Ghosts

November 1, 2010

The feast of all saints
Finds your pillow with paints
From the face you forgot to remove

Did all the ghosts leave
From the old hallowed eve
Or have some stayed behind in the groove?

Or have new ghosts been formed
In the castles you stormed
Where the gaps in the memory loom?

Cos not all your vices
Can be pinned on disguises
Or the light of the night’s bright full moon.

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Knots

February 19, 2010

Lost in endeavours, the splash of the tide
Breaks the stern as they turn, though there’s nowhere to hide
From the waves that they brave as the salty air stings
For the pots caught in knots, for the ropes in the rings

Hooked on their waistlines, and shipped from their ports
Crossed by their stars, retracing their course
For the strays of the surf, the orphans afloat
On coffins so often, the rescuing boat

So call me by name, as I call out for yours
So far, so silent; so far from the shores
The wax and the wane, the calm and the storm
Adrift in a dream, bereft, without form

But no sad-eyed trawler will breach the swell’s crest
Awash in white water, while the crooked crow’s nest
Has long been abandoned as the holds are all full
So the sky is my deck now, the ocean my hull

Chips

February 2, 2010

Christmas party in January. And not early January, but quite late. Almost February. Still, it’s a party and we’re not complaining. The Mongolian Barbeque works thus: you pick your own ingredients, the chefs cook it on a huge metal plate, and they give it back to you. It’s nice in theory, but I’m a shit cook. I don’t know how to cook. I don’t know what ingredients go well with what. My husband does all the cooking at home. I used not be so bad, but he was always much handier in the kitchen. And so, over time, the more he has cooked, the better he has gotten. And, predictably, the opposite has happened to me. Now, the only thing I can make well is toast. So leaving it to me to decide what goes in my dish is like letting one of the weakest students in the class decide what the answers to the test are. A nice gesture, but ultimately, a really bad idea.

In the queue for our dishes, Kevin whispers in my ear that he has been stuck sitting beside our director. I am aware that she is actually right behind him, and able to hear him too, but it’s hard to convey this knowledge to him discretely. He glances around, and his embarrassing gaff dawns on him. He goes instantly red. So red, I feared it might be permanent.  Irish people blush like no other people. It’s due to the depths of our shame. Our director doesn’t seem to mind though. I see her smiling to herself.

We get our food. We sit. We eat. We talk. We drink. We merry. All is well. I have always had my reservations about Christmas parties. There’s something about them that briefly turns adults back into teenagers. They are a lottery of regret. Who will wake up tomorrow regretting what? Who will struggle to maintain eye contact with which colleagues for how many weeks to come? Who will cringe the most in the aftermath? But at this stage of the evening, all is going swimmingly. I like this part. This is nice.

After our meal, in a clear demonstration of the fact that democracy does not work, we decide to go to Buskers. No one can even remember how it got into the hat, but Buskers has been chosen, and I insist, in the spirit of that very same democracy, that we respect the outcome of our own election process. Buskers is naff and full of posers. On the other hand, it is quite near. That may well be its only plus though; its nearness. Just down to Temple Bar Square, up Fleet Street, and we’re there. We enter. It’s early, and there are no bouncers at the door. Inside it is bright and offensive. Four blokes have taken up post by what will become the dance floor. They eye us as we enter, still a few shots short of courage. At the bar, the staff are bright and bubbly. Never a good sign. I get the first round. Our drinks are served and we move off, the ground flickering green and blue. I have never trusted establishments that light their floors.

After some time, and several rounds, a few of us come to realise that Buskers is not so bad, especially if you sit outside on the street. It’s quite pleasant out the front. A bit cold, but we can bear it. The music is absent and there is more to look at. It’s almost like not being at Buskers at all. In fact, had we just bought some cans and some deckchairs and sat a few metres to the right, we could have saved ourselves €20 or €30 each.

Darkness comes on as our spirits lift. Though I have no love for our employers, who treat us with such disdain, I have only affection for my colleagues who I am in this boat with. These are good folk here, and it has been good to work with them. They are people with spark and wit. Real people, with open hearts and lively minds, and I am glad to have known them.

But, alas, I am too far gone now, and I move to leave. Goodbyes are said. Hugs are given and taken, and I stumble off onto the shiny Dublin streets. I am tired and I am homeward. I take the 19a from Westmoreland St and sit up top. The bus crosses The Liffey to the North-side. The river is high this evening. On O’Connell Street, shoppers and commuters scurry along the paths. Friends and strangers, tourists and blind dates, await each other at The Spire. Already-full bins have further rubbish creatively added to their tops, like blocks removed from a game of Jenga; precariously placed. The next contributor to this collective house of cards may cause the whole tower of junk to collapse, and will therefore be responsible for all of the fallen litter, and not just his or her own entry. Them’s the rules, and everybody knows it.

