childhood

Whirlpool

we're in this house,
and the rain and the car sounds
and every day hollowed out by

snowdrops, finally, I thought
sad when the woods grow dark
I thought they would never

and in this house we drift
and there's bath time and silent
my son watches the spiralling water

and he smiles and his eyes are
so bright and I forget to disconnect
and I forget that I hate endings

and we're together in time,
just in time for the last spiral
and we watch the water disappear

every day hollowed out by
what we do and do not see, by
what is both there and not there

by that 
spiralling 
moment of love

Infinite Eight

When I was a teenager my mother saw I was sad,
and told me to draw figure eights on their sides,
over and over. "It makes you happy," she said,
"Psychologists are just finding this out."
I drew the eights on my books in school,
at chess tournaments, on toilet doors,
even on my own skin, until the ink sank so deep
that after a week it still showed, like an old tattoo.

Owl eyes on the blackboard in maths class,
moth wings traced on the window with a fingertip,
sycamore seeds spiralling on to sterile concrete.
An old photo of a birthday party, taken
just before I blew out the candles - "I am 8"
on a red badge pinned sideways to my t-shirt,
like an affirmation: "I'm still alive. It's not over yet."

Around the sun and its dark, smouldering twin,
something orbits in a vast, endless figure of eight -
remembered in myth as Marduk, Sekhmet, Nibiru, Rajah Sun,
the great red dragon, the fiery cross,
the one who came and will come again,
something barely remembered, like childhood trauma,
made unreal, fading like ink into skin, waiting for renewal.
If it didn't exist, something else would take its place -
another comet, another nightmare memory, to fill the orbit
linking our bright and dark suns:
the life we know, and the death we fear until it finally comes.

Lego People

I'd met some new friends and we were all sitting together in a cafe somewhere in America. They were very eccentric people and that was why we all liked each other. We drank lots of coffee and talked loudly about crazy stuff and generally made a nuisance of ourselves around the shopping centre. When we left the cafe the craziest guy started doing a dance in front of an elderly couple who were returning to their car - there was cheesy music coming from somewhere, and he posed like a ballerina, and then started vogueing. We were all laughing and taking pictures. Eventually the security guards came to chase us away, but not before we'd gotten into a music shop and started playing on the electric pianos which were arranged around the walls. They had a beautiful shiny wooden veneer  that I loved touching.

When we developed the pictures later we found that they were all pictures of toys instead of real people. Instead of me and a girl and a guy sitting talking, there were Lego people with bright yellow faces standing on a stippled grey landscape with big smiles. The scene in the parking lot with the dancing guy was all cuddly plush toys - a squashy cat and a floppy brown dog and a crocodile with big friendly eyes. All the cars were matchbox cars. We were puzzled but we loved the pictures anyway.

On the way home I saw a large climbing frame made of wooden logs and rope ladders, and I started to climb one side of it. It got taller and taller as I climbed, and I started to feel vertigo as I looked up and down. The ground was getting pretty far away, and even though it felt very solid I was afraid that if I climbed to the top I would fall off or it would collapse. No sooner had I thought this than the logs started to shake and the ladder I was on started to peel away from the side slowly. I was a little scared, but I realized that the ladder was falling slowly enough to prevent me being hurt. It tipped backwards and when it got near the ground I rolled over and jumped to my feet again. My friends and some other people had gathered around and were worried about me, but I told them that I was fine. We looked up to see what had happened to the other children, and it was only my ladder that had collapsed.
 

Fire Puja

once just a bubble, something bursting and sprawling, then blankness,
a tired boy sleeping through a long car journey across Ireland
to the Sligo coast and a cottage near a bright strand
scared of being alone, scared of his grandfather
a ball of fire in a man's head, squeezed like a star's core
and the laughing pressure of the bedroom's darkness
I will only be the bright things, and the dark things will not be me
water bulging between pebbles or still like diamond in rock pools
fair hair in the wind and the sun, frozen in a photograph
staring at the sun until it burned blue and left tracers for hours
outshining everything

