family

John's Perfect Heart

John's life was a quiet disaster
of needles and computer screens and alcohol
bank notes drifting gently down
onto the bodies of his parents

pets asleep in the filth of a swollen toilet
doors and windows blown open
in his mind, lights winking down a river
walking to work in the rain and the rot

he saved lives and stole them, ran screaming
down stunned streets, smiled carefully
in shops as he bought suicide implements,
melted and shook and snarled in the gym,

drove endlessly along roads, roads, roads
as future memories swam in his veins
- he would marry and father sad children
- he would die at someone else's funeral

John's life was his own, and every choice
split the universe in two, each half perfect -
perfect in panic and pain, in rain, in madness -
such a heart raging in such a savage heaven

Ragged Umbrellas

 

the sun is a dark smudge in the sky
for the ghost women of the birthday
pale fat arms cradling plates of apple pie
trailing smoke from a burnt out day

the clouds bleed quietly down for hours
and they dance under ragged umbrellas
singing about how they love to be powerless
the houses of ritual have made them careless

and sometimes the light shows their true faces
behind the opera masks - there are no words
for their expressions - there is no place
for comfort or for grace, the songs they heard

as children, when afternoons on dirty strands
became evenings drifting out to sea in dreams
asleep in the back seats of cars, hands
twitching in the rhythm of piano lessons, hymns

washing in from memory shores like wrecked ships
as sadness and failure like cold voids
suck the clouds and the sun down into their lips,
their skin, their hair; they frown, they get annoyed

by children who will not obey, pets who want to die,
dolls who will not stand upright, friends and lovers
self-obsessed and desperate, who cannot cry,
cannot speak the truth, cannot stay together -

the ghost women drift through parties and wakes
as the songs and the rain tell them in whispers
that they were once young, that the hand that shakes
is a punishment, the skin that is wrinkled and crisped

is a judgement on their innocence, and they watch
the children learn about loss, they watch the graves
open and swallow and close and wait, they watch
the works of the Lord, noting who he damns and saves,

what his plan might be, why he does not love them -
they gather between lifetimes where the water shines
dancing on the endless beach under ragged umbrellas
pale arms linked, lonely only in their minds

Old House

It's raining and I'm alone in the house.
It breathes in clicks and drips and gusts -
a ghost-paranoid person would find footsteps
in the noise of heating pipes in the attic,
dead relatives in the movements of the eye's periphery.

To me, everything is metaphor
and if the house seems alive, then it is alive,
along with every deceased ancestor
every wilful or beloved piece of cutlery
every book that opens at just the right page -

nothing is irrelevant and everything is musical -
the rabbits huddled together in the washroom,
the two years' worth of weather forecast clippings,
the plastic bags full of stolen sugar sachets,
the budgie's empty cage and the box full of his feathers.

The City of Ghosts

no way out of the city of ghosts
mum and dad are asleep alone together in a burning bedroom
she always wanted her words to fly up to heaven
this firestorm is her revenge for every cold cup of tea
every plea unlistened-to
she had the rotten teeth pulled from her jaws
and replaced by beads of poisonous metal
while he worked late at the office to pay for this transformation
a red brick building on the quays staffed by wraiths and ghouls
and he himself was a golem animated by parental sorcery
unbowed and polished by two thousand years of storms
heartless and beautiful and vampirically cold

their carpet becomes a lake of blood and bile
upon which their bed-raft floats
as they cling to the ancestral photo albums
and mutter their own names against a tide of amnesia
citizens of a republic of isolated house-states
with language abolished by referendum
we worship instead at the church of the repeated image
we have built a self-repairing machine
our bookshelves come to life and chant mantras as Gaeilge
our rooves sigh and slide gently away to reveal unnaturally dark clouds
Dublin turns black as the stars cough up eons of cigarette ash
and the sun itself swells and prepares to inhale us

mother and father have forgotten why they had children
maybe it was because they were cold and wanted to get warm
when they reached for each other they annihilated two universes,
set the bed adrift on a bloody sea,
and here we are, babies with gills and crimson irises
foreigners in our own country and strangers to each other
the hosts of the unborn are gathering beyond the veil
ready for the puncture when it happens
when ma and da finally die
and the kids' memories come crashing back
through lost lifetimes like meteorites of archetypes
through cloudbank and starlight

