Category Archives: Poetry

So Long, Halong (Redux))

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So Long, Halong

As we ride out of Cat Ba

through a valley circled

by limestone crags,

a compilation of pop ballads

from the seventies and eighties

oozes from the speakers

and the affable English backpackers

at the back of the bus

groan in faux horror

as Aerosmith follows Bryan Adams

follows George Michaels

follows Michael Jackson

but when the Bee Gees launch

“How Deep Is Your Love”

the backpackers quieten down

and the driver stops honking his horn

at the dogs, children, women

in cone hats and cyclists

with finely balanced cargos

who drift carelessly

in front of the bus

as if it was an invisible

visitor from the future,

and we all strain against

the tug of the song’s chorus

far too cool to sing along

except for one backpacker

let’s call him Nigel

or Christian, or Jason, or Justin

who, in a high piping voice

declares his oneness

with the song’s embattled lovers.

This poem was first published in Oddball Magazine, and is a re-post from 2016.

 

The Anthropocene Hymnal (plus Fracking Song Reprise)

Ingrid Wilson of Experiments in Fiction has put together a collection of poems called The Athropocene Hymnal (63 poems in all, from 34 poets). Publication date is July 24th. Many of the poets, including myself are regular contributors to the blog earthweal. I have 2 poems in the collection (thanks, Ingrid, for including me!). All profits from the sale of the book will go to the World Wild Life Fund. So be sure to check out Ingrid’s blog on July 24th!

Brendan over at earthweal has published an interview with Ingrid and also more details about the publication, so check out Brendan’s post here.

The collage on the cover was contributed by the very talented Kerfe Roig.

In his earthweal prompt this week, Brendan says :

For this week’s challenge, let’s take up her (Ingrid’s) call and write a poem of the Anthropocene which does not compromise.

This is a poem I wrote a while back (it appeared before on earthweal) and previously published on this blog, but think it fits the challenge.

Fracking Song

You’re standing on the corner
Watching the trucks go rolling past
Pumping out their diesel fumes
Pumping out that carbon gas

It’s the middle of winter
And it’s twenty below
And that gas just sits there
With nowhere to go.

Something’s wrong in the valley
Babies stillborn
Ten in one year
And they  call that the norm

Something’s wrong in the valley
Something toxic in the ground
Something wrong in the valley
Since the frackers came to town.

That rock’s been down forever
With its hydrocarbon payload
When they  blow it all apart
They  can’t control where it goes

And that water that’s left standing
Evaporating in the sun
The residue will be with us
Long after they are gone

Something’s wrong in the valley
Babies stillborn
Ten in one year
And they call that the norm

Something’s wrong in the valley
Something toxic in the ground
Something wrong in the valley
Since the frackers came to town.

You can blame the politicians
The special interests groups
Blame the fracking company
They all don’t give a fuck

There’s only one thing they understand
One thing that they know
Keep riding that fossil fool train
As far as it will go.

There’s something wrong in the valley
Babies stillborn
Placentas like ribbons
And they call that the norm

Something’s wrong in the valley
Something toxic in the ground
Something wrong in the valley
Since the frackers came to town

Rugged Individual in a Cowboy Hat

Rugged Individual in a Cowboy Hat

He weighs about 300 lbs
is wearing a cowboy hat
and an XXXL tee-shirt,
made by an underpaid worker
in a communist country.

This paragon of rugged individualism
this zaftig freedom fighter
this ersatz John Wayne
is telling the interviewer
he doesn’t believe in vaccination passports

because, you know, I mean
it’s a threat to our personal freedom

if we go down that road
what’s next

and I’m thinking
yes there are slopes out there
and yes they are slippery
what next indeed…
driver’s licenses
birth certificates
visas to enter countries
security checks in airports
customs
concealed weapons licenses

but most of all I’m thinking
God help the horse
God help the horse.

Taking part in Open Link Weekend over at earthweal

The Parrot in the Liquor Store (Wild Thing)

The Parrot in the Liquor Store (Wild Thing)

I’m standing in the liquor store
staring at a bottle of Pinot Grigio
when Wild Thing by the Troggs
comes on the store speakers
and I’m thinking, to quote Leonard,
that song is a shining artifact of the past
and just as I’m thinking that
one of the Troggs launches into
a bizarre ocarina solo
and I turn around to find myself face to face
with a large blue and yellow parrot
perched on the leather-gloved hand
of a lady who has seen hippier times
never at a loss for words, I say,
“that’s a nice parrot”
and the lady says
“I have three more at home
one of them is a real man-hater
but this one here is my favowite
he’s a vewy, vewy, vewy nice pawwot”

she says, nuzzling the parrot, nose to beak
the parrot inflates its technicolor plumage
let’s out an almighty squawk
and displays its full wing span
and I’m thinking
Wow, there’s a ocarina solo in the middle of Wild Thing,
who’s that on ocarina
I think it’s the lead singer
what was his name,
Reg Presley, I think,
yeah, that’s it
Reg Presley.”

