poetry

The freezing night

Standing outside the hot potato store
That sits beside the Irish pub and the supermarket
I saw a man making his way along the street.
He had one arm and one leg,
Both on the right-hand side.
He sat in an old-fashioned wheelchair
And by stamping his only leg
He pulled himself forward, slowly.
He had an old thin face
And a grey beard,
So he looked like a veteran of the Napoleonic war.
His right arm twisted sadly around the armrest
And his left sleeve was pinned to his chest
Like a torn flag.
I watched him pass.
I thought he would ask me for money,
But he continued slowly, in silence.
The night was freezing,
The man looked desperate,
As if he had nowhere to spend the night.
Outside the pub, he stopped, turned slightly and looked long into the dark street,
A traffic light glowing red
Danced shadows on the old man’s face.
I walked away so I could get home,
It was late, and the air was turning from mist to ice.
I thanked God for my health, but what good does it do
For the man with one arm and leg, alone in the frozen night.

To a brother, now gone.

Adopted by wolves,

The baby was.

Taken on a heavy moon night

When the wet grass turns to ice, and the wind investigates what the day left behind.

The gray mother-wolf carried the tiny boy

Through the hollow and into the forest.

Brushing his tiny face against soft leaves

And supple branches, until turning twice she curled up with the babe

And fell asleep.

The baby lay for a while in the heavenly fur,

Snuggled with the warm animal, smelled

The dog smell,

Framed by the damp forest scent

and looked out past the fur and leaves,

glimpsing the silver apples of the moon.

This baby, raised on bitter wolf milk

Grew stronger and dog-wise

Until one day, in a clearing, when the boy was older,

The pack saw humans on a brown leaf path.

They froze, and turned, fleeing into the thick trees

Of that autumn palace.

Poetry

She told me she could write poetry

And she could.

She told me Penguin were publishing it.

She showed me pages of her writing.

“I wrote this,” she said

“After dinner at my parents.

We just sat there, no one spoke.

All I could hear was the silver scratching on the fine china

And the neighbour’s kids playing outside.

I gave birth to this after that terrible night.”

She held the pages up and shook them.

I nodded. It was well written.

But poetry isn’t only written over silent dinners.

It’s also written over lonely nights in cheap apartments

when no one is going to visit you, or cares if you are alive.

It’s written when a woman screams abuse at you on the street

Or someone jumps you for your phone in a park

as you walk home minding your own business.

Poetry is written when you know she doesn’t love you

So you can’t get it hard

And you look at it in the bathroom and think about ways to leave

Without saying goodbye.

Poetry is written when you are standing on a city street

And you see a man hit by a bus

And he drags himself off the road

With a leg twisted behind him.

It’s written at 2 am

If it’s written well it burns out the top of your head

And you know you earned those lines.

 

 

Moments on East Park Street

Mary opens the window and leans out

The cold weather has set in; the rain will fall soon.

Her boy is in the garden

Moving the 3rd battalion against artillery.

The artillery is dug in and cuts the brave men down.

The cavalry charge, to some success

But for the 3rd it is too late.

The boy laughs and clutches a tall soldier with a red coat,

His wife will never see him again,

The worms will destroy and conquer all.

 

Mary pulls back and shudders,

The boy’s father works on the fishing ships and comes home drunk

A heavy man with coarse ways.

But the boy always has shoes and clothes

And more toys than he needs.

The little girl in the bassinet cries softly once,

Turns and falls asleep.

Mary closes the window and watches as the first raindrops fall on the window.

 

The boy feels the rain too,

And smiles.

The cavalry becomes bogged down in the muddy ground

And riflemen come out and cut them down.

The rain comes harder and the boy can’t find the reinforcements,

They’re lost in the clover.

 

Love overall

I love you because regardless of how hard the world is

You continue to love

And continue to breathe the air as a child does,

With wonder, hope, and joy.

I love you because seeing a rainbow makes you excited

And you tell me it’s the most beautiful rainbow you’ve ever seen,

No matter how many times we see a rainbow.

 

I love you because you have never seen a shooting star

And you make me promise to show you one, one day.

I love you because you are allergic to dogs

Yet love my dog.

No matter how cold, you walk me to the bus stop.

And I love you because when things hurt me,

they hurt you too.

 

 

The lunatic sings the truth

 

 

She came along with a dirty dress hanging around her like a curtain

Torn from a derelict house.

Her hair was dirty and her face was beaten

By time and God knows who.

She noticed me and screamed

That I must work hard to be good,

Love Jesus and look after my loved ones.

She stopped and looked me square in the eye and repeated:

“Be good to your family.”

Then she walked on.

She stank and the air was fouled by her presence.

My publisher sat next to me and watched her go.

“She gave me a manuscript once, years ago.” he said.

“It was well written, the grammar was perfect,

But it was so boring. The characters, the events were so boring.”

“I would have bought her lunch,” I said. “if I knew she was a writer.”

We laughed, but deep down I knew

She had spoken the truth and given good advice.

The young poet

In a small house on Rumber Lane,

a boy lived with his mother and sister.

This boy spent his time in books

And dreamed of composing lines of glory.

 

The young poet, standing in the hall with the last shadows of day,

Watched the beetles make their way across the stone floor.

Looking up as the trees turned gold in the last rays,

He saw the neighbour coming home from work.

 

The neighbour, a big man, carried his bag on his shoulder

And smiled arrogantly at the women passing by.

The young poet watched how the man moved,

 With the wide heavy motions he made.

 

The neighbour’s daughter would meet the boys by the river

On Sunday afternoons

And raise her dress for them.

