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Preview: Dubliner in Japan

Dubliner in Japan

Opinion pieces, travel articles, places and people; lots of poetry; commentary on current events and history and whatever else shows up on the radar. Articles have been numbered (since Sept. 2004). Go n-eiri an t-adh leat.

Updated: 2018-03-06T22:05:21.535+09:00


504. Swimming in SE Asia


I love to bound aroundthe countries of Southeast Asia,which are so perfectly,weirdly, historically designedfor chase and concealment.Maugham gets it exactly rightby following one of his colonial typesfrom harbour to harbour along the coastin the knowledge there is no escape,not then, not now, not ever  as when you sit in a Chinese restaurant,on the ground floor, open to the weather;the cook shambles in over the poured concretein his stained white T-shirt and baggy shorts, bringing your beer in a glass with ice. [...]

503. Old Sins Cast Long Shadows


I hear stonebreakers in my mind,their hammers pounding,rhymithic, ceaseless,loudly sounding.Dead children do not give us dreams,they give us nightmares.After 20,000 – 25,000 daysI am sitting in a pub in Dublinwhen the Squeaker walks in, grins enormously,then seats himself beside me.I’d buy you a pint, says I,if I had the money. Feck that, says he,ye won’t be leaving here sober!And of new light then was a crack,with the young men struggling at the door,the old men holding it back.After Chamberlain’s Munich fiasco(J’aime Berlin hissed the colluding French)young Jimmy upped stakes, headed for the UKwhere the idiot joined the RAF,explaining, in his irritating, slow and reasonable way,that Ireland didn’t possess an air force,and should Britain fall we’d be next.Nobody at the time believed him.Ah, the lemons of Lebanon,the drowned bodies of Cyprus:where are the jewels that were his eyes?With friends, I joined the army in 1914at the behest of Sir John Redmond,who told us the defence of Belgiumwould lead to the freedom of Ireland.I remember the boat to Boulognewith sick all over the decks,and the sergeant-major laughing,handing around pints.The shells came falling over the Front,puffed and puling, rising up in layers,and in that early and insane six months, a year,all loyal soldiers were promised exemption, a redemption,with death the only answer to our thoughts and prayers.Fuck the British Army, thought the Irish lads,(employing the language of the time),What the hell have we got ourselves into?My younger brother was shot in 1916in Dublin, while I was still in France,and on July 1st came the Sommeand so I heaved myself up and walked over,with 70-80 lbs. of ridiculous equipmentand I thought, now, now, ye fuckin Huns,just finish me off. They finished off 20,000 of uson that first day alone, but they missed me.I’ll never, I think, forgive them for that, because I had togo back to Dublin and face my parents,absorb the cold looks of school and childhood friendsin my stained and dusty khaki uniform,the uniform of the alien, the enemy of Ireland.The war ended.They all end and then the next one begins.I found myself doing bits for Irelandunder a man called Michael Collins.To hell, so, with little Belgium.The Depression next came down upon usunfolding like a load of smothering blankets,made worse by an incompetent government.I had a job by then with the gas companywho were paying me less and less,when I met young Eileen O’Connor,and she put the lift back into my walkand the original twinkle back in my eye.Ah, it was grand and glorious!I’d never been the same since the goddam feckin warbut now I was coming back to life.Young Jimmy shot down three German bombersand so they gave him one of the medalsthey occasionally sling over to the Irish: NINA wasone of the signs of the times – No Irish Need Apply -all over jobs and rooming houses, but not the RAF.In time Jimmy got quite good, causing havoc among the enemy,and so he got the real medals and a promotion.He also found a shy but lovely English girlfriend.My Daddy was doing poorly, and since I was the eldest,I was told to ake care of Aunt Gertrude, his elder sister.Gertude had been a political disaster since 1893,joining Hyde’s Gaelic League and then Sinn Fein,so now I was faced with a bing- bang –bongof threat and apparition, then the rapidappearance of private and public disaster.Even in Dublin, this was simply not on.Not just then, but even today.I thought of strangling her in her bed,but she died before plans were complete.Still, I could tell you stories …She was a friend of Maud Gonne,and of that interesting feminist vegetarian bloke,Francis Sheehy-Skeffington,who got shot by Bowen-Coulter in 1916,later adjuged insane(the shooter not the shootee)and she was an outspoken bosom companionof all the peculiar people of the period,but I perceive I lack the time,and I know I lack the money:since I am lately bereft of wife and family,even any form of human sympathy,I shall regress to the underground tunnelsof aggressive feral youth.A happy[...]

