After Junichiro Tanizaki.
Give us this day your problems.
Allow us to torment ourselves
about shadow and beauty and good taste
and we’ll swap all that we’ve got
for one hour in the life
of a tortured artiste
who wants to sit in a fancy lav
and listen to a mosquito.
We’d leave the shadows
to the banshee and the pooka,
and the nun who died young –
she lurks and snaps bony fingers
as your backside hangs
through a hole in a bench.
You tilt forward to tear
a scrap of newspaper.
All useless decoration stripped
in Sunday’s Well where Little Nellie
dances for Holy God,
Artane boys march
and Heaney’s henhouse child
views the moon
through a chink in a plank.
Ancient Magdalenes and crones –
sister-stitchers with blackened teeth
and white, pinched faces glowing
overmodest grey kimonos –
enhance heaven’s cloth,
embroider Limerick lace.
Give us this day.
(published in The Stinging Fly.)
after Padraic H. Pearse.
I grudge them –
more than any of you will ever know –
my two strong sons
and their stupid, bloody protest.
I have cried all day and all night,
every day and every night
since then, ever and forever –
no amen on my tongue –
for Pat, our melancholic prophet,
fainting at a drop of blood,
but calling out for insurrection
over an old warrior’s grave.
He set off that morning,
his pawn-shop sword
threatening to catch the spokes
and throw him off his bike.
And Willie. Will, my baby boy –
his big brother’s shadow –
took the tram to town
to throw away his life too.
You must not grieve,
You too will be blessed,
Pat wrote to me
that terrible day.
I tend the graves.
I feel the burn of lime
on my boys’ flesh.
(published in The Wake of the Rising, The Stinging Fly.)
For Garda Adrian Donohoe (1971 – 2013).
When Death was a sacrament and needed to lie down,
on a feather bed with cool white sheets and a quilt
made from the remnants of your great-aunts’ tea-dresses,
there was a candle – blessed and holy –
steadied in your hand by a neighbour;
sacred oils and Extreme Unction;
a litany of saints and martyrs to light, to guard, to guide you;
and tears on a face of love.
when smoke and badness billowed from a car-window;
when the shotgun’s snout slid out to answer the policeman’s knock,
Tell me that the old ones climbed the stile –
or slipped through the bars of the gate –
rustled their way up the hill and along the road
in their sepia gowns and wedding-suits
to kneel on the wet tarmac, to cradle your head, to hold your hand.
Tell me that they looked on your face with love.
(published in The SHop.)
After the nuns left
we noticed that a hare –
a beast of a fellow
with strong back legs,
and a thick fur coat –
had moved in.
Superior now, our hare
lays waste to what is left
of the lay-sisters herb garden,
savages Reverend Mother’s salad bed
and emerges fragrant from the Mistress
of Novices’ lavender border.
Sweet and sated,
it bounds through the cloisters –
not a chance of prayer
passing its cloven lip –
its soul long saved.
(published in The Best New British and Irish Poets, 2017)
Once, the city stood ankle-deep in snow
and in a single bed in Rathmines,
we listened to the joyful news –
sombrely announced at the scrag end
of universal bad tidings –
that schools had closed until further notice.
We walked to Morton’s for butter and fruit, sugar and spice.
My cowboy boots let in wet, your work-boots weathered all.
Rolling pastry with a beer bottle
we raised a blizzard of our own,
filled sweet shortcrust with cloves and apple,
challenged flatland’s drag of Vesta curry and cigarettes
as molten caramel flowed,
burned the rented oven.
(published in Poetry Ireland.)
On one of those hot summer’s mornings
between the Troubled Times and the Emergency,
he found a penny outside the mart.
Backed by the harp of Saorstat Eireann,
a proud hen – with confident wings
and abundant tail feathers – sheltered
five chickens and promised better times to come
for some, if not for all.
He remembers considering the box on the nun’s table –
the slot, snugly cut to fit a brown penny,
over the picture of a hungry child –
but his small palms still smarted
from an encounter with the good sister’s strap.
So, when his father matched the copper with another –
the price of a bag of liquorice sweets –
he forgot the nun’s black baby.
He thinks on these things now,
as a young woman – with liquorice braids
and the whitest teeth he has ever seen –
coaxes him with custard-spoonfuls
and calls him her darling boy.
(published in Skylight 47)
TARMAC, for Garda Adrian Donohoe (1971 – 2013) and other poems are © A.M. Cousins