I realise I am hungry again. I have drunk too much and have started feeling woozy. It is not so much hunger as a settling of the stomach I’m in need of. Something to soak up the booze. I need something bad for me. Something hot and bad for me. I want chips. A big bag of chips. No wait! Curry chips. Even better. That’s what I want. I want a tray of curry chips. I begin to imagine them. Begin to crave them. I grow impatient. Wanting them now. Wanting them immediately. My hunger increases at every traffic light that stops us. I think of where is best to get them. Where’s nicest. And where’s nearest. For the second time today, the nearness of the place wins out. I get off two stops before mine, and go to Macari’s where there is no queue. I consider getting onion rings too, but no; chips are all I’m really after. I order and am quickly served.

I leave with brown paper bag in hand. I had planned on waiting till I got home before eating them, but I am weak, and I cannot resist. Holding the paper bag and the lid underneath the tray, so as not to burn my left hand, I take the plastic fork with my other and dig in. I know it could be seen as uncouth or graceless behaviour, but I don’t care. Not here. Not in this city. I turn into my estate, and on to my road. And then, just a few houses from my own, a very weird thing happens. Between numbers 33 and 35 is a lane which runs between the roads, and a skip has been there for the past week or so. And as I pass this, a man jumps out from behind it and starts shaking himself at me. This naked guy!  Completely starkers. No mac. No towel or bathrobe. Just shoes. A pair of black shoes. And nothing else. I scream. A short, sharp, high-pitched scream. He continues to dance there with his lad in his hand, shaking it at me – it’s not erect or anything; he’s just swinging it around. And I bolt. My curry chips go flying into the air. I just run, possibly screaming, I’m not sure. I go as fast as my high heels will let me. I get to my gate, push through and run up to my door. I do not look back. I grab my purse and desperately search for my keys. I find them, get the right one, push it into the slot, turn it, enter, and slam the door behind me. My heart is racing, and I am in a suddenly sobering kind of shock.

My husband, hearing my panicked entrance, comes rushing out of the front room to me.

“What happened? What’s going on? Are you ok?”

I don’t know how to respond, but, eventually manage to tell him that I have been flashed by some guy out in the estate. His predictable reaction is to want to go out and get the flasher, and beat him up, or bring him to the police, or who knows – I’m not sure how far he had thought his plan through. He steps out the door and looks out at the road. He sees no one. Then he steps back in, and looks at me.

“What did he look like?”

I don’t know what to say. It happened so quickly.

“I don’t know. He looked… naked.”

“I mean, what kind of guy was he? Old? Young? Tall? Short? What colour hair? Anything?”

I stare back at him speechlessly. My shoulders and arms pull up into an intense shrug and I can’t think of anything at all. I guess I am still in shock. My mind is drawing a total blank. I have absolutely no clue how to describe him. I open my mouth, but can’t seem to get any words out. He stands in front of me impatiently, with a look of urgency and exasperation on his face. “What kind of guy was he!!!”, he repeats.

“What did he look like?”

“Sh-sh-shoes”, I manage to stutter. “b-b-black shoes.”

Haikus

January 13, 2010

Blankets of whiteness
A three-point turn marks the ground
Leaving heart-shaped tracks

Frozen winter steps
The seasons begin to slip
Even cats falter

Star-fallen branches
Needles decorate the floor
Ornaments are boxed

Slush now lines the roads
Another decade looming
Thus far, still unnamed

A lost lark’s feint song
It is not the birds tweeting
Snowmen melt outside

Fraggleplanks

January 6, 2010

Clare looks on calmly as the fraggleplanks board
Fearful, they’ll clamber so their shit can be stored
In overhead lockers and under their places
Costumes all crammed into undersized cases

Rucksacks and backpacks and duty-free bags
Bargaintown prices for bargaintown rags
On guard by their luggage, yet ever alert
They move to their marks, every loudspeaker splurt

The arrival of stewards makes them leave where they sat
They form into queues at the drop of a hat
Coffin-ship scrambles for economy fares
Prairie-dog eyes seek convenient chairs

But this plane won’t take off in separate sections
It flies all at once after several inspections
So while they’re searching conveyor belts desperately
She’ll be leaving the airport unburdened and free

The clutter they carry, the seats that they chase.
They covet their neighbours, and long to change place
The emergency exits, the window or aisle
But Clare just brings teabags, and crisps, and a smile.

