• Can Dentists Be Trusted?

    (for Tatiana and Peter)

    There are the ones you only visit once,
    like the fellow in Phibsboro, Dublin
    who roared ‘Jesus Fucking Christ'
    his leg up on the dentist's chair
    as he pulled out
    my embarrassed tooth.

    Or the one who told me to lie
    about being pregnant
    so I could have crowns
    that I never said
    I wanted
    free on the NHS.

    The man in Kensington
    who told me he loved
    the Irish, really
    then died five years later
    leaving me the legacy
    of an HIV test.

    Others, you have to stay with.
    But if they are private
    they may want all your teeth
    in the end.
    You could find yourself
    opening wide
    while laid out on the chair
    like a corpse
    with a coin in its mouth
    towards the underworld.... more »


    Your teacher said we could talk in the café,
    it is a marvellous building isn't it?
    Aren't you lucky to be going to a school like this?
    Purdy's for you and a tea for me.
    You like Purdy's, do you?
    Isn't that ceiling marvellous?
    You know the restoration work here is an inspiration.
    Mmm. Well!
    So why don't you want to see your father?
    You just don't want to, is that what you are saying.
    Just you don't want to.
    Well, you were all talk when I met you at home on Tuesday.
    How come you can't say anything now?
    You are afraid of him?
    You'll have to tell me more than that.
    I have to tell the judge more than that, you know.
    I can't understand why you've suddenly gone so quiet.
    You were all talk yesterday about your drama class.
    The judge will bend over backwards to get you to see him.
    You know that, don't you?
    You will have to go into a room with him.
    What's not safe about it?
    It's nothing to worry about, I'll be there too.
    You have got to say more than you are saying if you want me to take you seriously.
    Do you know it is your dad who pays the school fees?
    He told me himself, yesterday.
    He is very sad and I feel very sorry for him.
    Yes, I think it's very sad that you won't see him when he is paying the fees.
    Look at the beautiful ceiling and the stained glass windows.
    Drink up, now. I have to go soon.
    I can't go back to the judge and tell him nothing, you know.
    It's not fair, the judge will say I am not doing my job properly.
    You need to finish up that drink.
    You must have something more to say.
    I will be told that I am not doing my job properly.
    And you will have to leave your drink behind you.... more »

  • Cows

    are mostly silent,
    or black,
    or black and white,
    or brown,
    or brown and white,
    or red,
    or red and white
    (white with red ears
    the ones from the underworld),
    and gentle,
    all women dread
    to be called
    cows.... more »

  • Facing the Public

    My mother never simply asked, it was
    I'm asking you for the last time, I'm imploring you
    not to go up that road again late for Mass.

    She never had slight trouble sleeping, it was
    Never, never, for one moment did I get a wink,
    as long as my head lay upon that pillow.

    She never grumbled, because No one likes a grumbler,
    I never grumble but the pain I have in my two knees this night
    there isn't a person alive who would stand for it.

    She didn't have an operation; she died in the Mercy Hospital
    and came back to life only when Father Twohig beckoned
    from the foot of her blood-drenched bed.

    She didn't own a shop and a pub, she told bemused waitresses
    that she was urgently running a business in the country,
    when she insisted that we were served first.

    She didn't do the Stations of the Cross
    she sorrowed the length and breadth of the church.
    Yet, she could chalk up a picture in a handful of words

    conjure a person in a mouthful of speech; she took off her customers
    to a Capital T, captivating us all in the kitchen and
    drawing a bigger audience than she bargained for.

    How often we became aware of that silent listener
    when he betrayed himself with a creak, a sneeze or a cough.
    How long had he been standing, waiting in the shop?

    We looked at each other with haunted faces.
    I being the youngest, would get the task of serving him
    his jar of Old Time Irish, his quarter pound of ham,

    writing his messages into The Book, red-faced and dumb
    before his replete and amused look.
    Meanwhile inside, my mother held a tea towel to her brow.

    Never, never, never would she be able, as long as she lived,
    even if she got Ireland free in the morning, no, no,
    she would never be able to face the public again.... more »


    After Christopher Smart
    For I am annoyed with her.

    For she doesn't kiss My Cat Alice in kindness.

    For she bullies Alice and pushes her off high walls.

    For she is only interested in her own coat.

    For she sucks up to visitors and ignores me.

    For she strikes the center of my back to wake me if she thinks there is a hope of tuna.

    For Alice cringes when she approaches.

    For she roars for her food and reprimands me.

    For her hairs cause too much work with the hoover and the roll of sellotape.

    For she will always desert me for patches of sunlight.

    For she runs away from me in front of the neighbours.

    For she clings to my lap when she is only looking for a heat-up.

    For her colours - soft grey, fawn, shining white, honey, sand, gold, black and peach -laugh in the face of designers and manufacturers.

    For the sought out Líadáin when Líadáin was very sad and pressed herself against Líadáin's side in a such way that tenderness could not be mistaken.

    For she has the outline of a tiara marked out on the top of her head.

    For the length and strength of her whiskers are the proof of God's bounty.

    For we know that she doesn't pretend.

    For she is a striped stravaganza with a tiara on her head.

    For she gives a damn.... more »


    My head eventually grew
    over the top
    of the biscuit and white
    formica table in the bar
    and I could see them there
    playing Forty-five.

    Big red hands with cuts
    and grazes and crumpled
    fingers, clutching cards
    that had to be slammed
    to the table with thumps
    and cracks of bone
    and hahs of triumph.