502. Sideterms


Nothing is over, not a thing,
until time actually ceases.
And as you stand below, waiting down in the street
looking up, open-mouthed,
wondering, speculating,
nothing at all happens.
nothing for 20, 30, 40 seconds,

and when such silent moments exist
in this flickering world
there will be no further kisses, grunts, or gunshots.
And so
turn away, young Damian,
turn aside from life and love

for love is a heavy thing to carry
with its sagging burden of lust,
its well-fed writhing bodies,
its financial speculations.
Many unheard voices, crying out.
mouth the hope, I hope I hope
never to do/see this again

and since the world is round
those fat Chinese make it heavy
living, as they do on the edge,
sucking up noodleas, failing to emigrate,
and so they drag us down, the bastards,
causing climate change.

I write letters to world leaders
about this, about other serious things,
and they respond, ever so
brittle but quite polite, advising me
to fuck off and go away. In Newcastle
the girls are the real problem on weekends
but not as bad as in Dublin. There you need
strong arms & unfailing waves of charm
to herd the howling hags homeward.

Disco, disco, Saturday night!
and so legless are
the lazy lanes of pleasure
that I measure
essence in grams, not ounces.

501. Recollections


We were snoozing happily in our hammockswhen, with a surfeit of roaring soaring sound,the invasion arrived around teatimeand from waters, rushing in a writhing ring,a feeble hand arose from the wavesabsent Excalibur.The smothered fish lay along the shore,and the mountains sank into the sea.This is not good, I remember thinking,as I raced to the palace of the Queen,the heady heave and clash of arms behind me,but her bloated face was a bawdy greenand a cloud of flies were buzzing around:‘ I perceive, milady, the realm is sinking’.[...]

500. En Famille


496. Wild Geese


On the rain-sodden field at Fontenoythere is nothing to be seen or rememberedbut a misty view of Belgium, formerly France,just outside the town of Tournai.And here are no ghosts,no galloping horses,no spirits moaning in the air.I return to the waiting car,settle into its lingering warmth,and turn my mind to the evening:back to Brussels or on to Paris?There, there are many ghosts,perhaps no galloping horses,but lighter spirits in the air.That year of Bonnie Prince Charliewhen the butcher Duke of Cumberland,who won the slaughter at Culloden,was soundly defeated here,is rarely recalled. So manywretched, reeling yearshave sadly intervened.And it was my young clansman Liam,sweet Liam Óg Ó Laighin,a harpist of darling promise,who, following his father and grandfather,grew to military age in Franceand happily joined the regimentwhose flag you see below.1745: Banner of the Irish Brigade(Invalides Military Museum, Paris)Young Liam, Liam, ochóne,you did not survive the battering dayalthough the hard-fought field was won.And you were carried to your father’s homeby six young sorrowful comrades,and sadly laid to rest. The weathered stonelies broken under a grove of elms.[...]

495. Souvenir


In a mist-filled snow cast in grey shadows sat an old green bench with flaking paint; it had a beady-eyed crow at its end who crossly flew away when we approached. I don’t really know, you said, what I’ll do; and I said, I know, darling, but I’m sure it will be all right. And then I brushed the snowflakes away from your eyes and kissed you. That was in Istanbulwhere old green steamers went lurching across the Hornsoftly, silently puffing …. I have grown old and resent each bedridden day spent thinking; I particularly despise the night, each sleepless night and deep where ancient memories softly creep.[...]