She wore no underwear.

 

The young poet was never invited, but

By hiding in the trees

He had seen her reveal herself,

Her body golden, shining like embers.

 

He had only a few friends, one boy,

With a sour breath, smelled of piss.

This boy would wet himself in class.

Deep down the young poet despised him.

 

The night grown dark,

The young poet turns to his book and reads.

Writing down words of interest,

And reciting lines that appealed to him.

poetry reading

 

We went to see a poetry reading

In a pub up from the ocean by a few blocks.

We had woken early for a swim,

spent the day walking the streets

And now it was late, and we were tired.

We took a seat toward the back of the room

And ordered some drinks and some fried food.

Soon the room was full of people sitting at small round tables

Talking and laughing, drinking expensive wine.

A woman with short spiky hair went to the front of the room,

Coughed

Then announced the beginning of the poetry.

A thin man wearing a hat and a bow tie

Ran on stage, the crowd cheered him.

He taught literature at the local university; he said hello to his students in the crowd

then he began to read poetry about sex.

He went on about the women he knew

And the sex he had.

He told us about leaving one woman because she wouldn’t make the bed

And another who he left after the second child.

It was good poetry, but the guy was just doing it for attention.

He had no soul.

A few young kids stood up,

Their poetry was deep and they had no doubt

They’d change the world

But it was all tired stuff you can hear in any town on any night.

This old guy stood up at last

And he shuffled to the microphone.

Never once looking up at the crowd,

Stepping from foot to foot,

mumbling his lines as he read.

He spoke about memories and love,

He spoke about hatred and loss.

His voice cracked and when he finished he walked off again

As if he hated everyone in the room.

The audience clapped politely, but not for long.

The old man’s face was like a wet bag, and it was swollen like it had been stung

And his poetry was no better than anyone else’s,

But it felt real.

As we walked back to our hotel room that night,

I saw him crawling in under the veranda of an ice-cream shop

He turned to pull some timber over the hole he crawled through.

His face shone in the street light for a moment.

He lived under the street and wrote poetry.

No wonder everyone hated him, he was showing them all up.

 

 

 

My room above the railway

 

Moving from room to room

Falling in love with a poster on the wall.

The window is dirty on the outside

But it won’t open

And I can’t clean it.

I see a pigeon sitting on the sill

I watch it clean its wings.

They have tiny mites that bite them all day long

And I wonder how they can stand it.

The cockroaches come out at night.

I found two of them in my cutlery drawn

They were sitting on my forks.

The newspaper that lines the drawers

Is dated from the 80s

The cockroaches don’t make me as angry as I thought they would.

The yellow lights of the railway lines makes me sleepy

The white lights of the city excite me and keep me awake.

Listen to Beethoven and the sound of the traffic.

A baby cries next door

 I didn’t even know my neighbor had a girlfriend

Someone else must have moved in.

I haven’t cleaned this place in weeks

I have no money after paying the rent

They are inspecting this room tomorrow.

One arm

Standing at the railway station,

A man with a long beard and only one arm came up to me.

“Don’t I know you?” he said.

“I don’t think so,” I answered.

I sat down on a bench, and the man sat next to me.

We didn’t speak, but he seemed to think there was some connection between us.

“The feeling I like best in the world,” he said, leaning toward me as he spoke,

“Is to get really dirty. I mean covered in dirt until your hair goes wiry,

And your skin goes white and brown from dirt, and then to wait for a really cold night,

And have a hot shower. I just love to see the dirt run off the skin,

I love the feeling of getting clean.

Do you know what I mean?”

I didn’t answer him. But I knew what he meant. I like that feeling too.

The man smelled bad, like a urine soaked mattress.

“Do you know where there are any showers around here?” he asked.

“The service station has some, in the truck stop. About five blocks toward the bridge.”

The man nodded and smiled. “Do I need to write that down?” he asked.

“No, it’s just over there.” I pointed toward the bridge.

“Hey, do those showers cost anything?”

“I think they’re free.”

“Hey, I just want to thank you for being a good friend.”

I didn’t say anything, but I laughed.

“No, seriously. You’ve been so good. I’ve been through a lot in my life.

My wife left me for her boss; my daughter is on drugs,

I ain’t eaten well for a long time

And I’ve got this pain in my legs that won’t go away.

It really means a lot to me that you are kind.

Could you lend me five bucks?”

I looked at the guy. He had red sores on his face,

His eyes were narrow and close to each other

His beard was white as cheap paint

But around his scabby mouth

The hair was brown like mud.

I had seen him before.

When I was in high school, I had seen him picking up bottles around town

The bottles could be returned for the deposit.

He had two arms then.

I took five dollars out of my pocket and held it out,

Then took it away.

“How’d you lose your arm?” I asked him.

He looked at my hand with the money in it; he looked hungry.

“I used to fix motors for the city, the big motors that keep the water pressure up in the city.

One day I’m fixing one and I got my arm right up in the tube

And some jerk turns the power on

And it rips my arm right off.

I got blood spraying up the wall, and I’m screaming; they rush me to the hospital.

The doctors ask where my arm is

And no one knows

So they just sew up the socket, and that’s that.

They never found my arm.
It’s still in the water pipes.

It’s in the tubes that supply this city’s drinking water.

My arms rotting in those tubes

And everyone is drinking that water,

So, a part of me is in everyone,

You’re all drinking me.

I looked at the thin man and the empty space at his right shoulder,

His red and white checker shirt sleeve pinned to his chest,

“Everyone is drinking me,” he repeated.