his brain the altar and shrine to the scientist superhero
not the bed-wetter, the boy of fevers and rashes and failures
not the boy with the broken parents but the warrior battling demons
with a wooden sword at the bottom of the garden, slashing nettles
and bindweed, dandelions, cattails and bluebells,
all of the living things advancing mindlessly on the realms of the dead
reading in the crook of tree branches under a laurel canopy
learning that stories can curve into a perfect fulfillment,
and that a life could be made into a story, his own devil's bargain

mama, dada, his heartbeat in the pillow,
reading comics in the windowlight with the darkness shaking -
his cuddly toys who walked unafraid into his dreams
and there built cities for him out of a churning red landscape -
they bred beings and stories like great factories of the unreal -
vast hands descending from the sky,
implacable beasts with lion heads and fish tails,
the endless running through endless corridors of a school,
a hospital, a tower, a labyrinth,
like a rabbit lost in the warren of the world.
he stole a red crystal in a trinket shop
and it poisoned him until he flung it into the undergrowth
that grew and grew like a cancer, crowding the edges of his awareness,
like the grass and the weeds, the rain, half-living forces,
revenants pressing their faces
against the windows of the kitchen and the hall, moaning,
until his whole family was mad with an unexpressed panic;
his dad went insane, quietly, in front of the evening news,
mud on his suit and money in his pocket,
walking blind into a different life, and his mother
burned everything in her mind
until it flew into the air on the wings of a firestorm -
all without speaking,
without moving from the bedroom where she sickened for years

he glimpsed the ghost of his death out of the corner of his eye
all his life, like horror movie eyes in dark windows
smoking his throat raw around the back of the house
where the wood rotted in the damp
and the country's granite skeleton poked out from under the foundations;
houses built around the margin of an eely reservoir
with a lightning-scarred pine and a broken throne where a cat slept, wind-sheltered and far from territory and food,
tiny under the humped orange clouds, bare awareness
of voices and water, traffic like remembered music,
air moving through reeds in gaps in the mortar
and no such thing as time - time measured by light and dark,
past and future gathered into the present
like friends into one room

points of light in the sky, lanterns on the river, phosphorus fish in caves,
distant headlights on roads, roads, roads
merging and splitting like stories,
like veins splayed out under spotlights in an operating theatre
he fell asleep on the ground behind the garden wall and woke up twenty years older
with lines on his palms and sadness held
in knots of muscle in his back and his chest -
two bottles of cheap red wine and three hours of hangover agony
high above the street, on a metal balcony in the sun
dizzy, almost dead, parched of water and love and meaning
and driven by the machine of superhumanity,
the total revolt of the total illusion
and all the words every spoken, ever written, melting
into this one crucible of his suffering body -
he wanted the elixir, he wanted the incorruptible element, and instead,
sick with vapour, he distilled the world into ash and slag and poison -
laughing, crying, no identity, he had nothing left to do but float,
his own little light shaking in a paper cup
down to the delta and out to the forgiving sea

finally he became a pilgrim: 22 hours by plane, 5 hours by boat,
to eat sand and press flowers and build temples -
the moth only touches the flame for a brief moment -
burned, it has to rest -
spiders stringing webs between palm trees, toads littering the pathways -
full moon - handfuls of wet rice - pits full of fire -
sawdust and plastic in the lungs -
chairs and walls and spires and late nights working like ants
streaming over a mound of earth -
singing all day, and still the god does not return -
crying at night, and the god does not return -
the god's chair and house are empty, the god's children are cruel,
the god likes sushi and Versace quilts and Armani sunglasses,
the god is alive as every star in the whole sky -
he has to be, because that is the god the boy worships, arms of fire raging into the patient dark
until every embrace is broken and every voice lost into memory,
every watch stopped with every heart,
every river emptied over the edge of every shattered planet,
and every blaze quenched and frozen - past and future consumed -
the universe stretching into the era of proton decay
like a black, bottomless photograph
held in a boy's hand, then discarded
as he runs into the garden -
sunlight dancing through sprayed water
as the end of all things
is recycled into every moment
 

Heroes

I never moved the mirror
from its stand in the corner
where it was left, like a sentinel,
by the previous owner –

the still water of another mind
full of old reflections and purposes.
I used to be surprised to see myself there,
a ghost in my own home, lost on the surface.