494. Emigration


I’ll be going down to New York town to meet my love, my sweet young man, who has worked so hard to make our home away across the broad Atlantic. I must take a step away from friends, from relations, from my weeping mother, who will never see me again. My father spits silently in the fire and I know how he feels. I am sorry (I am not sorry) for I wish to get away and live a life away from Ireland, for Ireland beautiful and grand as it is, truly, crushes the hearts of its downtrodden women. And I am not and never will be a downtrodden woman. I read books, some of which I understand, and some of which I don’t, but never mind, I am a proud and nervous nationalist. Ireland looms out of the darkness. It sits there, balefully, in the wide Atlantic Sea. Aviators say, thanks, Christ God, land at last, a place we can crash or land upon. As did Alcock and Brown in Clifden in 1919 long before Lucky Lindbergh. It’s there. Land at last, the farmhouses and the fields, waiting to welcome or kill you. Ireland is a place we all want to leave or stay in forever. I will take this ship called Titanic.[...]

493. Overnight at the governor's mansion


7-character, regular verse:

清秋幕府井梧寒, 獨宿江城蠟炬殘。
永夜角聲悲自語, 中天月色好誰看?
風塵荏苒音書絕, 關塞蕭條行陸難。
已忍伶俜十年事, 強移棲息一枝安。

Clear and cold is this autumn night with parasol trees in the courtyard.
Alone in this river town, I watch the flame of a guttering candle.
From the dark outside comes the plaintive note of a bugle,
and though the moon is in mid-heaven, is there no-one to share with me?
My messengers are scattered amid clouds of rain and sand
and the city gates are closed to the traveller: high mountains are walls in my way.
I, who have borne the last ten years of pitiable existence,
find here a perch, a little branch, I feel safe for the night.

(a non-precise rather cavalier translation which needs an extra line co contain the limpid Chinese, but the essence is there.)

Du Fu, 712-770

492. Light as Lilac, Heavy as Falling Stone


A country river, an old willow tree,there I first met my love and she met me,how my heart misbehaved! She gaveme a ribbon still warm from her breast,a pink ribbon, I think, which I caressedand from that time I was enslaved love only her and her alone,and so on. But this actually happened,and as I decipher these spidery scrawls,the discovered diaries of 18th century Uncle John,I think what a sentimental fool he was, to be sure,but a dangerous man with the rapier,a deadly shot with those early pistols!Well, you had to be impressive, really,with ancient pretensions to aristo birthand no bloody money to speak of.Fend off the rivals and carry off the girl!Naturallement! You’d be looking atten thousand (pounds) if you were lucky.He continues:The zephrys blow upon the treesas I gaze upon wild raging moors.My heart contracts to an aching pleaseto open up those shuttered doors!This is pretty slick, almost modern.Johnny is getting into his groove here.The girl replies (we think), since nearlyall girls reply to love letters in some wayif even to say don’t send them any more.Her replies are sadly lost to history.The girl’s family were blithely unaware,blissfully blinded to this mutual passion,and so carefully set up an arranged marriagefor Georgiana (for that is her name, poor girl)to a somewhat equal male companion.John goes berserk!He wants to challenge the guy to a duel!Of course he will kill him, slash or boom,so Georgiana exerts feminine perspicacityand takes to her bed for three weeks.The prospective suitor backs off rather quicklyfor who wants a sickly wife, when your planis to have, say, six to maybe 14 children?John, not surprisingly, moves in:He writes to the parents …My dear Lord and Lady R ------ hamIt is with the greatest regret that I have been informedof the severe illness of your beloved daughterwhom I have been given to understand is a personof the greatest refinement, and a credit to her sex,which she is not getting a lot of, thanks to you,and which I am damn sure I can do something about!The latter part of the letter, I believe,was not included.He writes (by messenger) to Georgiana:I don’t want your money.I want your cunny.The Oxford English Dictionary (OED)somewhat mischievously cites thisas the first appearance of the slang term,but this is untrue, academically unsound.So … what happened, then?Did Georgiana and John get married?Ho, yes, indeed! Had a load of kids.And were they happy forever after? Don’t  ask silly questions. Romance, my dears,burns out, burns out in every marriage.[...]