Taking part in Open Link Weekend over at earthweal.

Runcible

Runcible

The other day
I came across the word ‘runcible’
as in ‘runcible spoon’.

The word was invented by Edward Lear
as in ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’.

There is something risible about the word ‘runcible’
as in ‘laughter provoking’
which is different than ‘laughable’,
‘laughable’ has connotations of contempt
as in ‘derisible’ meaning ‘worthy of derision’,
‘derisible’ is almost an anagram of ‘desirable’
but back to ‘runcible’,
there is a great bounce, a great versatility to the word:

he walked out the morning after
humming a runcible tune

he had a runcible air about him
an odour that lingered
long after he had left the room.

the sun rose, red and runcible
in a diffident sky

I once spent the best part of six hour plane journey trying to describe the sunrise. There was no inflight entertainment, I could have used the downloadable app but I couldn’t imagine watching out of date Jason Bateman movies for 6 hours on my phone, so I had picked up a Craig Johnson novel, The Cold Dish, to get me through the flight.
This is the first novel in the Walt Longmire series. Walt is a sheriff in modern day Absaroka County, Wyoming. His wife has been dead 4 years and his life is a bit of a mess but there are various people looking out for him including his best friend, Henry Standing Bear. I know what you are thinking – an American law man with a Native American sidekick!! Anyway Craig Johnson navigates this well enough. There are a number of women in Walt’s life, including his daughter Cady, his dispatcher Ruby, a café owner Dorothy, Vic –his deputy, and Vonnie – a romantic interest. Vonnie is rich, beautiful, and troubled. They are all strong women and they don’t take no shit from Walt.
Walt is at Henry’s bar talking to Vonnie when he gets a call from Vic that a body has been found in a gulley up in the mountains. Walt heads to the scene, the body is hard to get at and the crime scene is complicated by the fact that a herd of sheep has surrounded the body, shat upon it and chewed at the clothes. The body turns out to be Cody Pritchard, a local boy who was involved in the rape of a girl from the reservation and got off lightly. It’s early morning by the time the crime scene has been secured and there is this moment after a long night where Walt, the narrator, says : “I gazed back up to the patch of sage and scrub weed and watched the sun free itself from the red hills”.
This is what amazes me about novelists, they have to handle character, plot, dialogue and create a world for characters to inhabit, for events to occur and they still find time to come up with lines like I have just quoted. So that was it for me, I spent the rest of the flight trying to come up with different ways to describe the sunrise.

As for the book, it’s well worth a read. Craig Johnson creates believable characters, characters to care about, to root for and the whole thing meanders along laconically with lots of witty banter and joshing – the kind of  joshing you would find in a small town cafe at 10  in the morning, one of those cafes with gingham tables and a robust waitress with chemically damaged hair who won’t take any shit from the bunch of plaid shirted retired guys who turn up every morning to shoot the breeze.

the sun rose, red and runcible
in a diffident sky
.

Taking part in Open Link Weekend over at earthweal

Mr. Cahoots

Mr. Cahoots

In the dream
I’m walking in East Vancouver

the setting sun illuminates
the low shoebox buildings

the streets are empty
except for me
and the guy who’s following me

his name is Mr. Cahoots

he’s wearing a pink top hat
a pink frock coat
pink flared pants
and gold boots

mostly he follows
but every now and again
he scuttles past
and walking backwards
he gives me the jazz hands
and laughs in my face

his eyes are manic
his nose is aquiline
and I know what he is saying
although he isn’t saying anything

he’s saying
You! You are not in control!

he’s saying
You! You are not in control!

In response to Brendan’s prompt over at earthweal

Write a dream poem using its language and rhetoric and dark sense. What moony light does it cast on the day? If you care, add to the poem or a note with any associations from waking life that the dream seems to be commenting on. If the dream is your unconscious speaking to you, what is it trying to help your waking writing mind to see?

My sister died recently after a very short illness. She was the eldest, there are six of us. I had the dream described in the above poem around the time she died. A family , particularly a large family is, in some ways, a collection of vantage points and we lost our top vantage point, the one who had seen it all. Now five seems like a very small number.

