Knock, Market Day, Ireland 1966.
Streaming down the hills from Wicklow with banners and boots and donkeys braying and the smell of burning turf and Guinness for the drinking of,
red faced log like men with waistcoats from their fathers and sharp wet noses like the noses of their black and white and black dogs that drive them like sheep through the emerald fields and over the stone walls and down the twisting snake of a lane that swoops and dives and dips and swerves drunk on its own gay thoughtless joining of the villages of Knock, and Banfe, and Killymiwilly.
The women were singing the day away with songs of the lost kingdoms and Druids with golden staffs, and oh the comely princess with hair the colour of the sun, lips kissed with berries and eyes as dark as the starless night. what is love Mrs. Lynch why it’s ten times hotter than fire Mrs. Finch and I’d have married him then were not a cripple with a withered leg and a sister on the stage
OReilly takes out his watch the half hunter from his pocket and beams the joy of knowing when to start and when to stop. ‘There’ll be horses to catch before night.’ he shouts to the men and the boys, ‘take ropes and sugar and bells, a guinea for the stallion if you please.’
OReilly leaning on Cassidy’s long bar wiping sea fret from his facial hair a better pint there never was me boys an all down and dripping black, the smacking of many lips slapping by god yer roight sur an yes oil have another for t’would be churlish to refuse
and still behind the bar thin Quinn dreams pulling the white tusks the sweepstake and the winning of
speeches to be made and a new brown suit stuffed with crisp notes and a bottle of Jameson in the pocket
while by the fire young Mary McCoy stirs the bleeding sparking embers remembering the fire of dirty Dermot McCray and kisses burning lips
oh I never should for ’tis a sin but not of you don’t put in the tongue, the priest will know and then
seven hail Maries an worth a dozen more if should I let him but I’ll not have me best green cardy ruined even so,
by the bar Ben Brown looks down at her with wolf eyes imagining a dozen Mary’s dancing sturdily the summers green with cymbals and a blind accordion
the dresses bouncing over dimpled knees flashing, flinging, and furious then off running into the long corn field calling the boys you’ll never catch me and if you do I’ll never tell.
Eleven of the clock as me names OReilly and he puts the watch asleep,
the mornings washed away an all washed and waned and spent in idle games then out into the bright tight dazzling sun the road knee deep in promises of other places and spent wishes.
A mile or three to Knock will pass the afternoon away for tis a shame to hurry
OReilly mutters good day to you father to the black crow priest flapping storm warnings from the swinging gate St. Peter and Saint Paul and all along the path between the dead and dusty ancestors
and him Father Murphy staring blind into his dreams hears bells ringing, choirs singing, babies crying, time ticking,
never too late OReilly, forty guilty years since last confession,
please father I did put a mirror under Kelly’s skirt what did you see there boy there were birds and mothballs, bicycles and busses, badgers and the brown bull of Cooley sure god will strike you blind give me here your hand my boy for Jesus will forgive.
And out beyond the town the rolling road OReilly roams whistling the miles away to Knock.
What is your heart today Mr. OReilly sing the women of the market a fine fat pig with a smile on his face or a pair of piebald hens, a sheep’s head freshly skinned eyeballs intact a ox tail shaved, talced and lotioned,
I’ll have a brace of dreams me girls go easy on the spice.
The river running swift and dark and under the town’s grey walls skimmed green moss while silent seated men with rods and nets crouch staring at the upside down world of the other bank and peer into the waters for a glimpse of half forgotten hope, what was it now that slipped away like a thief in the night.
Then over Tanker’s Bridge and into Cork Lane and the knocking of the green door opened
Clara Clara would you ever be looking at yerself for me eyes are starved of yer light and I hear only yer voice in my dreams And into Clara’s parlor eyes dancing hands aflutter small white teeth parted oh Clara sure I’d kill for a smile
And the arms around him and the coolness of her cheek and the smell of summer on her breath spinning spinning until they fall giddy with the wanting and the needing and the remembering
Taking her face in his hands and diving into the dark pools of her eyes cool and warm and cool again her hands busy peeling, shelling, stripping until nothing’s left but the white smooth surface of a place unexplored
Now she says now and all is lost except the being and the doing as the earth rolls away and leaves them lost in a darkness full of flickering lightning, and the moaning like the wind in the chimney on a winter’s night, and the breath like thunder in their ears, Now, and the hands like claws gripping now, now, and then the crying like the hurt, Clara oh Clara, Mr. OReilly now, now, now
And down the days tumbling through the bright white place into warm seas to rest pillowed on the ocean the sounds slip back birds sing, voices, the sound of the river in stillness and the beating of the hearts among the clouds.
