In that fin-de-siècle
world of The Stone Roses,
baggy trousers and duffels,
e-tabs and Oasis,
you dressed in the style
of a wartime Parisienne,
a Coco Chanel
bringing glamour again
to the occupied streets
of grey Belfast;
in Edwardian boots,
and lips always glossed,
you visited me
in my rundown bedsit
to drink wine and talk poetry,
or my lack of it,
till, like ‘Norwegian Wood’,
in a candlelit aureole,
you said ‘It’s time for bed’
in a lilac camisole,
for all the world
like Jean Simmons’ Estella
tempting Pip in the gnarled
Satis House, or, wait, Ursula
in Women in Love,
teaching cold-hearted Birkin
how to hurt and to live
‘with complete self-abandon’
in the ruins of history.
No wonder then, is it,
that I live with your memory?
Muses don’t often visit.
14 & 15
STAINED GLASS WINDOWS
In the city’s last dawn I came to light.
A shiver of sky ran down the Lagan.
Quarried from air, the chapel of Saint Anne
gazed out over marsh. The bastions had dug
a grave for themselves and slowly sank down.
The rumours were spreading. A crusading knight,
back from the wars, had set loose a plague.
His eyes reflected the deaths of all men.
Adamant pillars of the lost city hall
held elders, rotting, in sacks of quicklime.
The stained glass windows of my cathedral
grew holy again in the salt-sharp sunshine.
I walked through morning. Crows reeled above.
I found one untouched. We rebuilt from love.
The October Girl
October, when the world prepares to die
again, oak trees, sycamores, beeches ...
I’m waiting for her one bright Saturday
afternoon, when the autumn air beseeches
some natural miracle. The ‘Holy Land’
of Magdala Street, or Fitzroy Avenue,
holds its breath, can hardly understand
the child-like vision slipping into view
in auburn sunlight. I’m trembling like a leaf,
half scared, half hopeful, not quite ready
to encounter again the sycamore-key twirl
of her vintage dress, a stylish waif,
all coolness, breezing in, and smiling steady
like someone in a poem, called ‘The October Girl’.
On Through Jerusalem
I lived on a street behind Queen’s University.
An Old Testament time in a ‘Holy Land’ garret,
living on air, filled with wonder and prophecy
at starlings migrating into the blue
river-sweet distance. Dusks were a claret
to drink from, like silence, waiting for you
turning a corner on the lips of Jehosaphat,
snooded in twilight, through incense off the sea.
Through Cairo, Palestine, on through Jerusalem
we wandered like exiles in search of a land
where things were as promised. The river we heard
ran in our veins. Evening made Word.
We anointed ourselves in all that dark chrism,
believed in each other as another day dawned.
The piano-motif from Halloween.
We’re walking home from our third or fourth date.
I’m telling you ghost stories.
FOR ALL YOU LADIES
Alone in my bedsit, well after three
in the morning, my head swimming with beer,
I checked out The Marshall Mathers LP,
psychosis sc .. screaming from the CD,
and danced through the dark for over an hour,
alone in my bedsit, well after three;
I said, you don’t wanna f**k wit’ Shady
pumped through the night; I didn’t care—
I checked out The Marshall Mathers LP,
got lost in the music, the black melody
of depression, Detroit, slashed wrists, despair,
alone in my bedsit, well after three.
Remember, remember, REMEMBER ME???
howling in my head like a massacre,
I checked out The Marshall Mathers LP
one more time, just for Christine and Britney
and all you ladies ... sh*t ... motherf**ker ...
Alone in my bedsit, well after three,
I checked out to The Marshall Mathers LP.
The Ipcress File
I used to live
in the very same flat
as Harry Palmer
in The Ipcress File,
got up in the morning,
made filter coffee,
put on my two-button,
straightened my tie
and went out to explore
the dingy streets
of Cold War Belfast,
while John Barry played
an autumnal hymn
in the back of my mind.
LATE NIGHT DOUBLE-BILL
The Night of the Hunter
Across the Mississippi delta
of the thirties
brave John and sweet little Pearl
still run. That dirty
Jezebel, their ma, grows green deep down
in a lily-hole,
tied upright in a Ford Model T. The sun
is backcloth to the devil
riding the horizon at dawn, noon, dusk.
Does it sleep,
this fear yellow as corn-whiskey?
The moon is ripe.
Now, where is that old woman
who herds stray children home?
What, or wait, who
is that in the dark?
The camera’s eye
will follow the arc
of a madman’s leer
from floor to ceiling,
then back to the floor,
in close up, or far away,
mounted on walls,
what seem to be birds of prey;
falcons, owls, eagles,
all inviting us in
with the same empty stare
as that faceless old woman
in the quaint rocking chair.
It’s just after dawn
on a June morning
and I’m thinking of you.
The birds are singing—
a fresh take on Gershwin-
’s Rhapsody in Blue.
I imagine the city,
from Dunmurry to St. Dominic’s
a starling’s sky-acre—
the whole sweep to the docks
opening like a flower,
or a modernist symphony.
And through this mêlée
of oboes and violins,
birds, churches, sea, cranes,
sky dreamt of by Monet,
you travel by early train
in far away silence.