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
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
while laid out on the chair
like a corpse
with a coin in its mouth
towards the underworld.... more »
COURT WELFARE OFFICER
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.
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 »
are mostly silent,
or black and white,
or brown and white,
or red and white
(white with red ears
the ones from the underworld),
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 »
FOR I WILL CONSIDER MY CAT EILEEN MURPHY
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
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.
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
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
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 »
JAR OF SWEETS
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,
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
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
It could have been
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 »
Light strikes the clock!
I've waited five hours
for you to come
kissing my feet,
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 »
ON LIVING IN AN AREA OF MANIFEST GREYNESS AND MISERY
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.
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
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 »