Exhibition

Exhibition

They’re taking photographs down by the water
in front of the cubist whale
float planes take off from the harbor
the mountains slumber in the morning haze.

Inside the convention center
paragraphs of opaque prose
attempt to describe the genius
of Vincent, Vincent van Gogh.

But if painting is the medium
there is no need for go-betweens
it’s all there on the canvas
the painting is what the painting seems.

Taking part in Open Link over at dverse

Photo taken at Imagine Van Gogh: The Immersive Exhibition, the convention centre Vancouver

That Poetic Hum (edit)

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That Poetic Hum

That poetic hum
your ear always on the alert
for the cadence in the everyday,
that unconscious internal rhyme
there’s a barber shop on Dunbar Street;
or that line that requires a non sequitur
she was a woman before her time
and you say to everyone’s irritation
in a town lost to time.
Then when you find that seed
that germ of a poem
you are lost to all around –
family, colleagues, friends
your head in the clouds;
and when you poke your head through
the accumulated cumulus
you come face to face
with another poet who says
that last line’s a bugger, eh?
and you say
it most certainly is
it most certainly is.

This is a revision of a previous post.

Desolation Row Revisited

Desolation Row Revisited

A guy from Northern Ireland
introduced me to this song
Bird’s Eye Frozen Food Factory
he sang it all night shift long.

Highway 61 Revisited
last track, second side
I’ve still got it on vinyl
but now I listen on Spotify

the reedy wheeze of harmonica
Dylan’s laconic drawl
Charlie McCoy on Spanish guitar
the lyric’s surrealistic sprawl

and the melody is quite simple
but that doesn’t matter, no
as Dylan weaves his tapestry
on Desolation Row.

Taking part in Open Link over at dverse.

Toad at the Gates of Doom (Edit)

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Toad at the Gates of Doom

Outside the Gates of Hades
sits a cross-eyed toad
beside a burnt-out serpent
a broker and a phone.

Outside the Gates of Heaven
sits an angel in disguise
beside a corpulent bishop
with ecstasy in his eyes

and the sign on the gate says:

Closed for Renovation
no judgement today
if you’re looking for accommodation
clear off, go away.

God is on vacation
taking a well-earned break
there’s only so much suffering
one true God can take

So, get your ass back down there
be good to everyone
drink lots of water
and try to get along.

Brendan’s challenge this week over at Earthweal is to write of a voyage to the Otherworld. As he explains:

I have used the medium of Irish myth, but voyages to the Otherworld are universal. Journey there this week from inside your own story-cycle, and report on the news you find there.

I was born and educated in Ireland and that education did cover Irish (pagan/Christian) myths and legends but the dominant Otherworlds by that point had become Heaven and the everlasting fire of Hell. Irish Catholicism is indeed a rough beast . Somewhere in between these poles, the minor worlds of Purgatory and Limbo floated. So when I read Brendan’s quote I thought of this poem (previously posted)

Note on the title:

This poem title came about because, for a brief period, I was listening to prog metal. Brief because, like all things prog, the talent rarely matches the ambition, the concepts. An exception would be Pink Floyd ( Piper at the Gates of Dawn) who were a progressive band but they were successful because they could write songs and had one of the best lyricists in rock, the concepts were secondary. Prog metal players, from what I can tell , are accomplished musicians – the guitarists can play at incredible speeds and the drummers sound like they are descended from the octopus but the lyrics are banal at best and the melodies vestigial. The album titles, though, are always interesting and that’s where this poem started – I was playing around with making up titles for prog metal concept albums…the poem evolved from there.

Willie’s Oasis (The Mitchell Feeney Project)

(Willie’s Oasis…a song about looking for drink in all the wrong places)

This a song from my collaboration with John Mitchell (The Mitchell-Feeney Project).

I wrote the lyrics and John did pretty much everything else (except the violin)

The lyric was adapted from a poem I wrote called “A Dry Country in Arkansas”. The poem was published some time ago in Cyphers,  a long -running Irish literary magazine. When I gave the lyric to John, I had no concept what kind of song would emerge, I couldn’t have been happier with what he did. I’ll let John explain…

“Willie’s Oasis” turned out to be quite a challenge musically. I loved the feeling of the tune, that southern heat out on Highway 82, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t hear the music. I tried using my electric guitars, my acoustics, I even tried my piano, but no matter what key I played in and what chords I used, I couldn’t make it work. So I decided to use technology, and I searched through some of my pre-recorded samples and found this rough sounding, bluesy guitar riff. As soon as I started to work with it and edit the sample, add a few more samples, voila, “Willie’s Oasis” appeared.The only live things I put on this tune were my handclaps and my vocals. 