Limbs

November 20, 2009

Slowly Friday slips beneath
The gravel which once was concrete
We travel nowhere down this street
As time unravels at our feet

And night comes on without alarm
It takes us in with seasoned charm
The wistful words, the twisted arm
She stays to please, but comes to harm

The orange glows conceal the hours
The hidden hands, the city cowers
Cocooned in cars and lonely towers
Marooned within these walls of ours

And yet, despite her taunts, we dare
To step unchecked into her lair
The fingers tremble in her glare
She does not fear, nor feel, nor care

Numbers

November 6, 2009

Numbers. Everywhere, numbers. Passengers get on. “One fifteen” “Two twenty”. “One sixty five”. That’s all they say. No hello. Just numbers. Sometimes they question me. I respond, “No, take the 16A or the 11” and the like. Numbers. Always numbers. Letters too. But mainly numbers. I have a number also. D12. It has replaced my name. It is how headquarters know me. “D12, you’re the 39A at 7:15.” And it’s how I introduce myself to them on the radio too.

I stare out through the windshield out at a sea of license plates. Countries with their names sliced: IRL, ENG, NED, FRA. Counties gutted of their letters: CN, WW, LK, MN. They’re bringing in postcodes soon. All that clambering for upper-class addresses, and soon our homes too will be reduced to numbers.

From the table of elements’ atomic numbers to the galaxies Abell2667 and IOK1, we have numbered everything. Before me the traffic stutters forward, stopping and starting, engines quickly resuming their gentle murmurs. And the rain drifts across the day, decorating the pane in tear-like drops, trickling down the glass in ever-changing glances; rivulets joining up and moving off in larger diagonal currents. Numbers. Everywhere, numbers.

Daylights

November 2, 2009

It’s funny how bright this place seems now, these fields, open and expansive. Even the woods feel light and easy, unburdened by memory, unhindered by regret. I stroll around the edge, stopping every now and then to read the names which have been carved into the barks of trees; wondering if I might recognise any. So far, I haven’t. Some are barely legible; only a vague imprint that something was once written there remaining. The trees also struggling to conceal their scars; each year falling a little further inside themselves.

It has been so long since I have been back here. My brothers – born a year either side of me: Darren, older; Shaun, younger – have long since left. As have I. We chased this place away when we could. It’s funny though; growing up we spent so much time running about these fields and woods that I keep expecting either one of them to jump out at me from where they have been hiding in the long grass, or to drop down before me from a branch above. I keep glancing over my shoulder, in case they’re coming up behind me with water-balloons.

You always had to be on your toes with Shaun. Ever-grinning, he was always up to something, and I was usually its victim – he was scared of pulling pranks on Darren, scared of how he might react. Shaun was an interminable messer. That cheeky smile fixed to his face, he was more prone to fits of giggles than anyone I’ve known. Strange how, when we meet these days, the memory and the man seem so at odds. The years have pulled down his cheeks. He smiles now only with his lips. The jokes no longer funny, his eyes grew dim.

A year and a week older than me, Darren was the rock of us. It almost seemed like he was born to be older than us, as though he had chosen the role. He was always the one with the plan and Shaun and I would follow him regardless. I remember the bridge he built. We found a log deep in the forest, a large trunk, and he pulled it at least a hundred metres along the forest floor, waded the water with it resting on his shoulder, and laid its end on the opposite bank. Shaun and I had given up after an hour; feeling ourselves to be more of a hindrance than a help. But Darren pulled that log all day, without a break, half a metre at a time. Step by painstaking step. And when it was done, he was proud. And he was happy. When he set his mind to something he could not be stopped. No matter how hard it was, or how long it took, he would not give up until he had succeeded. He never complained and he never cried. I remember how, once, while cutting roses for our grandmother, he fell into a mass of briars, and came out covered in thorns looking unrecognisable. He was so cut-up that I cried, and I could not look at him, but he didn’t shed a single tear. He didn’t even seem upset. And I really believed that he could not be hurt.

I continue walking along the track where the field and forest meet. No kids play here today. Maybe they don’t come here any longer. I go on a little further, and then stop; contemplating whether or not to venture into the woods a little. I look in past the trees, and then back out across the field. It is so much brighter here than I had recalled. Even the breeze is light. And as the sun streams down gently, I am stricken with sadness; a sense of grief, knowing I have lost something, but unable to remember what. And I steal off into the past. We catch minnows in the shallow pools; and cautiously inch across them when they freeze each winter. A fox’s den in the undergrowth; we lie in wait, us three, camouflaged, under mounds of leaves. Defending tree-huts from invasion, alliances rising and falling. In the long grass, after school; nervously; my first kiss. Her name escapes my memory, her face too.