O’Reilly stepping high across and back across the Liffey by the Tankers his hand on Clara for the kindness that’s in it and off to Brady’s by the quays
A full meat house stuffed and smelling cigarettes and sweat and smoke and stout and burning turf, and heads a turning as the door swings shut no ladies here shouts Aemon from behind the bar
Sweet times and looking each the eyes knowing unsaid words and remembering will you stop with me tonight Ah Clara I have horses to catch and men to find and tales to tell
when will you come to me again
I’ll come when the gorse blooms on Slieve Leag, and when the salmon leap for joy, I’ll come in silence if you listen hard me boots on cobbles in the night by the haunting of the sickle moon I’ll come
keep warmth for me between the sheets
Standing outside Brady’s last goodbyes and him away across the darkened town with lights in windows and the crying of the bairnes driven to their beds on bread and dripping, hot milk and Horlicks, Dads sitting by the fire reading the Echo while the women elbow deep in soap whisper to the listening night
And out into the country and the road to Balfe O’Reilly strides under a pair of moons lighting the pale road to the distant hills and dreaming as he goes where is Brian O’Sullivan who could play the fiddle and Johnny Byrne who ran away to Blackrock and other foreign parts where are the chieftains of childhood and the terror gangs of the back lanes and the girls who ran screaming home to mothers with red elbows and bleeding hands.
The night surrounds him whispering the voices of old behind the shriveled oak under silent rocks breathless in the grasses
The road a silver belt around the earth that he could walk forever careless of time and the passing of mute friends
Will I see you again sweet Clara, will the spells of your eyes and your lips draw me back,
oh aye, I’ll come in the spring when the weather is kind and the sky is sprinkled with larks when the you hear the music of Dagda’s harp and the wind is stilled and the ashes cold in the hearth, I’ll come my love when the gorse blooms gold on Slieve Leag.
Then Balfes dark roofs in the valley below the smell of the turf burning while the town sleeps drowned in dreams OReilly’s boots on cobbled roads the horses are in the stables and the cats stalk shadows in the streets.
Taking down the old photo album and blowing the dust off. Worn brown cover made from pre war cardboard fraying at the corners into brown dust. The smell of Grandpa’s house, damp, tobacco, old wood, and the sound of a ticking clock. Winter nights by the fire with the wind moaning in the chimney. The quietness of the old things, comfortable things, sleeping in corners, not waiting anymore.
Turning the pages and travelling back into summer on the beach, at the pool, walking the promenade.
Wiping the dust off and slipping it back on the high shelf, the memories quietly singing, then silent.
I write words in gold
Poems, songs, and sad enchantments
On your sleeping body.
Nile serpent stealthy,
Slides in sensual silence
Ecstasy in death.
Talang, a two street village stranded between green mountain and sapphire sea,
Under a cobalt dome two dirty roads with broken pavements and leaning electric poles,
A junction without significance,
Save for me, my home.
At the crossroads the solitary policeman conducts the gentle chaos
Wearing white gloves and dark glasses his arms a semaphore,
With imperious piercing whistle telling all to stop, to go, to turn.
And by the crossroads the temple stands, shaded by Tamarind trees
Bright and light with gaudy golden Buddhas, Chinese deities, and Indian gods.
Saffron robed monks sit silently watching the shadows creep across the courtyard
Freshly swept by boys with shaven heads
While from the neighbouring school, two rooms with open windows
Buzz with children’s chatter, and the chanting of the lessons.
A scatter of simple cafes line the streets,
Plastic topped tables and unsteady chairs
Smells of fried rice, Pad Thai, Massaman Gai,
Cold Thai beer in tall brown bottles frosted with moisture.
Fat smiling women stir mysterious multiple pots
Shouting to each other across the stream of passers by,
As woks explode in flames with smells of spice, garlic, chilly,
And ladles frantically flip and whip in a blue aromatic haze.
Dark under a low wide roof the busy market lies
Cloaked with a miasma of over ripe fruit, spices, strange fish on beds of ice,
Meat from unknown monsters, chicken bits in buckets.
Stinking durian, green coconuts, purple magosteen, yellow papaya, and crimson rambutan.
On the edge of the village as darkness falls the karaoke bars awake,
Ribbons of coloured bulbs guide solitary men to dim rooms and comfortable chairs,
Doe eyed, almond eyed, nubile teens from distant villages across the plane smile the smile,
Hold your hand, pour your beer, look longingly into your eyes:
One more beer what your name love you my darling no money no honey.