I decided that it needed something else, so I called a wonderful violin player friend of mine named Ben Mink and asked if he would put some fiddle on the tune. Modern technology allows me to send him my tracks, he puts on the violin and sends it back to me via e-mail. We were never in the same room. I expected him to put some real down-home fiddle on, but he completely fooled me and played the most smoking electric violin parts that took the song over the edge. 

(A note about the violin player, Ben Mink: Ben co wrote “Constant Craving” with KD Lang. The song won KD Lang a Grammy in 1993. Ben and KD Lang also got co-writing credits on a Rolling Stones song, “Anybody Seen My Baby”, because the Stones noticed that the chorus of their song had similarities to the chorus of “Constant Craving”).

Palinode (for dverse)

Palinode

I wish I hadn’t written
that poem that I regret
what I regret the most about it
is that I haven’t written it yet.

I wish I hadn’t written
a verse that makes no sense
you can’t regret the future
regret is past or present tense.

Grace over at dverse asks us to write a palinode.

“A palinode or palinody is an ode or song that retracts or recants a view or sentiment to what the poet wrote in a previous poem. “

She also quotes Ogden Nash which kind of inspired the above bit of nonsense!

Living Off The Grid

Living Off the Grid

The sun with rare generosity
beats down on the solar panels
on the roof of Vincent’s log cabin.

The first sentence of his organic novel
The abattoir, for once, was silent
sits alone on his laptop screen.

This is the seed from which will spring
plot, character, content.
He gets up, walks out through the kitchen door

through the tortured arch of his driftwood arbor
and into the vegetable garden
where he urinates in a jagged arc

sprinkling life-giving nutrients
on the unsuspecting butter lettuce.
Returning to his desk

he taps out another sentence:
With his mother’s mop, he wipes
the blood from the kitchen floor.

Why so morbid?
It’s warm, he’s feeling drowsy,
he detects a faint signal from a long-dormant source

like the distant ping from a submarine
at the bottom of the ocean.
He should invite someone for dinner,

the lady who sells jam at the Saturday market, perhaps,
or the angry sculptress – she of the tangled hair,
the scrap metal raptors, the acetylene scent.

The jam lady it is.
Bottle of wine from the retired lawyer’s vineyard,
salmon from the gnarled fishermen down at the dock,

try a little humor,
ask her if raspberry jam is a male preserve,
make a nice salad. What’s the worst that could happen?

This poem first appeared a little while back in “The Basil O’Flaherty” .

It was also published previously on this blog, thought it was worth another look.

The Wrong Way Home (a ghazal from the past)

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The Wrong Way Home

happy hours and peeler bars
he’s taking the wrong way home

a friendly toke, a line of coke
he’s taking the wrong way home

the night is young, pass that bong
he’s taking the wrong way home

a McFlurry, an Indian curry
he’s taking the wrong way home

a pounding head, a stranger’s bed
he’s taking the wrong way home

early dawn, suitcase on the lawn
he’s found his way home.

Wander List

Slim’s Trip

he was appalling in Nepal
patronising in Patagonia
fractious in Frankfurt
stoned in Estonia

he was paralytic in Paris
he had a toke in Tokyo
he was hammered in Hamburg
stoic in Stockholm

apoplectic on the Appalachian Trail.

A version of this poem was posted in 2018.

Moth Balls, Skunks and Cedar

Lichen on Cedar

Moth Balls, Skunks and Cedar

Last night it teemed with rain,
now the garden fence steams in the morning sun.

That fence has been there
oscillating between disrepair and repair
since we moved in.

The posts are the weak points,
when you dig down
the ground teems with wood bugs and weevils
gorging on that succulent cedar.

The garden shed is also cedar.
One summer, a family of skunks
made their home underneath it.
They would regularly strut across the lawn in single file
father, mother and two young skunks
tails cocked, sphincters primed
afraid of nothing or no one.
I wrote a haiku about them
and then when they were no longer
of literary value
I spread moth balls
all around the entrance to their hole,
an internet remedy which did not work.
It’s a tad quixotic or ironic or both, isn’t it,
trying to use smell to get rid of skunks.