It’s strange how far we let ourselves drift. Drifting off, and away, and apart. We were so inseparable then; my brothers and I, keepers of a sacred bond. Now we are grown, and we do not share our fears anymore. We divided them up between us, and each buried a piece.

For there are those other memories too. The ones we hid, and bade ourselves keep. The ones that Shaun could not laugh off; that Darren could not fight. Memories of hiding out here past dusk, refusing to go home; of the things we could not do then, of the things we did not understand. Feeling afraid. And over time, that fear became anger, and I could not put it out. We locked them up in the dark, and made them dull; those memories. We left them in our wake, so that they might fade. And the details slip away towards obscurity, but never fully get there. The colours dampen in the mind. Who wore what when? Who did what to whom? And in what order? These things go. Dialogue is erased, the faces are drawn blank; the light drained.

I look at the land about me, the woods, the sheer brightness of the day, the colours so vibrant in the daylight, and it hardly seems like this could have been the place.

Our memories are elusive. They paint their own past. Or cover it over. We are left with a negative; a small dark clip of the truth, and that is all that we are able or prepared to see. We are afraid to blow it up, afraid of the bigger picture. These things we have seen; they have shaped us. They direct us still. And we will keep them with us always, whether we mean to or not. So, no, we have not forgotten; but then again, nor do we remember.

Crumbs

October 24, 2009

How long had it lain there? Hiding behind the remote controls; controls which either work for appliances that don’t, or vice versa. If one of them did function, I have no doubt that I would, this very instant, be upturning the entire front room, looking for it, and effing and blinding the blasted thing, and breathing loudly through my nostrils, and cursing the fuckhead who had put it in such a ridiculously unfindable place. Naturally, it would turn out to have been me. And, it would be down the back of the sofa; not that it had slipped there. No. I would have put it there to hide it on someone else, and then I would have forgotten I’d done it, and the prank would have backfired on myself.

I have lost so much money down the back of that sofa while napping in the evenings, that I now look on it as a kind of comfortable piggy bank. In a couple of years, if the housing market and my increasing narcolepsy continue in their current directions, I’ll find enough change down there to buy a nice place overlooking a nicer place overlooking an even nicer place overlooking what’s left of The Liffey.

But, it is still looking at me from behind the remote controls, inviting me to taste it. Cellophane wrapped, its gorgeous bun-ness tempting me to partake of its delicious chocolaty-ness. How long has it been there though? I saw it first some time last week. Where did it come from? I’m not sure. I don’t know whose it is. Every evening I sit here with my housemates talking, and there sits the little cake on the edge of the table crouching behind the zappers, looking up at me. But now, I am alone. And I am weighing the options in my head.

It has an air about it, that cake, as though it had been specially baked for someone, and therefore I ought not steal their gift, and yet I also think that had its owner really appreciated their gift, they should have eaten it by now, and if they had been waiting to eat it later and savour it, and cherish it, and give it its due attention, they ought not to have left it in such a conspicuous place. The reasoning process stirs. I already know the verdict. I just need to justify it, work out the probable cause, tamper with the evidence, select the jury. We all know I’m going to eat that cake. I just need to go through the mental motions or else it would just be heartless. Who would abandon such cocoa-laden delicacy? Who would ignore such saliva-inducing chocolacy? It has been slightly crushed or misshapen by its ungrateful intended eater. This cake’s owner loved it not, not like its baker did. It has been left to me to appreciate this crumbly muffinesque offering. In fact, not only would it be right for me to eat it, I fear it would be wrong for me not to. It is my duty to eat it. It is my calling.

I move the remote controls aside and eye it greedily. I pick it up and hold it to the light, like a priest with communion. The cellophane wrapping glistens; hopefully it has kept it fresh. I pull the cellophane off slowly. I bring the bun to my nose and inhale the care with which it was made. I bite into it and pause; even though it’s not, it still tastes warm. I hold it in my mouth for a second before I begin to chew, slowly at first, then faster, before I swallow it down into my hungry, hungry belly. The second bite I eat a little more quickly, and then I just shove the whole rest of the bun, over three quarters of it, in to my mouth, in a moment of uncontrollable self-indulgence, crumbs flying, drool slipping out, murmurs escaping in little ‘m’s and groans. And it is so satisfying, so good, like I imagine a vampire’s first kill must be.

