Category Archives: UCD Archive

Fiddler’s Croft

We stood in silence in his croft,
as he swayed upon a three-legg'd stool,
in the whiskey-hues of hearth-light
and from his fiddle tore an air,
so low and wistful and so lost,
as to deepen every down-turned eye
and stir the sorrows in the rain.

And Old Nan mumbling on her bench,
who once could blow on knots and sink a ship,
or make a hermit fall in love,
cracked a vacant ruined grin,
unlocked the silver in her throat
and sang the moonlight on a river.

And we the gathered island dead,
all crammed together in the flicker
among the rafters and the drying fish,
between the sacks and well-worn tools,
did not move or moan or give a cry,
to see how song can make a world
from the trash of memory that remains.

Now with the fading of the night,
we're gone like frost-thorns from the pane
and Nan and John are left alone.

In truth there is no heaven yet above,
but hours like these are living things
that minister softly to our needs:
for we ourselves are unheard songs,
that lying out here in the dark,
await the singer who will come
and sing us on his golden tongue.


My Uncle Giuseppe told me
that in Sicily in World War Two,
in the courtyard behind the aquarium,
where the bougainvillea grows so well,
the only captive mermaid in the world
was butchered on the dry and dusty ground
by a doctor, a fishmonger, and certain others.

She, it, had never learned to speak
because she was simple, or so they’d said,
but the priest who held one of her hands
while her throat was cut,
said she was only a fish, and fish can’t speak.
But she screamed like a woman in terrible fear.

And when they took a ripe golden roe
from her side, the doctor said
this was proof she was just a fish
and anyway an egg is not a child,
but refused when some was offered to him.

Then they put her head and her hands
in a box for burial
and someone tried to take her wedding ring,
but the others stopped him,
and the ring stayed put.

The rest they cooked and fed to the troops.
They said a large fish had been found on the beach.

Starvation forgives men many things,
my uncle, the aquarium keeper, said,
but couldn’t look me in the eye,
for which I thank God.

Birds of Paradise

One man sits in the street
and hooks his eyes on those who pass,
then whistles at them in the tongues
of not-quite-familiar birds.

Another wears black leather and a ten-gallon hat,
and shouts about the coming of the Lord
into the nightshade box hidden in his hand.
The smiling woman buying quiche and apples,

who’s kept herself in trim for Mr Right,
will go to bed tonight and slit her throat.
And I write poetry, and poetry
walks along the edge of all such things

and sometimes the temptation’s there
to step quickly over the line
into the path of what comes roaring out of the dark.
But for now I’ll start another poem,

shut behind my crimson door,
while up the street the man has found
a strange new bird of paradise,
and the Lord has come just a little closer

and a small black choir sings in the woman’s mouth,
like the sound of distant shorelines
endlessly reshaping
in the rage where land encounters the sea.
Room of Red

I went to bed with a wandering girl,
her dark hair shone with glints of moon
and we played at love in my room of red,
till midnight rang and the stars came down.
When we went to sleep I gladly dreamed
that we played at love in a room of green.

But in that dream I fell asleep
and dreamt we lay in a room of black,
then the black door opened and a man stood there:
It is my husband screamed the girl,
the one I've feared for seven years,
he's come to take my soul from me.

We woke at once in the room of green,
My soul has gone! she cried in fear,
then the green door opened and a man came in:
It is my husband shrieked the girl,
The one I've fled these seven years,
he's come to take my love from me.

And when we woke in the room of red,
she trembled as she clung to me:
O husband where's my lover gone?
I looked around, no word I said,
but rent her limbs with smoking hands,
then closed the door on that room so red.
The Nails

I recall some rusty nails, three or four,
in the top right-hand drawer
of an oak desk in my uncle's house.

And that dull pair of shoes he used to wear,
bought for gardening from an Oxfam shop,
their ancient leather hard as bakelite,

that he wore until the soles were gone.
They were also worn by another then long dead
and nameless, save to strangers far away:

for we felt someone there we couldn't see,
that rose from the life the shoes had led
before they came into my uncle's home.

And when he died I found those hand-wrought nails,
all wrapped with muslin, very old,
and wondered what their hidden history was

and what they might have pierced so long ago.
Then I knew someone else was standing near,
out of sight but with a hammer in his hand,

who reached for me from suffering and love
and knew my heart was lamed and broken down,
like some old horse that's never known a shoe.
The Body

He was not raised bodily to heaven as they said,
though when the god was torn out of the man,
he was without weight
and drifted like thistledown upon the breeze.

The children shouting with delight,
ran after him to see he was not harmed
and caught him as he passed across the vineyards
and brought him home tied to a string.

As he bobbed about above our heads
and his empty eyes gazed up towards the blue,
the summer breeze twittered through his wounds,
so that they spoke with the tongues of birds.

At once from the branches birds began to sing,
as if to the going down of the sun,
and even husks and stones and other mouthless things
seemed somehow to be singing too.

That stormy night he slipped away;
the string was hanging limp when morning came.
But we dreamed he was lifted by the winds,
to sail forever high above the world,

close to the stars, cleansed by gentle rains,
too holy for the earth, too gross for heaven,
his whistlings still ignored by the chilly dark,
though carried far on late migrating wings.
Miss Johnson

Miss Johnson sat on the palms of my hands,
inside a membrane that I peeled away.
She was a bit like a plucked hen,
her head was the size of a plum
and she wore her wattles like a hat.

There was nothing of the fairy about her,
she was vulnerable, but had no delicacy.
I gave her the little room under the stairs,
where she slept on a cushion in an old wicker basket
and used a lace hankie to cover herself.

She was fond of müsli and grapes
with croutons fried in bacon fat,
and she drank her milk from an eggcup.
Once, I disturbed her toilet under a buddleia
and felt ashamed. She liked to watch television,
especially old John Wayne films, which made her laugh,
even when John was being serious.

She stayed with me for more than a year,
then went off one day with a salesman
and I never saw her again.
Sometimes I use her eggcup at breakfast
and remember the times we shared.
I hope she’s all right.
Lay my Corpse

Lay my corpse, lax and lilied, beneath a willow,
so its roots can lap and suck at me
and draw me up its stem like spring
pouring green onto the pooling brilliance of the grass.
Or fix that I be fed to swans, or maybe geese,
and flying far from winter’s deathy chill,
upon the gusting muscles of the air,
alight at last in deepest Africa:
the strange-familiar origin of things,
where bright among the pawpaws, figs and lemons,
wings are neither grey nor white
but many coloured, like the child of rain and sunlight,
and where the conversations of the laughing dead
sway like all the weeping willows of the world.