memory

Grange Road

Grange road runs crazy
from between the church and the shopping centre
up to the foothills of what we call
the Dublin Mountains

and we know it for this small slice of time,
a year we've spent in a strange house
full of musty books and stale chocolate,
rusting knives and forks,
shivering patience of lace curtains
on windows overlooking the road,
catching the odd glint of red at sunset
over slate rooves and cold chimneys

we know it for what it has been for a year
alive at night with drunken teenagers
kicking over bins, smashing car windows,
hanging around Londis asking you
to buy them alcohol
they'll bring it to the park
they'll drink it hastily in the darkness
they'll break things in an ecstatic rage
and blindly let the road swim them home

it's a river of life and death
and apparently random decisions
we saw a boy in a red car lose control
around the tricky corner
and destroy 2 cars in a headlong collision
they both lived - this time -
residents gathered to watch, talking
about the other accidents at that corner,
the ones who made it and the ones who died
right there on the road
in bloodstains bleached by the streetlights

over the park wall among the dead leaves
you can hear the cars moaning past
you can imagine dying souls travelling home
there's a stream that follows its path
for a while, under and over ground, through gardens
it runs to join the Dodder
where this road is forgotten
its memories emptied into cold black water

prayers and curses for two miles and fifty years
and we've known very little of it but what sings
in the blood in the small hours
what beats in the heart in the wind
an infinite procession of hooves and then tyres,
young feet growing older, then young feet again
what is a road anyway
it lays itself down in your mind
and in your dreams you follow it
and every other road you've ever known
to the gates of your sacred city
 

Ghost Ship

her mind is disintegrating
blood leaking between memories
every day melting into one breakfast
every evening into one cup of sugary tea
there was a father, a husband, a church
images rewinding on a damaged videotape
giving way to unknown faces and voices
that slide easily off the mind's surface
recycling like paper and glass and identity
and the house setting sail across the sea
into the deep straw horizon glow
with her crew of photographs and ghosts
bound by memory into deathless illusion

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

Moral Terror

In the rainbow jungle the soldier said that you must make a friend of horror and moral terror and I listened not because I understood but because it was Brando and when he speaks we listen and when he dies then god has died too and we are alone in the jungle at last with all the other monkeys who fight and fuck and sacrifice and feel feel feel in their hearts sensations so real they can be weighed in ounces or metres or joules - the units don't matter what matters is that the heart emits a measurable force that is not magnetism or gravity - the monkeys are adaptable and can swim through those like void but the heart-force twists them shapeless and kills the cramp out of every cell of their bodies. the body is ash and mud and levers and sacks, it is a suit of armour, a cello, a computer. like the knights of god riding into battle waving the banner of the skull and bones, we charge headlong into the unknown journey of our lives with every breath reminding us of the end. Yeats said man created death - did he know, or was he just writing pretty poetry? I know what the mystics know but I am not mystical - I'm nothing but a flower falling off a winter stem. I understand everything but I don't have any words for it. I know who I am but I can't tell you. I've been spending my life trying to bridge the gap between the body and the mind - what we know and what we can communicate - and I think it can't be done. I thought if you brought the gap close enough that a mind would pull sparks across it like a synapse but I've never seen it happen and maybe it will never happen. The body knows. The mind can never know.

Moral terror is an old woman lying in bed at night praying to Jesus to keep her from shitting herself while she sleeps. Jesus doesn't care; if he's listening I'm sure he loves her, but her shit and dignity is of no concern to him. He wants to bring her home and he knows she can't bring the flesh with her. Her body will die like everything else and no history will record her shame. She says that when she brought me walking through the park when I was younger she never imagined I would see her this way and she cries and she says that we are only clay, only mud, what are we, what are we? In her dreams she chases rabbits to try to cuddle them. Every corner of memory in the house is emptying itself. The bird died months ago and the empty cage catches her eye in the evenings, and she calls herself a little bird. In the bathroom as she takes off her soiled nightdress she says that it's time for her to die. I told her that she still had things to do and she smiled and said "Like what?" She knows what we are and there's nothing she can do or say about it. There are no words for what's really happening to her. She says that she doesn't know what to say to me, that nothing she can think of suffices. I am more and more quiet. She's dying, whether it's a month or a year or ten years, and there's nothing to say about it because every pretension and hope and platitude is dead in the naked body.

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.

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.
 

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.

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.

Pendulum

the russian army officers shout in the long, cold darkness together with the barking of dogs and the constant, low whistle of the wind. starving in the arms of a dying superpower while new gods and angels stand astride the world. the sound of their horns brings the stars  down. the seas are filling up and the bread is all stale and they're selling their uniforms for milk. the body of the great god is rotten and the woman clothed with the sun is getting big and craving weird things. she's raging; she's nesting in a web of flame and waiting for the armies to build. the soil won't accept seed and the air carries no scent.

the warehouse streets outside the city shake at night with the roar of joyrider engines; and then it all collapses with the silence pouring into the light of morning and the burnt out car shells smoke in the wood. glass and charcoal in a blasted black circle and tyre tracks through the snowdrop patches. because everything is like that. like balance. your god is a marble rolling in a shallow bowl, a number dancing opposite its negative around the void. the superunknown. pendulums straining for the centre of the earth. your biorhythmic low, your wild mood swings, your unimaginable zero. fascinated and distantly watching the bathwater spiral away, wanting to understand. watching the sparrows coming back into the trees and the flowers tearing their way through the pavements. even the rock flows. nothing is solid.