491. Samurai


Slowly, slowly
the little snail
climbs Mount Fuji -

sends a message to his wife:
pretty good day today!
Snails have their systems.

Well, dear, I made – oh - 2.5?
He’d be talking about metres:
Fuji has 3776 of those things

going up into the snowline
getting gradually colder, so
pure, apart from the sweltering

skin-itching, sleep-depriving
bugfucked Japanese summers
the people endure below.

Even snails in their shell
have been known to complain
among the raucous cicadas

in their dusty pines
down on the plain.
Don’t take a chill my honey

says Mrs. Snail. I want you
back here safe and sound.
It’s all right my darling.

I know my way along the ground.
I do not share the human hell
of doing things for money.

I do what I must do
for the snails of Japan, for the Emperor,
but most of all for you!

490. Eyeless in Gaza: An Exchange of Views


AMIT: What truth is that exactly? What I see is the face of a person who doesn't know what he is talking about. Do you really think that Israel is in it for the purpose of killing Palestinians? If that was the case there would have been thousands dead. Israel is going out of its way NOT to kill innocents! Sadly, it is not always possible, especially when the enemy is "bravely" hiding behind civilians. The who shoot indiscriminately into civilian population are Hamas. The only reason there aren't many, many more casualties on our side is that their weapons are crap and our defense system are better and for that, we don't need to apologize. If Hamas had the ability, every one of their missiles would have hit a school. So please, Facts first, then talk!BRENDAN: Everyone has a right to live in peace and dignity. After Shoah many countries supported the creation of the State of Israel. Israeli treatment of the Palestinians who lived on the same land before them has been very brutal. This is the main problem. The right of the State of Israel to exist is accepted but within what borders - 1948 or 1967? You say you cannot make a settlement with the Palestinians because they are terrorists. Israeli settlements and military occupation have created these "terrorists" just as British stupidity in Northern Ireland created the IRA. In fact, you had to fight against the British yourselves with Haganah and Irgun in the post-WWII period when they still maintained the Palestinian Mandate. Now you are taking on the attitudes and policies of your former occupiers with regard to the Palestinians because you are the people with the real power, and, among other things, "their weapons are crap". This is not a military war, in the final analysis, it is a political conflict. So far America supports you no matter what you do. This will not last forever. Your support in Western Europe is already fading. You cannot simply lash out at people who don't support you and label them "anti-Semitic". The war in Europe and the Holocaust has been over for 77 years. People around the world tend to judge your government by its present actions. In spite of these sharp differences of opinion, I hope we can remain friends in the more-or-less "neutral" surroundings of Hamamatsu!BRENDAN: Oops! 2012-1945 = 67. Another mathematical bloop. No wonder I can't understand the family finances, never mind Wall Street ....AMIT: Brendan, on the point that Israel and the Palestinians should exist as 2 states side by side I couldn't agree more. But whose fault is it that it's not the case? What happened in 48 a day after the UN declared the Jewish and Palestinian states? A DAY AFTER! 1 DAY! That's what it took the Arab world to decide that Israel doesn't have the right to exist and to attack the day old country. Hamas shares that point of view to this day. How do you negotiate with someone who does not recognize your right to exist? Answer me that because I really want to know. The fact that Israel should have withdrawn from all the conquered land after 67 (another win or die war) will not be argued by me. But why did the Arab world, who is so "concerned" with the well being of their Palestinian "brothers", (namely Egypt) did not demand to get the Gaza strip back in 79? They demanded, and got every last inch of Sinai. Why did Jordan didn't demand the West Bank in 95? I'll tell why. Because the Palestinians are a thorn in Israels ass and the Arabs like them to stay that way. Why Does the Arab world, namely Iran, instead of sending doctors, civil engineers, building schools and infrastructure, why instead of that do they send weapons and weapon expert? See the reason above. You are talking about 67 borders. Why after the war of 48 didn't Jordan and Egypt esta[...]

