Half Irish, Half English
Bogs in the blood, bogs in the blood.
Munster’s High Kings embossing your blood.
Oaks tugged back from galleons at large;
bald coasts re-planted as camouflage
for Irish rebels defending their own;
clans piecing together scattered bones
for seats in castles, kissing stones.
Mór and Reagh McCarthys swapping thrones.
Horse shoes hammered on back to front
delude Norman conquerors on the hunt
for native lands streaking down to the sea;
for their daughters’ hands to intermarry.
Tug, tug of war with the bogs in your blood.
Fierce fighting men in your veins have withstood
sieges and slayings, uprisings, assaults,
their insignia preserved in the peat-lined vaults
of memory retreating further than time,
present forever in the sphagnum moss’s slime.
Diarmuid, Tadhg, Thaddeus, Cormac, Fionn,
Dónal Rua, Daniel, Florence, Domhnall, Finghin:
litanies to compose from names of your kin.
Charmers, chancers, a highwayman thrown in
to this Eóghanacht dynasty, whose princes, lords,
umber-brown, undo strangling cords
inside and above the bogs’ word hoards.
Hear them now chant in a harp’s fluent chords
as they push back invaders sailing across,
their strongholds Carbery, Cashel, Muckross.
(Thorne Moor, Yorkshire)
Bogs in your blood, bogs in your blood.
Bogwoman, bogwoman, bogs in your blood.
I skip myself back in the rock-steady rhyme –
to messuages on stilts, bocces, scoured-out gymes,
their lingo mine now: these West Riding men,
jaw-sets familiar, over centuries more than ten.
The Don their master, rescueboats in my blood –
these watermen, ships’ carpenters coated in the mud
of roods once owned, cast onto a moor,
barren heifers, silver spoons, turf-cuttings to store
as legacies in the mugwort, sunken keels to repair
when churchbells rang backwards for all to beware
the roar of the flood and its maniacal seas –
itinerant skies drowned, driftwood the trees.
Dodging thorn bushes, cleat-boards on their soles,
they glide through ditches, harvesting shoals
of fish for their suppers, of dreams for the dead,
whalebones their spines, tide-tables in their heads.
Fishlake, Stainforth, Sykehouse, Waterside…
There, swapping waistbands, I should abide.
Bogs in your blood, bogs in your blood.
Firm the shift of levels whereon you are stood.
Old Yorkshire dialect words –
Blown out of a tin whistle, I travelled
on a stranding tide which was pulling me back
to be sculpted alongside rocks, the messages
the same in all its washed-up bottles:
not to adapt to enemy territory.
From an eye corner, I saw long ships
and Spanish galleons adrift in formation
with booties which had left in exchange
the secrets of spirals to transfer to art,
dark waves of hair and olive complexions.
In my bag I had folded, for a quick escape,
a currach’s cured skin and a history book
spun from cauldrons and folk dyes
into Finn Mac Cool, Brian Boru, Cuchullain,
fictions blended into fact to make untruth
a truth. With kick-marks of centuries
on my body from colonist robbers of chapels
and Georgian houses, I was dragged
through the stations of my own cross
over warpaths, my blank stares boarding up
eyes of Sassenachs who had blocked out
our windows, our sight removed,
not vision. Choppy waters rose in my arteries,
midstream, as I was dressed in caricature,
freckled by tacky lights from music halls,
and shown up – dancing mechanical jigs,
hands at my sides, then sniggered over
like some bad Irish joke. With my hair
corkscrewed by red-hot iron, I knew how
to kick up my heels with any navvy,
barrow-boy or drunk; and to dream of a land
where over-laden horses fell uphill, statues wept;
there were too many First fish-only Fridays
and deaths from broken hearts. Yet the light
fell like grace over potato drills stretched
into piano-notes played with virtuosity
by the rains’ varying touches.
I had not expected a language, accustomed
though borrowed, to turn foreign. I wished
on my bones for familiar sagas to speak again
like friends; to hear stallion-stampedes
of my race bred from the whiteness of a swell
break themselves in to empower navies.
With the impossible passion of a first love,
I fell for the Ireland I had lost, chorusing,
with armies of my home-sick selves,
the refrains of deportees. Every immigrant
in one, I sat, packed in, on a cattle boat bound
for America from the Famine. Untouchable,
I lay in a TB sanatorium where tubes
stuffed with bigotries could not be swallowed.
Learning the million forms of decline,
I floated on an insular undertow, scarred by scum
from tides too contrary to be timetabled.
And I immigrated through subconscious seas
under which everyone is cut from a single pelt,
forked tongues understand both their split sides,
and the light, however piecemeal, enlightens.
