Carlow Poem #61
In the dream
I’d shrunk to the size of a pea.
Maybe that way
I thought I could get into the bed
of a prince, but all I got was Puss in Boots
who got up and ordered
from the barman – I’m sure
it was a German craft beer –
he was a feline of impeccable taste after all.
The barman looked remarkably
like Leonard Cohen.
He was eating a banana
and seemed to whisper
under his breath
‘I’m your man.’
I knew there was no cure
but maybe Lenny
might be a little bit of fun
for a while.
Boys will be boys
Lenny told me in bed
he’d made up what he’d said
about Janis Joplin
in the bedroom of the Chelsea Hotel.
I thought it was a ruse
in order to get me
to give him a blowjob.
Never trust a folk singer,
they never tell the truth—
whatever about Canadians.
As for men,
well, they’ll tell you
sugar is sweet
and violets are blue
– both of which are true –
but it’s the cheap attempt
at crap poetry
that turns the stomach
of an honest woman
or any man with a taste
for something beautiful
said in earnest.
I want to be a c.d.
next time around.
When I amn’t sitting
quietly in the corner,
I’ll spin around
and make music.
I’ll paint the sky with stars.
A fine job
after a few jars
of Orinoco Flow,
a craft beer
made in Borris
by a three legged
who retired from Braun
after growing up in Berlin
during the Cold War.
He was often heard to say,
‘Ireland’s grand, but Carlow’s perfect.
Anything for a quiet life.’
Myself and the German
will make impeccable love
to the sound
of the bonnie Donegal lass
– O Caribbean Blue –
all in the abstract, of course,
which is far more tantalizing than the real thing.
As for the rest of the world,
well, youz can all go and fuck off.
Kathleen Ní Houlihan
Rumour has it
he woke one morning
and she was gone,
tired of his drunken harangue,
dirty nails, sour breath,
all his dead pieties.
Rumour has it
what he didn’t know was
she had fallen in love
with a seductive youth
of film-star looks.
She’d met him first
in the silent dark
in the back of the cinema
in the local town.
Rumour has it
she was last seen
under the blue moon of Kentucky
in the arms of a cowboy
who looked remarkably like Johnny Cash.
In check shirt, straw hat and boots,
smoking cheroots and drinking malt whiskey,
she was singing bawdy ballads—
a Calamity Jane, crooning
of the wild, wild west,
a wild, wild woman but free.
It brought a tear
to his eye, he raised a glass,
and smiled. His Kathleen.
Rumour has it
you could see her crying too
in some dingy back-room bar
in New Orleans, shattered
the day Louis Armstrong died.
‘How that Kat could jive!’
She’d helped him book gigs
when he decided to take to the road.
‘Behind every great man, Louis,
there’s a better woman!’
Rumour has it
she donned her boxing gloves
and joined the fight
for negro rights
somewhere south of Alabama in ’62.
In small rooms, drab sheds,
she could be seen, night after night,
arguing, urging, organizing,
sit down protests, civil disruption,
one fiery Irish Colleen
worthy of Delacroix,
Liberty Storming the Barricades.
He thought he saw her once
in the crowd
in some old black and white footage
of Dr King at the Lincoln Memorial,
her boot plonked on a step,
a hand on her hip. His Kathleen,
in defiant mode – how he knew it well.
Rumour has it
he was found blubbering,
teary-eyed and incomprehensible
in the local library,
pointing to a cheap reproduction
of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.
‘That’s my Kathleen there!’
to the red-haired beauty
about to go home
with the suave gent in suit and hat.
a wild, wild woman, but free.
‘I can be lonely too,’ he said.
‘I can be lonely too.’
Which is to say, rumour has it,
he nearly died the day
she walked back in the door,
somewhat haggard and a little dusty.
‘Stick on the kettle, love,
I’d shoot a President
for a good cup of Lyons Tea.’
He put it on without a word,
and put out a tray
of her favourite biscuits, Chocolate Kimberley.
‘What brings you home to the Barrow, dear,
this small midlands town
you left all those years ago?’
‘‘You were always on my mind, my dear.
The way you sang,
‘I’ll take you home again, Kathleen,’
with that glitter in your eye,
it haunted my days, my nights.
What Johnny Cash told me that night
we emptied the last
Jack Daniels down the gullet
is so true:
‘The world’s more full o’ weepin’
than a gal can understand, Kathleen.
Yep, the world’s more full o’ weepin’
than a gal can understand.’
‘You are dead right, Johnny,’
I said to him.
‘It’s a right bollix, isn’t it?
A right bollix, the whole thing.’’
‘Now, where’s me tae?’
Ove Funs Tranåsdin Dream
(Ove Fundin, World Speedway Champion, from Tranås, Sweden)
(for Magnus Grehn)
The strange, illogical hope of the human
strays on to your retina every minute
you spend in this town, the persistence
of its prams, short dresses, the glitter
in the eyes of young men, who see
heaven dawn from an armpit.
All we have are partial perspectives,
and so, how can I capture
anything of the truth of life in this town?
Its tedium on a Sunday afternoon
reminds me of childhood Sundays
in the ‘70s. I’m sure its small dramas
are as small as any I have known.
There are many virgins in the town
who won’t be virgins by the time
the year is out. And still
the sun will rise from Lake Sommen
and descend into it
after this day is done. Fathers
will take their sons fishing
out by the lake, like their fathers,
as their fathers’ fathers did with them,
generation after generation. And the eccentric
librarian of the town, a lover
of Ella Fitzgerald and Sid Vicious,
will tell his tale of Lenin
passing the town in the train,
just days before its infamous
potato rebellion, where a rebel band
of 400 protested the price of spuds,
and how the wealthy were exploiting their labour
for their own gain. He may well be
one of the town’s eccentrics
but he’s surely right in thinking
we might need this spirit of rebellion
In this town
even the old
zip along her streets in their little
mobility scooters, because it is
always better to be out
in the thick of life
than moping in melancholic fashion
over a cup of coffee
in a dark corner of the kitchen.