we will know who we are
when the cafes serve only haemoglobin from living veins
when cars wake up and start eating people
we will know who we are
when every door leads to another world
a wilderness of Narnias in the wardrobes and hallways of the ghost city
when the statues in the churches come to life
and herd the wailing faithful to the altars for sacrifice
when the government closes its doors and settles its affairs
and the TDs take cyanide on the orders of their leader
we will know who we are
when materialism is known for what it truly is
the acceleration of the birth of a glorious but inhuman deity

it may be true that we are killing ourselves
our obsession with ingesting poisons, our love of weaponry
all this is legendary in the houses of spirit
but like the man said, what is man
but a bridge over an abyss
we are not the naked monkey in the marital bed
the monkey lost and shivering under unforgiving stars
we are not the ghosts in the city windows
and mammy and daddy will one day remember
that they always loved each other
and the unborn will come crashing through time
in endless lines through endless doors opening to one room

until I knew you I did not know myself
says each reflection to each face

No Voodoo

My mother was crying
while I shovelled dirt into her cat's
shallow garden grave.

She looked small and lonely,
where in my old memories she looms
huge above me, smiling,
her hair the strangest and darkest thing.

Now she dyes it,
hides her face when she's in tears,
speaks too softly in public.
For many years, I've felt more like a father
than a son - calm and balanced
while she splinters and shivers.

Once, after a fight,
she turned my photograph to the wall,
and it was like voodoo - a curse,
for hurting her like so many others.
Now her curses have lost their power
and I'm just happy to see her,
even though I'm also glad to leave.

A long time ago (she says)
she lost me in a department store,
and she thinks it damaged me,
the wandering and weeping through the aisles,
searching faces and smells
for my one and only familiar spirit.

I was the best baby boy
in the whole wide world -
but I thought another might come,
better and brighter, and she
would take her light away from me.
Now, burying something else she loved,
I know it wasn't her fault.

Torn apart by dogs, crushed by cars,
hit by a heart attack on the office stairs,
or lying in the arms of another woman,
she's slowly losing everyone she loves.

She tries to find the Light, to breathe it,
because she thinks she lost it,
even though it still makes her cry,
it still shines in her face
that I would recognize in any world, any life.
 

For The Last Time

For the last time, the last time
I will not remember what they said
on the television between the exploding stars
and the million miles asleep in midnight red
I will not seem angry
when my friends neither live nor die
but freeze in a smile and a moment
like loved characters in their final episode

not because there was no more time
but because in my dreaming mind
I wandered, and left them behind

this is no voice speaking
rain of flower shades in blindness
just the sound of it behind cafe windows
the colours flushed from the streetlights
and birds burning and singing on the wires

it all goes wrong when I try to talk about myself
so I will talk about everything else
except that there's this question, "who's talking?"
"Who's singing, who's burning, who's sad?"

Who misses their nonexistent friends
who laments their long-distant dad
and the long-distance chats
sizzling along dark wires
and the moist fresh-dug graves of beloved cats
hissing with rain or vampire hostility
and can cats become vampires anyway
or can humans - reality and fantasy
are not much different for me these days

like the one about the beautiful killer
with the power to share his destiny
and of course he would choose me
and I would not care about killing
if only I could be beautiful and immortal too

surely it can't be time to review my life again
and all the crumbling myths I built
how are they still there, how am I the same?
how can I not have changed into something
extraordinary and entirely different?

bless me to let go of these stories
that never belonged to me
nothing glows like nothingness
and I have a weird craving for the womb
no, not even the womb - just pure emptiness
endless space without even one sparkling star
just an abyss without a face or a name
and finally I'd know that awareness
that they say extends beyond both ends of this life

wine from old arteries in a singing glass
images and feelings torn loose from narrative
here is a bottomless sea and a roofless house
no meaning, no weapons, no voices
and a yellow wind from below the horizon
and I will be made ashes in the furnace of the sun

Bone Ghost

my dad looks like a tree, wooden and pretty, alive but in a different way from me, hard to understand, maybe nothing to understand, just how trees grow and stiffen and start to rot, nothing to show for it until one day the heart is eaten all away and a strong wind snaps the trunk like old bone. if I was old, how would you see me? bitten to the quick like a nail. dried and crumpled like a fish going off in the sun. helpless like a worm on concrete. would my eyes be bright to you, would you love how I moved, would you think of it as a soul, the silent wave making me move until the last second. some of us don't like the sea, the endless dark pulse, the endless enormous life.