489. Prince Charles


Birthday Boy. Same year.
I am five days older than this idiot.

like fire
lights up the world.

Banners unfurled
and toes upcurled
we walk the wire

with equanimity.
An infinity
of glowing light

underlies the night
and we know
from long ago

the fire of desire
can turn. And burn
us into anonymity.

488. Prague Concerto


Snow in the wind, my thoughts
slide over to the Winter Queen, so easily
brought to mind in this unbombed
Central European city: War, having
taken its pound of flesh from the people
spared its buildings.

The Munich betrayal. Heydrich.
No wonder they feel the way they do.
Chamberlain. J’aime Berlin.

I visited you before and after.
In the summer of 1989, the border
was a nest of guns and barbed wire
with apologetic young recruits
going through your bags. In 1991,
when I came again with my family,
all of that stuff had gone.

The river, the Charles Bridge, the palace,
all of that stuff was still there.

The West betrayed you, England and France,
and condemned you to a half-century
of misery: fascists followed by communists,
and if I were Czech, I’d be angry.

Surprisingly, you are not angry. Rueful,
I think is the tone. You sure as hell
got rid of the Sudeten Germans, every
last single one of the Nazi bastards,
which in its way is a pity, when you think

Of Kafka, for example, no Sudeten farmer,
just a person who thought and wrote in German,
and most of that has been lost. Also Slovakia,
who were not much help to you during the war.
Pity the countries with no seas as shelter!

Land borders in Europe pay no attention
to the people who happen to live within them
and never really have. The Versailles Conference,
post-Great War, was supposed to change all that
and didn’t. They simply carved up Europe
and set the seeds for the next great war.

And they carved up the Arab world as well,
drawing straight lines with rulers on maps,
setting up "mandates" for France and Britain,
promising everything to everyone, including,
of course, the Jews. Which is why, Ladies & Gentleman,
we get 9/11, the problems that continue today.

No, I haven’t forgotten about Prague. The food
improves (MacDonald’s was a step up, if you can imagine!)
and the beer has always been good. It is a quaint
and lovely city with its old clock towers and cobblestones,
with its trace of the nostalgic Old World “Mitteleuropa”,
which hasn’t been seen since the 1930s. America

has a great deal going for it, or had at one stage,
but it will never never replace, with its Disney dreams,
the real and honest thing.

487. Elvis: "Last Train to Memphis"


I was a small Irish kid in Germany in 1958 (my Dad worked in the AFEX system as an accountant) when Elvis came over as an army draftee. A family friend got his autograph for me which I lost soon after (damn & double-damn!) and this is the point where this book - the first of a two-part biography - closes. The first part of this biography takes us back from the arrival in Germany to Elvis' birth in Tupelo, to his family's move to Memphis, his geeky high school days, the $12 guitar his father bought for him, and his burning desire to cut a record. This brought him to Sam Phillips and Sun Records. This early recording took off thanks to radio play throughout the South and a series of live gigs followed,  getting ever bigger and bigger. Soon things became so big they nearly got out of control. From some peculiar mixture of gospel, hillbilly, and Negro blues Elvis had hit on a new sound that caught the imagination of teenage America. By the age of 21 (1956) he was pulling in huge audiences and the music moguls were taking an interest. The predatory ex-Carnie barker "Colonel" Tom Parker moved in to guide this boy along and in his manipulatory and conniving ways made Elvis a national phenomenon.

What makes this story so fascinating is the way it is told. The author, an early fan of the music, spent 11 years tracking down all the surviving friends and associates of Elvis and tells the story as if he were looking through a keyhole, recording conversations and first impressions and opinions from such a wide number of people that you begin to feel you are there yourself. The way this book was put together is extremely impressive: by no means is it your "standard" biography. Whether you like the music or not (I did even then, I still do!) you cannot help but get caught up in the story. After such a meteoric rise you just know that a fall is bound to come: hubris, as we know from the wise old Greeks, is followed by nemesis.

