Friday, May 2, 2014

The Poetry of 2008

What were you doing in 2008? I was writing these poems, not believing in anything supernatural and getting rather unreasonably depressed about the soullessness of modern society.

Carpe Diem

(I wouldn't write such a facetious line about Heaven today. But I was an atheist/agnostic when I wrote this.)

They say we should live each day like our last
He thought, sorting his stuff,
The seven cardboard boxes that contained his past.
It might be tough
To hold a Doomsday frenzy all year long
Like striking the finale of a song
With every breath.

Which day would he have chosen, from all these,
To be his only one?
The snag with Heaven is, no angel sees
Much besides endless sun.
Repent those endless hours spent playing chess;
Those trashy novels read three times; confess;
Remember Death.

But days are fiction of the calendar.
We live from joy to joy
From hope to hope. A life has time to spare
Or is no life at all. The clock is slow.
Days die asleep, and wisdom sees them go
Without regret.

War Songs on the Bus

('Captain Moonlight' was a term used for violent agitation in Irish history. All the details in this poem are based on an actual childhood experience of mine, apart from the destination of the school trip. Even the lines sung are exactly what I heard my classmates singing.)

When I die in a combat zone, they sang
On the bus for the fourth class trip
To see the hut where the Captain Moonlight gang
Would come to swear eternal membership.

Lay my arms across my chest, they piped
In voices that were months away from breaking.
The smartest girl just smirked. How stereotyped!
But the smartest boy was shaking.

He'd read about the trenches and he knew
That the comics had it wrong. But he read them all.
And he closed his eyes and was back in World War Two
With these idiots answering their country's call.

Tell my momma I did my best, they trilled
As fervently as if they drove to Hell.
Something was fair about young men getting killled--
Somehow the comics had it right as well.

The bearded teacher in folded jeans just smiled.
He taught them about the ozone layer and the whales
But history lessons turned him into a child
Playing with soldiers and telling heroic tales.

The wheels on the bus go round and round
, they'd bawled
Five years ago, but the wheels had turned and turned
And reached the same old place where nature called
And boys remember all they'd never learned.

Alive Alive Oh!

(This was my lament for the supposed decay of oral folklore. I was extremely depressed about things like that, at this stage in my life. Now I'm not so sure that oral folklore per se has decayed-- though street-calls and riddles and children's chants certainly have, and this is certainly something to mourn. I presume all my international readers are familiar with Molly Malone and her wheel barrow. "Molly Malone has turned to stone" is a reference to the statue that was built to her honour. The 'gleaming hypodermic' is a reference to the Spire of Dublin-- a huge steel pin erected in Dublin's O'Connell Street, which I here take-- and not unfairly, I think-- to be representative of post-national, post-Catholic, post-anything Ireland, anti-septically ahistorical and culturally neutral. It's awful. Maaaa is what Dublin kids scream when they are calling their mothers.)

The only songs that pass from mouth to mouth
Today are terrace chants. Now 'characters'
Are given therapy. Young girls still shout
Maaaa to be heard for miles. But in the yard
The children talk about last night's TV.
Molly Malone has turned to stone
And is locked up in a postcard.

People don't die any more when they get infected
And hunger and cold are minority fears.
That gleaming hypodermic they erected
Fends off the dirt of centuries forever.
Were children in bare feet really so happy?
Oh, Molly Malone has turned to stone
And quite escaped the fever.

The Seagulls

I said to the sea, You have your tide
That comes and goes while we live and die.
You have the seagulls' eternal cry
But already I feel myself withering

But the morning gloried, the sun defied
The thoughts that held back the surge of sleep.
It said, The Sea is so deep, so deep
And does not care for your perishing

And the seagulls' ravenous, ceaseless calls
Invited me in to the endless urge.
They said, Do you see how the waves still surge
After thousands of years of their clamouring

And there, for the briefest of intervals,
Eternity showed itself to me
And I understood the song of the sea
And the truth of the seagull's carolling.


(Poets have written a lot about the poignant contrast between Art and Life, but lamentably little about the poignant contrast between board games and life. Ludo is the simplest board game, where you simply roll and move. I've just read on Wikipedia that it's sometimes sold as Parcheesi in America. The reason Clue is called Cluedo in Europe is to pun on the word 'Ludo'.)

It doesn't hurt when it's done like this,
When laughing about it isn't false.
On Winter nights, between four walls
With plastic pieces standing for us.
I look like a hippopotamus
And Tommy's a crock, and Anne and Chris

Dropped out between twenty and twenty-five
But the dice roll here without causing pain.
A cardboard world without loss or gain--
If only you really could clear the board
And start a new game. It's plain absurd
That you get one shot at being alive

That snake's eyes follow you all your years.
Life is more like Ludo than chess.
Your parents rolled for you, more or less--
Forget about it, and take your go
And a biscuit, and hark how the cold winds blow,
And hide in a small world strange to tears.


  1. Good poems. It seems so strange that it was only in 2008 that you were atheist/agnostic. Also, I always wondered why it was called Cluedo. What an interesting explanation.

  2. It seems like a long time ago to me!