robot ghost dances in my bones, curves into the air and the roads leading away from every doorstep and every embrace. running knives in hand across the battlefield of every meeting and every dream. fused into the marrow with music, pulled into the future by the gravity of what i was born to be. alive on a membrane between this world and the next, the book and the reader, the dream and the dreamer. the ghost and i are both sure we're real and when i finally rip him out of my flesh and we see each other someone's universe is going to disappear and the murder of every living thing in it and the loss of every memory and every sound and the nothingness of every detail of every dance and every shining light

mother brightened me in the mornings. used to climb into her bed to read about dinosaurs and volcanoes and when she woke I'd listen to the water in the pipes above the bedroom ceiling when she washed her face in the pastel bathroom. everything was a story and i was always the hero and the light in her face when she looked at me told me it was true. nothing would ever be impossible for me, i would live forever and everyone would love me because i was the hero. sunlight through the curtains in those mornings was golden and i waited for her to wake. stories wove themselves in my mind and everything dark and fearful died in the shine of what was inside me, an answer to her call, an inner sun to her hungry moon. tell and retell the story and its lines become engraved too deep, the dance goes stale, the face becomes a mask and the sun a nova, a magnesium wick, and the hero a destroyer. now my mind sinks inwards through layers of tissue and sinew and nerve and finds no core. there is no ghost dancing in my bones. there is no person i was supposed to be. all the heroes have been kindling for a cold fire burning atoms into dreams.

Little head's 7 days of loneliness

Liadain and I were going on holiday. It had been a long time since we had been able to get away and we were looking forward to it; so much that when we arrived in Dublin city centre on our way to get a coach to somewhere in Europe, we barely noticed when Greta stumbled on getting out of the car and fell on her side in the gutter. Why was she with us in the car? Why did we not help her up, but instead continue on to our coach without thinking about her? There's no answer to these questions, this is just how it was.

The dream stretched out for a long time. I mean, we had a real week's holiday - there were plots and sub-plots, parties and strange drugs, odd friends and journeys through unfamiliar landscapes. Unfortunately all of this time became telescoped and faded into a few instants as soon as we arrived in Dublin again after a long coach journey back. We emerged in Temple Bar and immediately I saw what we had forgotten: there was Greta in the gutter.

Except it wasn't the whole of her; it was just her head, lying on its side with its eyes open and blinking.

"Oh my god, oh my god..." I ran over and picked up her head in my hands. I had to do it carefully, because she had been lying there so long, unnoticed and unmoved, that one of her eyelids was stuck to the road. Where was her body? Why had no one noticed her here on a busy street? Why was she still alive? No answers. This is just how it was.

"Oh...I'm cold..." she said. "I've been so lonely."

"I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry..."

I ran to the Garda station, which was a small shop just a few doors down. They seemed annoyed that I thought the issue of Greta's head was so important, and the guard grumbled as he looked at her blinking, forlorn expression; then he seemed to remember something. Yes - they had a body, it seemed. It had been found last week and put on ice. Her head could be reattached, although, he seemed to be saying by his manner, he hardly saw the point, as she was so old anyway.

We were taken to a facility of some kind where I laid Greta's head carefully in a vat of viscous pinkish fluid (I think they called it "bacta" in The Empire Strikes back) that would regenerate her tissues and prepare her to be reattached to her body - although, as a white-coated scientist informed me, she would "never fully be her old self as regards walking and suchlike."

She looked up at me from the liquid, wide-eyed. The horror of what had happened suddenly overwhelmed me as I imagined what it must have been like for her to lie helpless and afraid and lonely in the gutter for seven days. How had she not died? How could I have left her?

I started to cry and ran out of the room, and Liadain followed me and sat beside me while I sobbed. I was responsible for the whole thing, because of my selfishness. The feelings were awful; but when I woke up and told the dream to Liadain, we both laughed at the absurdity of the situation. Lonely severed heads. It felt very real and devastating at the time.

No-one's Garden

Parin tends a garden owned by no one -
bushes growing stunted in the red brick dark
between two terraces; old wooden gates
that only he opens; a path from street to street
never used and usually never seen.

