hero

Secret Staircase

I was in my family's old house, staying in my sister's room while she was away on holiday, and while I was snooping through her drawers I found her hash stash. I knew we were going over to my granny's for dinner later, so I took some and rolled myself a joint. The hash was old and dry and crusty-looking, but I didn't care.

When we arrived at my granny's house (I must have been quite young in this dream, because my mother and father were together) they met us at the door and I hugged my granny. My uncle was there, the one who I idolized most of my young life. He was relaxed and happy to see me, and offered me a cigarette. It was badly rolled and bits of tobacco kept coming loose in my lips. I was going to smoke the joint with him, but then I remembered that I was off marijuana, and I reluctantly threw it away.

We talked about board games for a while, and then he said he was going upstairs, and that I could come if I wanted, because he didn't have any work to do for tomorrow. I knew my sister would be jealous that I was spending time with my uncle, because everyone liked him and he was her godfather, but I didn't care. When I went upstairs I discovered that he had taken over the entire 1st floor of my granny's house. He had lots of interesting stuff in his room - the shelves were covered with gadgets and sleek black stereo equipment.

I took off my boxers and was wandering around upstairs naked, when I heard my father coming up the stairs. I started trying to pull my boxers up again, but they kept getting caught in my feet. Desperately I yanked them up just as he came into the room, and tried to look nonchalant, but he didn't even seem to notice. We were leaving, and on the way down I discovered the cutest thing - a narrow little secret white staircase going from the top floor of the house down to the ground. I didn't know how I'd never noticed it before, with all the hundreds of hours I'd spent in my grandparents' house. I got so excited running down it that I jumped too hard and banged my head off the low ceiling. My grandad felt my head with his fingers - there was a big lump.

Later, the dream is much hazier. My father, my uncle and I were making a big bed, plumping the pillows and smoothing out the duvet. I think the bed was for my mother to lie down in. Something had made her very sick. Or maybe it was me. My head was badly injured and I felt ill and dizzy. I might have lain down in the bed and passed into a deeper or shallower dream, because suddenly I was swimming through a bright, clear cavern covered with coral and underwater plants. I pulled myself forward powerfully. I could breathe water just like air. I could dimly remember my story - I was on a great adventure, and I'd been hurt somewhere along the way, but I was recovering. I was a warrior.
 

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.