And just then Damo walks in. He fixes me angrily. My jaws cease from their movement.
“Eating my bun, are ye?”
What can I say? I clearly am. I look up at him with what I imagine is a mixture of guilt and surprise. He looks at me with disdain; a look of continued disappointment in me.

And then, in my surprise, the cake, reduced to mulch in my mouth, goes slightly down my throat and gets stuck. And suddenly I can’t breathe. I try punching myself in the back, but I can’t dislodge it. Damo stands watching me choking, as though deciding whether or not to intervene; whether my life is really worth saving. I stand up, and with my eyes, and ever-reddening face, I plead him to come to my aid. I beseech him. He looks doubly irritated now, but he turns me around, and putting his fists under my ribcage, he pulls up sharply, giving my lungs a sharp squeeze, the food is forcibly ejected from my throat. It flies out of my mouth and lands in a mess on the carpet. I fall to my knees, gasping the air I was briefly deprived of.

Damo turns to leave the room. He looks down at me unsympathetically, shaking his head

“Get yourself together”, he says disapprovingly, and he walks out.

I am in a heap on the floor, legs tucked under me, with one hand supporting my upper body. I am dejected and humiliated. I disgust myself. I am shamed by my feebleness; my lack of will power and restraint; my clumsiness. Why do I do these things I wonder, and why do they happen to ‘me’.

Before me, the ex-muffin soils the floor. I look down at the brown crumbs scattered there. Amongst the crumbs lies the offending object, still stuck to itself in a sort of ball. That mass of chocolaty brown that was stuck in my throat, that murderous lump. ‘It sure tasted good though’, I recall. It sure did. Maybe the nicest muffin I’ve ever known. I wonder how something so simple could give such pleasure. And I’ve already chewed most of it up. And it’s not like it was in someone else’s mouth. And it’s not like anyone would know. I scoop it up and look at it closely, pulling off a small piece of fluff that has attached itself. I look about me, and listen for steps.

‘It’d be a terrible shame to see it wasted’, I say to myself.

And then I toss the chewed-up chocolate back into my mouth, savour its loveliness for one short but-oh-so-sweet moment, and then send it straight down my gullet, and on into my belly where it belongs.

Leaves

October 17, 2009

He always goes to the same place, when he goes. We tend to let him there a while before we’d go after. Usually, one of his brothers goes to get him. And if they fail to coax him out, I go.

Behind the old library are the woods. They stand still; quiet in the sunlight. As I enter, looking up, the sky above seems to shift from blue to white. But, as I go deeper, the sky itself gets lost; pushed aside by ancient branches, blacked out by a sea of leaves. It is neither night nor day here. A few minutes in, lies a long-fallen oak, around which have grown bushes and brambles, which seem to be consuming it. It is here where I find him.

I walk around it to where he hides. Even though, I cannot hear him, I know he is there. I can picture him, trying to be silent. I speak to him softly. He doesn’t answer. I try again, and he tells me to go away. But of course I do not leave. I move to find him. I part the briars which dangle down over the log and see him sitting within. Only his face breaks the dark. He looks up at me, but does not return my smile. And we stay like this a while, mainly in silence; me, outside crouching; him, inside with his knees to his chin.

And, so I edge in further, lifting the thorns carefully, stooping my way through, and sitting down beside him. The brambles form a kind of roof. Last year’s leaves carpet the ground. It is cosy: his den. I like it here. And I can see a bit of me in him. I can see why he likes it in here. I almost wish I’d found this place first. We sit here in silence for a time; I don’t know how long. This place is without time. It may be afternoon outside, but in here, there is no day; the leaves having extracted the light.

Eventually, he speaks. “Anthony McBride stood on my train set and crushed it”, he tells me; his tone betraying no anger, only sadness.

“I’m sure he didn’t mean to”, I assure him.

But, no, he tells me how Anthony had explained what he was going to do, before, while, and after he did it, and I feel cheap for doubting my boy. That train set didn’t cost much, but I know what it meant to him.

I turn to him and thumb his cheek, clearing the dirt, which always seems to make its way towards young boys’ faces. I tell him that he is better than guys like Anthony McBride, and tell him how good he is, and how strong, and lowering my eyebrows, leaning closer, I tell him conspiratorially how we are going to show him. He turns his head and catches my eyes.

And then, bottom lip quivering, eyes welling up with tears on the verge of escape, he adds, “And Mary Jo says my ears look like a rabbit’s.” As though, somehow, this was worse.