With no alternative and no one to stop him,
he plants parts of his own mind in the dry soil
along with the shrubs and the ivy:
blue clouds blown across a cold red sunset
as he crested the hill at Roundhay Park on his bike;

the cold air and the noise the fox made when Sajid
killed it behind the school all those years ago;
the way the motorway noise never ended at night,
eventually drove the cat insane and made her shit
all over the house, until Dad wrung her neck in a rage.

Parin buried her in the soft dirt at the edge of the park,
because their garden was only glass and concrete.
The soil between houses is hard and thirsty, but he's healing it.
He remakes memories on the city council payroll
every day, in this dark little space between lives.
 

In The Country

I was in a large complex building very like the Leeds University Students Union, but as with all my dreams it had many more rooms and passageways and wasn't exactly like any building I'd ever been in. I'd just decided, after a lot of agonizing, to quit studying there, but I was still hanging around the campus for another few weeks. My friend and I were sitting outside a new, trendy bar in the Students Union. It was yellow-and-orange themed in a headache-inducing, cheesy-retro style. The tables and chairs were a bright, neon, chequered yellow and orange mess. Even the doorman was dressed in a kind of yellow and orange jumpsuit. I made a funny remark about the eighties coming back, and the owner of the bar, who was listening from inside, took offense and started shouting at me and calling me names. I wanted to explain that I hadn't meant anything offensive, just an ironic social statement and not an insult to him personally, but I couldn't find the right words.

Then I was outside myself, watching myself. I wasn't being someone else; it was an out-of-(dream)body experience and I could only do it by closing my eyes almost to slits. I was fascinated with how I looked as I did simple things. It was like knowing how other people see me, and I felt a kind of detached love for myself as a beautiful person. My hair was short and I wondered if I had looked better when it was long. This became relevant later in the dream.

I wandered around the Union a little. It was full of people. Parts of it were like the corridors of a hospital, with people waiting around in dingy rooms, staring at the walls. A group of black men were hanging around in front of a TV which was attached high up the wall. They were all eating pizza and drinking cola. I "remembered" at some point that I was supposed to get to the main office to watch a guy who was going to castrate himself after applying a local anaesthetic. I'm not sure if he wanted to become a woman or if he was just doing it for a bet. I really didn't want to watch but for some reason I knew I had to be there.

While I was wandering around looking for the head office, the Leeds University Students Union somehow metamorphosed into my old family home, and instead of a guy castrating myself, I was supposed to watch while my parents cut our cat Velvet's tail off. I found Velvet cowering in a cupboard, and I picked her up in my arms. I didn't want them to cut her tail off so I was trying to find a place where she would be safe. While I was carrying her she turned into a colobus monkey and started wriggling away from me. I managed to get her into a small room where I thought she'd be safe, but it was full of hostile monkeys of a different species, and when I closed the door I realized she'd be in trouble, so I went back inside and got her out again. I brought her out to the edge of the garden and let her go, and when I was turning away I noticed her twisting around and contorting. I realized that she was choking, and stuck my finger down her throat to fish out the bone that had caught there. After I did this I realized that saving a life is an incredibly powerful and significant thing to do, because you are adding to the universe. All the new possible universes that can be created by decisions of the being whose life you have saved are your responsibility.

I found a present from my dad waiting for me on the stairs. It was an old raincoat, and he'd left a note saying that it needed to be washed but that I might like to wear it anyway. I went to find the master bedroom, where I knew he would probably be. When I found him he was standing in the doorway. He was really tall and big, as if I was seeing him from the perspective of a small child, and he was smiling broadly. His hair was quite wild and long-ish, and he looked so youthful and happy that I almost wanted to cry. He hugged me, and I wanted to ask him what had happened, because I knew that he had been away "in the country" and I wondered what had made him come back so different and alive, but just then my grandad (my mother's dad) came up the stairs. Everyone was coming upstairs for a dinner in the master bedroom, which now had a large table and an oven and a fireplace. There was a pile of chocolate biscuits in the fireplace, and I took one and started eating it. My mother came from the oven with food on a tray, looking flushed and happy, and I realized that she and my dad had had sex.

I asked her what had happened to my dad on his trip to the country, and she said that she didn't know because he was being very secretive about it. We all sat down around the table, and I asked him straight out in front of everyone, "So, you have to tell us what happened when you were down in the country." He wasn't annoyed. He smiled and looked down almost shyly and began with "Well, now..."

Then I woke up.