A second volume of the biography entitled "Careless Love" charts the course of Elvis' career from the time he was released from the army to his early death at the age of 42. That will require another review.

486. In Reply to a Letter from an English Friend


We don't hate the Brits, Ben. We used to, that's true, but we don't any more. They seem to get along pretty well with us, too, much better than, say, with the modern-day Scots! The divorce - politically speaking - has been decisive and complete, apart from the dispute over the kids in Norn Iron and even that has been levelled down thanks to the IRA campaign, although nobody will admit that was the real reason. Terrorists!! Local boys (and girls) if you want to know the truth. The Queen could finally come over after a hundred years, and she was very welcome. On the personal level the old antagonisms just don't exist any more. We still have the old songs, of course. They're great old songs, so no reason to throw them out! And we still have the Gaelic tradition - the poetry and sagas and what one might describe as our 'national' character  - going back to the early centuries, both BC and AD. This will never never die out and our very strong sense of place and all the multiple layers of our long and colourful history can still inspire the rising generations ... and people like me!

We have the national or more precisely, tribal, failing of falling in love with Ireland, the landscape, the people, the whole surrounding atmosphere, and although this is touching, I suppose, it is more than a little weird! Nobody who leaves Ireland can ever stop talking about it.

The most important thing is that we are a free country again, the only sensible and natural way in which the Irish can exist and openly deal with the world, and we are a relatively 'elderly' free country at that, in the sense that younger generations have no interest in how we broke the chains of oppression and simply take their freedom for granted. Overall, I think this is a good thing. Our people grow up this way and they think it is a human right and they can't understand why other countries don't have the same privileges. So a lot of our nurses and activists go over to Palestine to get shot at by Israelis .... because the Palestinians are the same as the Irish, man, 150-200 years ago!

485. Jumpers


We live in a world of make-believeday after day after day after day.I raise a tired fist and feebly say Hello, hello. It seems that thingsare getting out of hand. Herodotus saida number of interesting things, he pingson the Ancient World, the BC bit,long before the AD slice we live in,being a dangerous man for opinionsaltogether. So-o-o-o hard to decide whetherhe’d be telling the truth. In a boothnot far from Birmingham I met a manliving in a world of make-believewho told me something I still remember:Listen to Herodotus, ya prick, So I, being young and thicklistened to the man coming over the airwaves,fading in and out from 350 BC.It didn’t help or relieve, just sought to heavethe same old problems around, to shunt the cuntsas it were: was Melpomene your suffering mother?She was young, you know, in the early Nazi daysand thought it was all very fine. Berlin in the sunlight.Her summer frock. Bathing on the Wannsee with SS boys,No notion the Fuehrer was out of his mind.I wish you would go away,no longer linger no longer stay:your language is offensive!Listen to Herodotus.The defensive part is not the artthat wins a War: toujours, toujours l’audacelands you dead or else a cripple.Yes, I enjoy a little tipplenow and again with friends, it makes amendsfor the other crap I end up doing.I have had my fill of war.You don’t know what you’re fighting forafter the first year runs into the second.A fecund lady has always been my dream,broad hips, big tits, something to grab hold of,but I always end up with slight little girls,little waifs who slit their wrists, have problems,who arouse my protective instincts, and who,if you get that far, are not a very good fuck.I need a blonde beaming girl who doesn’t read books,who doesn’t speak in connected sentences,who understands money .... !Girlfriends are one thing, wives are another!I was told that by my mother: she said, may Goddirect you to the Right Woman, young idiot, etc.My little Chinese girl has left me. Of course she has.She was so cute and young and smart and elegant:no doddering chav is allowed these things …if but only for a whileand so my creaking heart still sings. Dangerously.I smile. A sunny smile. I know, I know it is all a gameand other sweet girls will flutter alonglike moths to murder in the flame. They wanta certain something. And so, dear God, do I. Herodotus was saying, before you interruptedthat different people behave in different waysand he was fascinated by this: he writes, wheneverthe Persians had something seriously to decide they went about it twice. Initially, they were quitesober and rational, questioning, very very open to advice,but then they went off and got totally drunk or stonedand listened to no-one, to see if feelings would coincide.As I stare, as I glare at my iPhone 5 todaythis still makes sense in every way.[...]