I was hardly even aware
that on my way to the office, walking
past the arcades, threading the crowds,
rushing in the sharp, late morning,

I could have turned aside
where Westland Row meets Merrion Square,
under the windows of the Davenport Hotel –
or, really, any road, anywhere –

just kept on walking,
through Ringsend and beyond,
past the tailbacks and the trailers
to where the sea meets the long strand;

boarded a small sailboat,
anything that floats on water,
a catamaran, even a dinghy;
and set off into an unknown future.

I was hardly aware of my own hands,
their softness, their blunt power,
the way they callus so quickly
if I have to lift and carry for a few hours.

Or of my nose, its many colours,
brown and orange and pink,
the blocked pores, the faint sheen
after an evening on the drink.

The way my hair shines
under a yellow light.
The happiness of breathing.
The freedom of being awake at night.

Night-time when I was younger
was cool sheets and my mother’s voice,
telling stories from picture books:
the poisoned land, the hero’s choice –

the silly rabbit and the duckling
who hugged each other at the end
and made the whole world happy,
‘and no-one was ever alone again’ –

I’d go to sleep in the shuddering darkness,
the power of the stories whirling
in my stomach and behind my eyes.
I became a dreamer in the world.

I burned with that energy;
I chose to be the flame-haired hero,
to make his choices, to be the brightness
in the story, without fear.

I didn’t know - at every turn, every choice
I could have gone elsewhere.
The catamaran; the other girls;
the boy with the untidy hair

who smiled at me in the library,
and my spine tingled from end to end;
the thousand countries and cities
where I would have made friends;

the way I would have kissed
the Spanish girl in the sunlit alcove
if I’d been braver, if I’d known
she too was only looking for love.

In some weird future, the hero
maybe is dying on the dirty floor
of a Bangkok shack, heroin
in his veins, voices at the door –

or sitting at the kitchen window
as dawn begins to light the rooftops
of any city; she’s asleep in the bedroom,
and there’s coffee on the hob.

Maybe in the million stories
there’s just one hero, wandering
from room to room, screen to screen;
moving with open, wondering eyes

through the labyrinth of mirrors,
while the audience, if there is one,
accepts each change of mask and scene
without fear, even with a sense of fun.

Just to look at a tree, to really look –
a tree in a dream, on a diamond plateau,
or a tree in the rain in Merrion Square,
leaves dripping, branches dark and soaked,

the way the leaves open like hands
to catch the raindrops, as a child would –
you can’t be in a story.
You never hear of Red Riding Hood

stopping in the woods, fascinated
by the shimmering moss, the ancient stone,
forgetting her errand; in her immortality
she doesn’t have that freedom.

But you do; even the eyes of the girl
when she tells you she likes you;
if you really want to see her,
you can’t be a hero. You can only be you.
 

The Knight at the Nexus of Memory

Everything smelled perfect and everything
tasted sweet in my grandmother’s house -
Star Wars on rewind in the VCR,
my uncle's chess computer blinking in thought,
the grey afternoon light, gentle minutes
settling around me like mystical tissue.

In the cotton silence of her attic,
there was nothing of me except a body,
tingles in the stomach, an ache in the mind
for the world above the skylight
and its spaceships and alien cities, alien houses
for alien boys with no place in this world -

or rolling on the side lawn with my uncle,
trying to trip him, getting breathless and heavy,
falling into laughter with my cheek pressed
to the soft grass. He didn't know I was hiding
inside myself, scared and small with no powers,
no lightsaber, no invulnerable smile.

My little superheroes were a virus in my mind.
For every day of warm rain and every good friend
there was the knight at the nexus of memory,
the dancing samurai, luminous blade cutting images and words -
the vampire, the unseen bodhisattva dynamo
powered by prayer wheels and playstations

and always hoping for a simpler life.
No one knew he was there, and so
no one saw him leave, sad and empty: old killer
in a land of reincarnating immortals.
Everything he shaped is coming loose,
useless dreams I don't need to remember.