    I, too,
    wanted to have a blazing face
    when I threw down the
    gauntlet of a Joker or a five
    and in the winter dark evenings
    Tom Twomey, Bill Drummy
    and Paddy the Priest played
    Beggar my Neighbour, Old Maid
    and even forty five with me.

    I was ignorant
    of the crucial fact
    that gabbing
    was worse than reneging,
    but they listened, even laughed
    and played politely,
    keeping their energies
    for the evening feast.

    Then I hid out
    on the window sill
    the red velvet curtains
    round me
    like an angel
    that would appear
    in a biblical land,
    peering out at a world
    of passion and precision
    I could not understand.

    Set jaws, spellbound fists, gleeful flings,
    blue eye after blue eye
    after brown eye,
    all holding their whist.
    Angel Gabriel could have come
    and blown his trumpet off,
    the Second Coming
    could have come and gone,
    they wouldn't have heard a thing.... more »


    Shelves and shelves
    and ladders to climb,
    a broad wooden counter,
    a silver scoop for sugar
    to be packed
    in strong brown paper
    bags, loaves wrapped
    in newspaper, bread
    shaped like the back seat
    of a car
    and once, like a monkey,
    climbing high
    to put my hand inside
    the jar of Irish Roses.

    Red-handed, shame felt
    like my stomach was being
    taken out, when my mother
    called caught you.
    But there was
    no punishment,
    instead she told me
    how when she was a child
    in her mother's shop
    she took a broom,
    swiped the high shelf
    and knocked a jar
    of acid drops to the ground.

    That's where she was
    found, down among
    the broken glass
    and sweets.
    It could have been
    the broom
    and the fact that she was
    far bolder than me,
    but I couldn't help believing
    that my mother was
    some kind of a witch.... more »

  • Jaunty

    Light strikes the clock!
    I've waited five hours
    for you to come
    crashing in,
    kissing my feet,
    and jaunty.
    Jaunty! I'll give you
    jaunty - I've waited
    while my mouth dried up -
    a wrinkled raisin of fear -
    saw the crash
    put you in the ambulance
    attended the funeral
    bawled at the grave
    comforted the orphan
    collected the insurance -
    all these long
    clock ticking hours
    till you came in,
    kissing my feet
    and jaunty.... more »


    London is a vast ocean in which survival is not certain.

    Essex Road and the unluckily named Balls Pond Road
    are areas of manifest greyness and misery.

    from London: the Biography, Peter Ackroyd
    I sleep high on the bird's nest.
    Trucks and lorries shake the house
    and make the bricks tremble,
    roaring tidal waves rock the bed
    and put me to sleep.
    There are odd wrecked Georgian houses
    beached between tyre shops and takeaways.
    Sometimes people are murdered.
    Police sirens shriek up and down all day
    like seagulls chasing sandwiches.
    On the second floor,
    we can look right into the 38
    and see all the people
    but we think they can't see us.
    And we can jump on the 38 ourselves,
    sail on the top deck
    down to Bloomsbury and Victoria.
    Our walls are stuffed with horsehair,
    on stormy nights we hear the horses gallop.
    Like us, they don't want to leave.
    The ghost of a cat lives next door.
    Young black drivers play hip-hop and dance hall,
    when they stop it's a five-minute party
    and you never know when it might happen.
    The pink-haired squatters dance topless
    on the concrete roof when it's hot.
    John Ball's pond lies under our back gardens,
    the shades of his cows low at full moon.
    But it's the roll of traffic
    that makes it more of an ocean
    especially the sound of rushing wheels
    when it rains,
    and the uniformed Catholic children
    slip along the wet pavement
    like blue fish
    swimming down the Balls Pond Road.... more »


    It was Jim McMahon who first pointed out
    that you never come across a bald tinker,
    nor do you ever see one in old age.
    Bernard O'Donoghue
    For pure glamour, in my mind
    no one could or will
    beat the tinkers.
    They were outsiders for a start,
    sartorial smart, with an edge,
    like the dangerous whiff
    of burnt rubber you get at the Bumpers.
    The young men, sometimes small,
    always slim in leather jackets,
    torn denim before it became de rigueur,
    had unforgettable names
    like Elvis O'Donoghue
    Christy O'Driscoll the Bowler.
    Even when I was ten
    every one of them called me ma'am.
    The older men, Teds or Rockers,
    sported the sidelocks of Victorian cads,
    with rubbery Native American skin
    hair dyed blonde, they drove low
    windowless vans and knew everything
    about antiques and horses.
    They were champion bowlers,
    they spoke their own ancient language.
    Even the people who abhorred them
    barred them from pubs and shops,
    would stop sometimes to whisper
    in tones of mystified respect:

    See that fellow over there
    with the big head of white hair
    he's the King of the Tinkers.... more »

  • The Green Storybook

    For Fiona

    Today, the first edition - 1947 - with fine cross -

    hatched illustrations arrives from eBay,

    in a cellophane-covered never-before-

    seen dust wrapper. The apple-coloured

    jacket was long gone by the time the Green

    Storybook fell into my chubby hands in the

    sixties. I taught myself to read from that book,

    Enid Blyton's distinctive script

    running across the darker green cloth cover.

    I would look for her again and again,

    the Secret Garden door,

    that first Royal Flush, the miracle

    of the black marks straightening themselves

    out into sense across the page,

    saying this way, this way

    you'll escape.... more »