This is how this town
provides its own answer
to existential doubt as to the value
of existence—get out and do it,
you hope for sunny days, but you prepare
for wind and rain, your jeans
and sneakers decent enough, and a car
that works always helps. A Volvo isn’t pretty
but she’s rock solid. A Nääs beer,
children, a wife,
and midsummer in the rain
at the park, dancing a folk dance
with your neighbours, seeing who is
out and about
and what the crack might be.
There is no ferocious vulture
hissing over this town, only
the persistent cries of the seagulls,
querulous and gossipy as they scavenge
all along its French-style boulevard,
the second widest in Sweden.
The little girl in the pink hat
dances along the street in the rain,
in colourful wellies, she is
the delight of her mother.
The beautiful blonde, a tall man,
pushes the type of pram you recall
from the ‘70s up the hill
by the town square, patting
his equally blonde daughter
on the head, who
virtually squirms with delight.
Here, this is how the inconceivably mundane
yields up its own rich commentary.
The beautiful virus called life
has caught on wonderfully here.
This town is far too eccentric
and interesting for the prescriptions
of common sense and order,
for which the Swedes are typically known.
You can see it summed up in the emblem,
the statue in bronze they’ve placed
at the centre of their town, the ‘60s
icon who made his name
for wheelies, speeding, road-bike racing,
facing danger head-on at full speed,
only two wheels of inflatable rubber
between you and the road.
This is the only way to take on life,
even if it seems you are just
perambulating on a Sunday with your wife
down by the park, or in the woods,
it’s all about the attitude
with which you take these things on.
Let us think of Kafka
in the arms of Milena Jesenská.
He, who had already
coughed up blood while swimming
in the Civilian Swimming School
where he often chose to spend
his leisure hours. Anything to escape
the drudgery of the Asbestos Factory,
the tyranny of his father, the law,
and business, business, business.
He loved and feared
her living fire. He stands
and kisses her left shoulder
as she draws back her blouse.
Milena Jesenská, the firebrand,
who was to die years later, in Ravensbrück.
Let us picture them together,
the weight of her almost
uncovered breast upon him.
Since he has come to love her
he has discovered his love
for the world, a world in which
he has lately come across her left shoulder.
He kisses it,
the way a man
might kiss the head of his new-born child.
Tranås Poem #213
(for Peter Nyberg)
In a rather strange way
he became a parable
to the children of the town,
and its teenagers. When parents
wished to chastise
their children, to switch off
their mobile phones, take
off their headphones, plug out,
his name would always be mentioned.
‘Think of Magnus Larsson’, they would say.
He’d sat at a table
in the hotel in the town square
through hail, rain, fog, snow,
for over forty years,
writing his poems.
Poems about New York,
Cracow, Prague, cities
he had read about
from the local Bibliotek,
brought to him by the
O so accommodating,
friendly town librarian,
The thing is, Magnus Larsson
never left his appointed writing desk,
such perfection, such concentration,
he had brought to the craft
to which he had dedicated his life.
When the hotel booked weddings,
or birthday parties, or any
manner or type of function
you’d typically expect in a small town,
it was a condition of booking
that you had to accept
Magnus Larsson sitting in his usual corner,
writing, scribbling, thinking away.
It was well known
that when he was stuck
on a particular consonant,
how to articulate it, how did
its sound blend with the vowels
in the previous line,
that he’d get up
and pace about, making
weird gestures and noises
as he tried to achieve
the just perfectly symmetrical balance
he was constantly striving for in his lines.
People would travel out
from Stockholm to see
the famous poet Larsson.
Of course, they would never
interrupt him in mid-composition,
or dare to say ‘Hallå’ most times.
They were just happy to observe
such dedication in action,
a type of single-minded spiritual pursuit
not seen in Tranås
since the heyday of the Reformation,
albeit in a more contemporary form.
His ‘tragic humourism’
had been the subject of commentary
in literary periodicals
all over the world.
He had fans in Barcelona,
Beijing, and there was even
one brave critic who went
so far as to claim:
‘If it were ever firmly established
that there was such a thing
as extra-terrestrial life
in outer space, be assured,
Larsson will be read,
alongside Shakespeare, Kafka, and Joyce.’
Some critics considered his epic poem
about the jockey Frank Hayes
crossing the finishing line,
despite having died mid-
way through the race
—by heart attack—
his greatest. A 20/1
outside victory in such circumstances
was the embodiment
of epic poetry itself. Still,
his poem about the whale
—this good earth’s loneliest creature—
calling out, over and over
again, for a mate
—for two long decades—
in a voice so high-pitched
no other whale could ever
respond, this, this, this was surely,
his most tragic work.
Occasionally, some rather brave soul,
quite often a mother,
would dare to raise the question:
‘Was this really life, a life
worth living, or indeed worthy
of emulation? Shouldn’t a man
have children, romance, a real hobby – like fishing?
Tranås is famous for its lakes
and forests, after all!’
To which Larsson would smile
obliquely, and say:
‘My heart is too sensitive,
you have no idea of the
of feeling that runs through
every fibre, every tendon, every cell,
of my being. I have lived
deeper than most of the population
of Sweden in my lifetime
without moving less than fifty yards
in forty years
—are you sure that you could say