we began on the grasslands and the marshes wading through the floods for food, holding each other in the dark and listening fearfully for the cough of the lion and the hyena's cackle. sky fire, rolling earth, and each other. the tower was struck down and the language broken, and there was no brother or sister any more. astral babies trapped in a birth sack made of thoughts and images and memories, knowing nothing but the surface, the membrane warped by touch. music swelling in the muscles of the throat like vomit and sadness, and the stars indestructible and indifferent in the dark.

there's an invisible thing in the yellow bedroom living in the quiet space between gestures, and if we let it, it would crawl into our warm lives like a child. a piece of fruit desperate to ripen. an inside cat, staring in fear and longing through the weird cold of the sitting room window. a tiny universe of walls and carpets with no time and no balance, just voices and smells from a temporary set of lives. water spiralling into the plughole, the pendulum falling forever. the cat growing sleepy and finally drifting sideways into the place of veils and confusion.

still, always, hopelessly straining for the real voice, the pure violin string in the centrifuge, the knife shriek in the earthquake howl, the mouse squeak in the menagerie madness, the impossible contact that puts you in the fusion core of the fever and shows you the truth. a pendulum seeking the centre of the earth, not through choice but just because this is how things are: they balance. you'll know it when it comes because it will be nothing at all. a mirror, a surface like the skin of a ghost, something pure because it protects nothing.

the old, broken king drowning himself in the eely water off the metal jetty. frozen moments of motion between intervals of blindness, like movie reels and zoetropes and memories. photographs of stick fights outside run-down cottages. moonlight on the crabs and sandflies on the shore of a calm sea. nothing to describe. the feeling of falling in a dream, the feeling of crying in a dream. lentils sprouting in a shallow bowl set under a basement window. chai tea heating over a gas flame and children's voices through the wall. nothing to describe. everything running backwards like a clock returning to the beginning for a second chance, and all the wars erased and all the words nothing but sounds. memories churned into a soup of poetry and understanding. something lost on the road beside the orange peels and the coke cans. an old branch you swung on, and that was the moment you first knew. nothing to describe.

the mind is a train ride through regions of light and dark. it's a girl in a blue dressing gown who loves you. fishing for something perfect in the shallow floodwaters moving through the mansion hallway. reading the sacred texts of an unknown and doomed religion with your head rising like a seed on a stalk to the ceiling. shaving without a mirror in ice cold dirty water in a rusty basin, tiny happy guru picture at the foot of the bed making everything insanely new. impossible; nothing to describe. traffic cones and pizza boxes and papaya and incense muddled together into chaos. something like balance. something like zero. a watch chain seeking the planet core. your body flat on the floor before the altar, seeking the centre of the universe, and when you got there, there was nothing left to do but come back again.

criss cross, words minced and chopped together. anger against the father, the cabala, the computerized testosterone death machine of chanting bible heartbeat sine waves marching towards death like breastmilk soldiers. napoleon's men starving and freezing to death thousands of miles from mother and home. the wrinkled monkeys panicking in the treetops as the eagle passes; panicking in the banyan roots when the leopard's snout nudges through the undergrowth. death from above and death from below makes you the zero where everything meets. nothing to describe except the colour of the good leaves and the taste of the bad; the waxy smell of the air as you bowed to your icons in the dark; the way every flower thinks it's going to be the bloom that the poet falls in love with. for one immortal, a billion forgotten lives.

kissing her finger, lying beside her while the morning swells like a tide behind the curtains, wondering how much of your mind she sees when you're sitting across from each other in the jagged warm sitting room full of screens and empty plates and words everywhere. words in your head all the time, hanging from axons and dendrites over the unknown, swarming around the swallowing point, pendulums seeking the centre of the earth. you come close to her and then move away again. light grows and fades in a blue haze and the night comes before you're ready. then the day comes before you're ready. you're never ready. sleep and waking don't mean anything any more except as markers, limit points on an attractor. back to zero.

always returning to somewhere that doesn't exist.
 

A Ghost's Journey

The wind was driving the clouds insane -
terrified shreds flying off,
glowing sun-pink over the pine silhouettes
and foaming into a daylight moon.

We climbed the graveyard wall and crept
between the decaying headstones,
counting the years that have gone missing:
1843. 1875. 1912. All times as one.

Through a low stone arch, many tombs
like soldiers' markers in a quiet clearing.
The last time I was here, the sun marked me
as I invited the ghosts on my journey.

One followed, out of love. Now it was stormy,
and I'd returned, and no time had passed.
A new bench beside a new stone; statues
cut into an old sepia photograph.

I hugged her and kissed her hair,
feeling the energy between us. I wondered
if my ghost friend would stay or go,
if this was to be an end or another beginning.

Her mother sat smoking by the dead wife's grave
as we kissed, and the pines shook and crashed.
All time as nothing. All the death around us
had never happened - just life turning to life, forever.