, tempting as that is.
And I have the Tibetan Book of the Dead
to still read, not to mention
The Analects of Confucius – so,
my life’s work must see me remain
in the relative obscurity of rural Carlow
(thankful for the opportunities afforded
by strange corners of the internet
for my poetry).
With kind regards,
Carlow Poem #77
It is with the greatest regret
that I read of your decision
not to replace me as the frontman of U2.
Your letter arrived on my desk in Killiney
and I read it with the deepest melancholy
verging on depression. As our grandfathers
put it so wisely, níl aon tinteán
mar do thinteán féin. I understand
why it is you’d find it hard
to drag yourself away from your carrots
and lettuce, not to mention the chickens,
dogs, and sheep you’ve celebrated
so vividly and insightfully in your verse.
Still, I venture forward
with another proposition.
Despite his own vast wealth
and success, but Bob Dylan,
yes, the Noble Laureate you’ve no doubt
been inspired by – haven’t we all? –
confessed to me when we were recording
for that miserable record, Rattle and Hum,
that he preferred to live in a small caravan
out the back of his mansion.
So, here’s the idea.
I’ll live in a caravan
out the back of your yard in Myshall.
You won’t even know I’m there.
Don’t worry, I’ll disappear like Elvis,
or Jim Morrison. It’ll make for a great
conspiracy theory. There,
I’ll work on translating Tolkien.
Yes, I love his The Lord of the Rings,
which I want to translate
into ancient, classical Greek,
a pet project of mine
I’ll publish under my own pen-name, Theocritus.
And at night we’ll head to the local
to discuss quantum mechanics
and the Tibetan Book of the Dead,
not to mention Confucius.
Carlow Poem #59
In his youth Murphy had lived
for a brief spell in Glasgow, happy
enough to live in that city
of yellow sandstone and ‘heavy’ beer,
even though its simmering tensions
were enough to keep a country lad
on edge, and he nervous enough
to begin with. Before he’d left
for the city he’d worked in his town’s
toughest bar, putting together
a few shekels for a deposit
for his rent. His first time out
from under the mother’s thumb
was going to be a blast,
the only drawback being
you had to pay for it.
It was the type of bar
you’d find a man drunk in,
and in the middle of a hooley,
singing Irish ballads, a pocket harmonica
dancing across the lips of another,
in a semi-comatosed Irish jig,
and it only 2.30 of a Monday afternoon.
The reason Murphy had thought of this?
He’d been to Amsterdam from Glasgow,
being something of a closet lover
of the sunflower paintings
of Vincent van Gogh, not to mention
the dark and gloomy self-portraits of Rembrandt,
in which Murphy often thought
he caught some sort of glimpse of himself.
He’d a secret fascination with Dutch art
he’d never confess to his mother, had Murphy.
He’d also heard The Blind Boys of Alabama
praise the Lord in the Royal Concert Hall
on Sauciehall Street, the type of concert
he’d be inclined to tell the mother
he’d been to, if she had listened.
He thought of all this driving through the town
on the bus late home from Dublin one Saturday.
For the record, he’d been to hear Tchaikovsky
in the National Concert Hall – the Pathetique
being his favourite symphony by the Russian –
something of Glasgow remaining with him still.
But, didn’t he see one of the old regulars,
wearing the same jacket, shirt, and sneakers,
from the five years or so previous,
the very chap, Murphy swore, who spent the day
counting up the pints of Guinness he’d chucked
and speculating on the gee-gees.
Well, it seemed like his horse hadn’t come in yet,
as he staggered across the street and struggled
to get his foot up on the kerb. It kept slipping off
as his head wagged and his shoulders shrugged.
Carlow Poem #141
Stepping right into it
is one thing, Malone thought,
getting out of it
will be another. And,
as my Spanish friend, Manuel,
would often say, ‘tis better
to be a mouse’s head
than a lion’s tail.
I sought out Caruso
‘cause I wanted to hear
him sing. I’d heard
Pavarotti and thought
he’d a decent pair of lungs
on him, but many said
he was only a primrose
compared to the daffodil
that was Caruso.
I found Caruso in room #57,
drinking Russian vodka
with Boris Pasternak of all people,
poet and novelist.
Sure I thought Dr Zhivago
the greatest love story
ever brought to film,
and I was thinking now
sure I’d kill two birds.
And I, who had been bitterly disappointed
on discovering David Lean’s film
was shot in Canada
and not the Russian Steppes.
One of the minor casualties
of the Cold War. Does it matter
that they weren’t the Steppes,
those vast expanses of snow
they had to traipse across
to get to each other,
Omar Sharif as Zhivago,
and Julie Christie as Lara,
if I didn’t think they were?
Surely now I could ask Pasternak himself
with his year of Philosophy in Marburg
behind him, if he had ere an opinion on that one?
As it turns out, they were discussing
the intricacies of current Russian politics,
with Caruso arguing Putin was nothing
compared to Mussolini,
and Pasternak countering,
‘did you not know that Putin’s grandfather
was the chef for Stalin and Lenin,
and if I have it right now,
that scoundrel Rasputin?’
Bored with this
Malone entered room #113,
where Elvis was doing
a mean rendition of ‘That’s all right’
looking as nimble and fit and menacing
as the day he entered
Sun Studios back in ’54,
and just as keen to be centre stage.
Gimme a bit of rock n’ roll
over the Russian politics, Malone thought,
and he sidled up to a bar stool
to discover himself beside David Bowie
and he laying into the gin and tonics
Carlow Poem #153
‘There’s no sore ass
like your own sore ass,’
Sergeant Pluck was often heard
to say when he wasn’t dealing
with the important matter of stolen bicycles.
After forty years in the force
which had seen him finally
end up in the fair village of Fenagh,
he thought he had seen it all.
From stolen Christmas trees
and the horrid flashing
and glittering picture of Elvis
Mrs Hogan had seen stolen
from herself just before the start
of the festive season that year,
and which Pluck managed to track
down to a tinker’s caravan
the far side of Ballymurphy,
where the Elvis picture
was reduced to a dart-board,
and he hadn’t the gumption
to break the news to Mrs Hogan;
to the fifty-inch flat screen
TV Mick Nolan had stolen on him,
along with a bottle of Hennessy’s cognac,
through the open door
of his council house on the terrace,
and which some brazen hooligan
of a thief lifted
at 2.00 p.m. of a Wednesday,
and the door left swinging
so wide open a stray cat wandered in
and pissed all over the good Mrs Nolan’s
suite of IKEA’s finest furniture.
But now, how to contend with this.
It would surely require more cunning
than the time he dealt with Kavanagh,
the farmer from across the fields
who claimed his outlaw in-laws,
the O’Brien’s of the mountain
damaged 6,000 euros of the finest
wheat this side of the river Slaney,
by letting loose a rampaging bull
in the middle of it. Due to some insult
at a family christening
the weekend before. No,
what he had to deal with now
was all new, foreign country.
Paul Smith, Turf Accountant,
had lodged a complaint against
Kirwan the Solicitor’s son
on the grounds he had requested
nude pictures of Smith’s daughter,
via Instagram, and she only 17,
and they only dating three months.
Pluck was rightly perplexed
as to how to proceed.