484. Some Random Thoughts on the English Language


When you think, I think,
you don’t want to think too hard:
step lightly over the earth, skip over it,
because there are quicksands and tarpits
and yawning manholes, never mind the landmines,
scattered here and there and everywhere
going by names we have learned to trust,
such as love and loyalty, honour and family,
a collection of abstract, uncountable nouns.

For those who speak only one language,
a sense of false confidence conceals the danger
inherent in the missing abyss of comparison;
why do you go to “the” store instead of “a” store?
What difference does that make? Only the same
as when you love “the” woman instead of “a” woman,
or when you look to “the” future instead of “a” future.
These are such small little things, inconsequential,
unless you start to think about them. But never

think too hard, it wears out the brain, makes you weary,
takes away the jolt and taste of your morning coffee.
(Now where the hell did that word ‘coffee’ come from?)
Paddling your canoe in your khaki shorts past a bamboo grove
you are using four words borrowed from other languages.
But the nouns, oh the nouns, are not the real problem!
It’s the verbs. Those goddam verbs! Descriptions of time
must exist in all languages, and are either smooth or clunky:
if I had but known what he had been thinking of proposing

I should quite possibly not have been quite so willing as I was.
This is the beauty of pidgin, crossover languages, border talk:
He talk smooth-smooth. I say OK. Later I say fuck you.
You can’t argue with the meaning, although it’s not Jane Austen,
nor Dickens or Trollope or Thackeray. Also, it’s not the brutal
vernacular most of us would choose to speak in. Yet it works.
This is the thing about language all around this globe we live in.
It’s no use raising your voice and bellowing at foreigners.
It really really doesn’t act as an aid to understanding. It don’t.

Ain’t that a shame? Please God, finally, let everyone speak English
so we don’t have to bother with learning all their foreign tongues,
and the world will all be One. If you actually believe that, pal,
you are living in La-la Land. Never happen. Everyone changes it.
When the Irish had to learn English or starve they fuckin hated it,
what a stupid thick-arsed language, they thought, and immediately
set out to improve it, adding rhythms and colours and tone to this …
this black-and-white atrocity. All over the world, in Jamaica, in Singapore,
in Kenya, in India and Pakistan, Fiji and Samoa, people do the same!

483. The Uncertain Knight


Night falls, the mountains fade,
and the lamps are lit in the east.
After the feast I know you must retire
with the other women. I cast a sigh
for I have caught your roving eye
as I shuffle closer to the fire.

Night falls, the fountains hiss
and sing in the garden, a splash
of water on stone. I feel so alone
no matter what I try. My father
is a beast within me, a clash,
an abyss of water and burning fire.

Night falls, and I clutch my sword,
in which I place no trust, the blade
is sharp, keen steel, it has no rust
and it mocks me. How can any girl
really love me? I place you above me
in this, in all, in whatever’s made.

482. Irish-Americans


Americans of Irish Ancestry

Nothing means nothing at all
until historians knock, come in to call
and place their markers here and there.
Never knew what was happening, I swear,
until I read your best-selling book,
Mister or Missus or Mizz.

I was living through historic times
with no sense of a change, the range
of the stones we threw was paramount,
and as a revolution this would not amount
to much, but it did in Palestine. I am amazed
how the rebel Irish set the tone, dazed

by the way everyone else gets shot down
or clubbed or imprisoned, in India,
South Africa, Syria, you fuckin name it,
and I know we are the the guys to blame
for telling people to get off their knees
and stand up. Cousin Martin back in the day

was living in Amerikay, minding his own
bizness, getting along so easily as the Irish do,
when they fucked him into the military, sent
him off to Vietnam. I don’t like this, says Martin,
gazing on the departing body bags. I think this
could soon be me: no return to Éireann mo chroí!