All that summer
as we sat drinking on the deck
and the evening sun warmed the cedar shed,
the odour of skunk and moth balls
that naphthalene-mercaptan cocktail
would hit us in gusts, in waves
like halitosis at a party
and inevitably, invariably
I would turn to anyone within boring distance
and say,
as our noses twitched in disgust,
“Isn’t nature marvelous? Isn’t nature marvelous?”

This poem was originally inspired by a prompt from Brendan over at earthweal, see below. The theme today over at dverse, courtesy of Claudia is:

“Write about your own, your neighbour’s or your city’s garden – or one that only exists in your imagination. Write about harvest, growth, decay – where ever the word “garden” takes you.

So I thought I would give the poem another outing!

The prompt from Brendan over at earthweal was this:

For this week’s challenge, TEEM. Write a poem that introduces the reader to the environment you live in –a landscape shaped by time with a culturally diverse ecosystem (with human, animal and non-animal elements). Widen the focus, deepen the gaze and green the voice. “

April is the Cruelest Month (AprThCruMo)

The great TS Eliot once wrote:”April is the cruelest month”. I’m not one to make facile connections but April is also National Poetry Writing Month or NaPoWriMo which is about as un-poetic as an acronym can get and now….

poets are dutifully posting a poem a day
the blogosphere is loud with words
like babble, ripple, burble, unfurl
glow, glitter, shine, glisten
winds are blowing
suns are setting
dawns are breaking
waves are crashing
on every available shore
and birds, yes, birds
are chirping, trilling, twittering, even singing,
nature is under siege;
but I have to admit
I’m not up to it
I don’t have the diligence, the discipline
the creative bandwidth
besides it’s the second day of April
and I’m one day behind already
nothing constipates a poet
like a deadline.

Versions of this poem appear every year around this time

Taking part in OpenLink over at dverse

The Grand Scheme of Things

The Grand Scheme of Things

Be they grand or otherwise

there are schemes
and there are things

but in the grand scheme of things
there may not be
a grand scheme of things

what matters
is how we react
to the failure of schemes

be they grand or otherwise.

The challenge from Peter over at dverse is to write a circle poem in which the first line and the last line are the same.

Railspur Alley Park (Slimverse – The Journey, Episode 3)

Railspur Alley Park.

a humid
lion house
hogo hangs
on the air

dogs and trees
dogs and trees
free jazz, jazz
for free, the

bass player
leans like a
drunk around
a lamp post.

After hearing this one, I asked Slim if he found this verse form, this 3 syllable line too confining. Did he not want to escape its shackles and roam free, go for 5, 6 syllables or even stretch a line across the width of the page. “Au contraire”, he said. He actually said that, “au contraire”, which I thought was a bit effete, a bit foppish for a bald guy of his heft, his corpulence.

“Au contraire, in fact I find it liberating to escape the tyranny of free verse, the endless decisions – upper case, lower case, line length, is it really a poem or is it just chopped up prose, if I am writing a poem about a flower, should the poem be in the shape of a flower, should I rhyme or not rhyme, what is doggerel anyway? This is like fundamentalism, religion, the boundaries are clearly defined, this far and no further, you have 12 syllables per verse, make the best of it!”

Well, that answer was a bit more than I needed or wanted, if I owned a watch I would have been looking at it.

“Got to go, Slim” I said.

“Hang on” he said, “I am feeling a vague fin de saison ennui, a certain je ne sais quoi and I have this urge to use every hackneyed French phrase I know in a pathetic attempt to sound world-weary, like I’m sitting in an outdoor café, a scarf knotted at my neck, smoking a Gitane and nursing an existential crisis, out on

a rain swept
pier, a lone
tourist bends
to the wind.”

Episodes 1 and 2 are here and here.

Taking part in Open Link Weekend over at earthweal.

A Note to Bono and Some other Irish Guys on St. Patrick’s Day

Bono, Paul
name those streets
it’s time
it’s time.

Mr. Joyce, James
yes,
that sea
still tightens the scrotum.

Mr. Beckett, Sam
we’re waiting
we’re waiting
we’re waiting

Mr. O’Brien, Flann,
Myles of the Little Horses
this is not about a bicycle.
My dad once told me
you were a regular
on the last bus out of the city,
heading home to Booterstown
langered, stotious,
three sheets to the wind
whether this was an observation
or a judgement or an exaggeration
I could never quite figure
but if you should meet my dad
in that section of heaven
reserved for former residents of South Dublin
please say hi from me
and I hope it’s always late June up there
and the evening is stretching its legs
and the light is like filtered longing.

Taking part in Open Link over at dverse