Smashing old bottles against ship-wrecked rocks,
Death christened itself the sole enemy.
The Walk from Louisburgh to Delphi Lodge
Wind-warped we slither over the hard gums
of a region whose crooked, impacted teeth of marble
grind over a territory famished, still, for growth.
Only rhododendrons, potentilla, Irish Spurge
and mombresia have escaped the walled gardens
of a demesne to mock, in a decorative frieze,
pot-holed bohreens hacked out for the transportation
of fodder. Echoes of eight hundred blistered, bare,
staggering feet patter too light a rhythm
to the driving rain which pelts down its grave-stones.
We can but watch for spectral skeletons
to wave their rags and threads, to rattle a gold coin
from a stocking, a cloak, or to bribe with geese: as if
we are not witnesses but paid Vice-Guardians.
With a deserved guilt, we follow a fraction
of the trudge from Louisburgh to Delphi Lodge.
We forbid ourselves to wade in the Glankeen River
under toppling hills, to dream of wild salmon
stolen by the Colonel and the English gentleman
whose barred Georgian door caused the cottiers
to die where they stood, faster than by any gun.
A few stick-figure girls: Catherine Grady,
Mary McHale, Honor Dillon possessed names
at least that surface from anonymous sandbanks
and sloughs to be engraved upon the coffins
of their thoughts. Such twisted dominion
stole the heart out of the people more than fears
of granite jaws clamped over the bitter vision.
Far off lady, our father named all the houses
in Ireland Stella Maris after you as your pull,
rivalling the moon’s, gave high spring tides
to his voyages and star-readings year round.
Sé do bheatha, a Mhuire, atá lán de ghrásta,
Tá an Tiarna leat. Is beannaithe thú idir mná
Through Hail Marys in Gaelic he taught us
to honour you by heart, reverently mumbling,
and to ignore the larger than life statue
of the Virgin presented by Dublin dockers
to him on North Wall for avoiding a strike.
We scuffed its plaster on the sill, rooted
from its base the snakes and looked instead
into your face for vision after vision, chanting
Agus is beannaithe toradh do bhroinne, Íosa.
A Naomh-Mhuire, a Mháthair Dé…
It was you carpeting every month with bluebells,
stitching from their washes navy velvet cloaks
for us, your lap filled with treats baked
to compensate for what our part-lived histories lost.
Far off lady, bulbs from those long gone days
straggle over our gardens, their inland seas
dotted with our father’s rocking fleets,
your breath filling, still, their threadbare sails.
guigh orainn na peacaigh,
anois, agus ar uair ár mbáis. Amen.
The words in Irish are from the ‘Hail Mary’ (Ave Maria) prayer.
The Roman Church has a lot to answer for, he’d repeat,
smoothing his sideburns like feathered brushes
over his jaws, calling himself a George Sanders lookalike
as, umpteen times a day, he preened himself in the mirror.
Never a mention of Berger, Magicote. He’d moan
about the Corpus Christi processions, first communicants
like white ghosts blocking his way as he motored
from town to middle Irish town. Priest-run, he’d call them,
congratulating himself on being an uppercrust Protestant,
in the minority, turning off the car radio at voices against
absentee Anglo-Irish landlords who ripped off the poor.
His own man, though, on the road, he’d take a lunchbox
of marmite and ryvita, leaving his wife with his difficult,
chainsmoking sister. As if that problem, like his paint,
oil-based, would blind her into belief that he praised
the birds when he stopped on his travels, their tweeting.
Over and over he’d invite admiration for his love of nature,
his lack of ambition. Hot gossip not until years later
how he had dazzled his wife with his own whiter than white
non-drip image behind which, on surfaces converted instantly
from matt to gloss, he’d have a woman in every hotel,
his lunch-box stuffed with scandals. I can hear him bragging
about his prowess in sanding edges to prepare for a new coat,
his brushstrokes not making any lines. On padded feet,
his were secret demons, out of hours, trade-talk forgotten
while he handed out, to his bastards, his studied looks.
His glad eye glittered like a gull’s above shirts ironed
fastidiously by his wife, creased down the arms as he desired.
I only knew him as an arch bigot who made me stick up
for my lost religion. I wasn’t aware of his visiting cards,
his colour combinations subtler than any on the market,
mixed in a wink. I see him now on a different patch –
slapping orange emulsion onto King Billy bridges up North,
taunting my Republicanism before memory kindly stipples
his image. As I soak in turpentine his shocker selves,
I find myself favouring, on DIY shelves, his old brand-names.