Pavane for a Defunct Infant
Many years ago
in a land of summer dresses
where mothers were no
different from princesses,
a sickly child shut
up in his room - outside sunshine,
nothing to do but
pretend that he is dying,
embalmed in sea breeze,
shrouded in the heavy curtains,
shadowed by a frieze
of rodents in the skirting,
the wardrobe ready
to take him in when death occurs,
inside a heady
atmosphere of powdered furs,
never taken out,
those hanging suits and wedding clothes,
old uniforms, stout
corsages, and furbelows.
All the forgotten
livery of a time long dead
to wrap the rotten
remains. A boy stuck in bed
wants the open air -
and not to suffocate inside.
Dreams some headland where
a swallow-dive at spring tide
takes the breath away.
The sky reflected in the sea
calls to him, don’t let
the body go so freely.
There will be the screech
of siren sisters finding him
washed up on the beach
(the phone downstairs begins to ring),
and the shrimplike form,
transparent too and cowrie-curled,
like something unborn,
or something out of this world.
Empty house, seashell,
the echo, echo, inside you
is enough to tell
who is trying to get through?
Eiderdown on ears
can’t stop the breaking of the waves.
All that ends in tears.
All the sympathy he craves.
With legs like mine
taken in hand in time,
I might now be
an Irish Nijinsky.
But, of course, no-
one bothered: my torso,
without clothes, is
a loose float of spare ribs;
for want of meat
my shoulders almost meet;
and in my back
two wandering wing-bones flap.
Still I’m stocky
enough to be a jockey:
my neck is thick,
and my thighs wouldn’t lack grip,
above the waist. Can’t wait
to mount my pride
to find my legs astride
some unknown hack
from off the beaten track,
the fancied field
in my stride spread-eagled.
is presented to me -
on level pegs -
I’ll shake hands with my legs.
To A Friend (after Danta Gradha)
My false tooth is true to me.
Every night I take her out
and put her in a cup. We
are apart, but still my mouth
waters for her, who was kissed
against my lip for my tongue
to play with all day. O missed
this pearl set in a loose bung.
My lonely tongue feels the lack
with its tip. And in my sleep
I whistle to have her back -
a false note through my true teeth.
Still by day I’m full of her.
She is my smile. If I please
we wine and dine together.
And only fall out when I sneeze.
Heart in mouth, an artefact
you may be, but you are true
enough not to be sneezed at:
I’m afraid of losing you
like the one that broke with me
and pulled out left me in pain
with a gap you filled, my pretty
deceiver in porcelain.
Chateaubriand’s Vision of Motherhood
Arrived at in America, 1791 (Memoires d’autre-tombe, 1827)
The earth is our mother. We spring forth from her womb.
She holds us to her breasts, bountiful with milk,
and lavishes her cool waters, harvests, and fruits.
She gives us a place in the shade to eat, rest, and bathe.
And in the end, she opens her bosom once more,
and throws a coverlet of grass and flowers on us,
and her substance changes us into a new form.
That’s what I said to myself when I awoke
for the first time in the New World, and saw the sky.
After Brecht’s Der Insasse (1935)
When years ago, I learned to drive a car
my instructor made me smoke a cigar
and if in heavy traffic it went dead
he took the wheel from me and drove instead.
He made good jokes to measure my control
and if I did not laugh like Old King Cole
he spoke of passengers and how they feel
when drivers are dead-set. And took the wheel.
Since then when working I keep half an eye
open to the world around me, and try
to pay attention to my fellow man,
and don’t forget myself and where I am.
Driving too hard to smoke a cool cigar
is a hazard in life as in a car.
I distract myself when the passions stir.
The good driver thinks of the passenger.
Cycling Poems (1973 – 2002)
‘The Virgin’s halo I wrought from an old bicycle wheel
and painted gold. The splayed spokes glued to her crown
are invisible at ground level’.
Seamus Murphy, sculptor (1964)
My Old Bike
There’s swan beats in your spokes
my Mayday Raleigh run;
when all my breaks are broke
I’ll pedal you for fun
down sides of mountains, no
hands on the handlebars;
let me freewheel and go
beyond control, and cars.
For my career inclines
to freedom on the down-
ward slopes. And no one minds:
my cycle will come around.
Being not as other men
who hold back to avoid
boulders rolled up again,
I ride into the void,
a whirlwind behind me.
The sun goes down. I’m home.
Clouds of dust will find me,
a falling star in chrome.
1. A dog said “hallo” to me today,
And I, of course, replied
2. I said “meow” to a cat today,
and she snapped back
“Don’t patronize me”.
On the road, petals from the cherry trees,
or broken glass catching the sun.
And the further you go
the further you know
you can’t go
Notting Hill, London, 1993
All Saints Road, no saints in sight. A Yardie cart cuts cross my bike.
A lowride nigga hollers through the sun-roof top, ‘Yer money’s sticking out’
I shoot to my back pocket and a crumpled fiver flutters in my hand.
Velocipede on the Peak
The Buxton Beast* is grateful when I ride my bike. It rises towards me
with a surface smile. It knows the work of wheels will smooth the way
by grinding rock to gravel and gravel into grit which blows into the plain,
the road is stamped with strands of lime and millstone. When it climbs
sheer upwards my eyes are bloodshot with the blaze of turquoise and black marble
rivered with the run of time and travelers and torqued journeys to the top,
and downwards again. Only on hills is a descent a flight that’s free
from the past that ground down human effort to mere whitened bone and dust.
Bad Biking Dream
Old mangy mongrel stuck between my knees,
Your crusty coat infests me with fleas.
I can’t detach you, dreadful creature.You’re a part of me (a secret feature).
Reading the Road Beyond Thirsk
Yorkshire Dales, 1995
Nose to the road up Sutton Under Whitecliffe.
The pebbled surface a Sterne test. Sniff
Balk, Cold Kirby, Bagby. Hard hills, unforgiving.
But Coxwold where Laurance had his living
Is a freewheel down which lands me
in Tristan’s Hall. I’ll have a Shandy.
‘I Love My Car’
London 1996: Land rover with a Greenpeace sticker
Car-potatoes protected by
your bull bars and tank position
on the road, I know you’re aware
the car you love is spoiling the earth.
Your children boycott beef and French wine.
But there they are perched at the back.
How virtual Greens must suffer guilt?
Now, tell me, you auto- autists,
what are you doing for virtuous
cyclists like myself? X-rays show
pinned joints and a fractured ribcage.
Talk to me across the riot-shield
of your windscreen, and my retort
is chronic bronchitis, asthma
and a state of permanent fear.
Welsh Hills, 1998
You find yourself on Brecon’s highest peak.
Continence in Wales. You take a leak.
Passo del Pordoi
Dolomites, Italy. 1999
Shooting up mountains on your Silver Streak, spare a thought for my straggling pushbike.
Your machine threads the climb’s needle with a thimble finger. Mine’s an oven-glove.
You – who’ve lost me – don’t know my Hybrid in alloy ascends in slow motion
as many miles as there is road, and is geared to scale the peak.
Your titanium dream can’t sustain the notion my dogged mongrel can entertain and endure.
Pyrenees, France. 2002
I think I probably have the strongest legs in the modern Irish poetry scene for the knees that tease on the High Pyrenees don’t affect me a bit.
When the cloud is down on the Col d’Aubisque, I rise above it
With a thousand cyclists crucified to their bikes. And reach the summit, a mean crag with more spectators than sods clinging to the snow top and cheering us.
Descending is the resurrection. But it was wet and gravelly. I took the bus.