While by the bus stop on the Chalong Road a solitary street lamp surrounded by a golden cloud of moths illuminates
Two wrinkled monks with rolled umbrellas,
An old lady with a cage of birds, a teenage girl chewing gum,
A woman with a suitcase tied with string a baby at her breast,
Waiting patiently for the midnight bus to Bangkok or somewhere else.
Fourteen hours away.
Like them I left
Like leaving a lover
Bitter regrets and sweet memories.
Sometimes, in the dog hours before dawn
I hear the voices clear again
I walk the dusty streets again
I smell the scents and taste the dust
And sit an unsteady chair in a simple café
A summer morning and the road twists like a black snake
Between green cliffs and yellow basking fields
By stile and gate and jagged hedgerow climbs at last to Spring Wood
And the cool shade of oak and ash and many leaves awash in sun.
There by the black snake on the green pillow of the flower speckled verge
A broken deer struck and still and fallen by the way
And further on the shiny executioner, the car, lies also still.
A man in black stands by the shiny still and slightly broken car.
In green and dappled silence deer watches man and car
Watches the road straight like a black snake dead
Watches in stillness like the stillness of the forest
Watches in patience like the patience of the stalking fox.
The man, angry in his heart, dark and demanding reasons stares,
Stares at the broken light, the bent steel, and the blooded paint
Thinking of money time and earnest reputation lost
Thinking of concrete buildings busy streets and men in suits demanding reasons.
But, most of all he thinks of time, slip sliding like a serpent treacherously away
He hears the many clocks ticking seconds off his life
The chime of bells that signal hours that will be logged and then forgotten
He sees the sand running running running through fingers stiff with age.
The deer is remembering,
Remembering winter snows white drifting clouds in deep woodlands
The sweet kiss of spring on scatters of white and yellow in the luscious grass
The scent of the plant and the doe in heat,
The music of the wind wild nights of bowing trees and flying clouds.
The days turning, turning like a wheel on the black snake road.
The years flicker by like days, ticking like the ticking of the clock
So short brief flicker, flicker flicker flicker slip sliding away to other’s tomorrows
Then rests his head on the green pillow of the flower speckled verge.
So the car is gone down the green valley to concrete caverns and steel doors
Fleeing from unwelcome and inconvenient incident
The man with an eye on the clock that counts the mechanical seconds
Fleeing the memory of broken lights broken bones broken promises.
In Spring Wood summer morning a quick fox sprints across the black snake
Stopping one leg raised and looking cleverly at the hart on the verge
Lifting her nose and smelling death, knowing well the carrion and the car,
Then hurry on to den of hungry cubs in the roots of an old sycamore.
Monsoon rain’s grey curtain
Hides the steaming green mountains.
Frogs sprout like magic.
I come from a country poor from war
Uniforms and gas masks gathering dust in the attic
Ten hidden clips of brass bullets I unwisely took a hammer to,
The Glorious Gloucesters, Dien Bien Phu,and all the military magic.
Trains that smoked and rattled full of uniformed men smoking Woodbines,
All stations to Crewe and anywhere else.
Oil on the beach from long drowned ships.
My shirts made from parachute silk were fine
But Oh! those home knitted swim trunks
Why did she make me wear them?
We lived around the radio or ‘wireless’
A thing containing mysterious glass bulbs that glowed
But rewarded experimental dial turning with;
Radio Moscow, Hilversham, Cairo, Delhi, and Forces Favourites,
Wilfred Pickles with Mabel at the table-
’Give him the money Barney!’
Workers Playtime, Mrs. Dales Diary and the Housewives Choice.
How long was the week between episodes of
‘Journey into Space’ and ‘Dick Barton (Special Agent)’
I come from a safer place… maybe ,
We picked up hitchhikers, mostly military men,
And brought them home sometimes for bread and jam,
What wonderful illnesses I enjoyed;
Scarlet fever 3 weeks off at home
Old doctor Drake reclining on my bed
And showing me how to hypnotise
And after taking sherry with my Mum.
I come from a family of numbers now long gone;
Gentle Aunt Jenny who worked an Ack-Ack gun
And loved my father’s brother a sky pilot
Till he died in his plane in the grey north sea- but loved him still,
Uncle Emlyn giant Geordie policeman from the Tyne
He liked a beer or two and following the horses,
Aunt Marion a teacher, kind and keen with knowledge,
Uncle Seth the Grenadier with bearskin and medals,
A scar on his head from the Normandy beaches
Who then became a postman Bishop Auckland,
Uncle Stan, not a real uncle but with a big car,
Who sent us a ten shilling note every Christmas.
And Verner and Eva our two German friends
Who lived in our house, I never knew why,
But told me that actually
Being a Jew was OK.