It was a very bad war to send in the Irish,
because like the Mexican War a century before
they felt a certain sympathy for the other side.
Who’s beating the fuck out of whom and why?
Racism kicked in, and also loyalty to friends,
but it was a wrong war against the wrong people

with a need to make amends. I don’t know
if we can ever do so. Every single bloody war
America starts, and by God they start a lot of them,
the Irish are right there by their side. They say
they are Americans now. I believe that, how

could you not believe them? It’s in your face, it’s true,
but for God’s sake stop being stupid, stop being dense,
stop pushing, and have a little bit of sense! Our belief
is still with that Shining City Upon the Hill, and the will
to be a free people living in a free country.

481. Dutch Cicadas


Cicadas march on to their shift at daybreak, since
you'll never hear the buggers at night. They have
their factory horn: drop your cocks and grab your socks!
It’s reveille, a revelry of summer sounds. A summer morn
as long as these rockers are around, a pervading blight
which can either drive you nuts, or make you reach
for Pina Coladas on the beach, your sunglasses just so,
waiting for that heiress from Indiana. Juliana was still

Queen of the Netherlands when my father fucked off
for New York and didn’t like it. New Amsterdam was a joke
with nothing left but misspelt names: Harlem, the Bronx,
Roosevelt. He lit off with another bloke for Miami Beach
on Trailways Buses through the Deep South, his mouth
opened wide, a constant O of wonder. A lynching in Georgia,
a bottom pinching of a Charleston Beauty. But that was a fat
old white man, member of the Klan, so he was all right.

Travelling on by day and night, the sun a constant trial,
for the Hollanders of his generation did not grow tanned
but proceeded from pink to red to scarlet to near imminent
self-explosion: a phial (bah!) even a gallon of sun lotion
came as little relief. Stubborn, pig-headed, Dutch beyond belief,
he headed for salvation, immolation, between the sea and sand!
Of course he made it. Not only that he met my stunning mother,
stole her off some New York hood. She liked his peeling nose

and reckoned things might turn out good with an honest man.
She was right about that. Pretty girls know men will chase them
for a certain while: be bad, if you like, but make your pile
before the party's over. My Mommy wasn't a hard case, not really,
she wanted out soon. She married my Daddy, Dirk Van Roon,
and lived happily ever after. My sister and I grew up in style,
amid songs and love and laughter. But they are sadly dead now,
as so many people we love are dead. The lines have been read.

480. Consolation


“Love don't make things nice - it ruins everything.
It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren't here to make things perfect.
We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and to love the wrong people and die.”

- Moonstruck

You know the way you just
run into people, as if by accident?
Strangers, I mean; this is
definitely the main theme
in all our lives. I've often heard
children can’t choose their parents.
So what? I say parents can’t choose
their kids. You take what you get,
but when it comes to chance encounters,
you never know what will happen.

This is a poem about you, by the way.
OK, I may not know your name, sorry,
but I know you very well. This same stuff
has also happened to you, don’t even
begin to deny it. How did you meet
the first boy or girl you ever slept with?
How did you meet the person you married?
When did you start thinking, Omigod,
I wish, I wish I’d waited. Never at all?

Liar. But that’s all right, because we all
tell lies to ourselves. We have to prop up
the façade of who we think we are, who
we think we want to be. Hey, it’s normal.
Otherwise you go quietly insane, take pills,
jump off some fuckin bridge, steer the car
in the oncoming lane. Reality is not good for people.
We need all those little ways of avoiding it,
so if we don’t fall down the stairs, don't get shot,
don't board the wrong plane, we make it to old age.

479. Afghanistan


There is an Afghan strain in me, loud and ebullient,
as I wear helmets with colourful fluttering streamers
that match my marvellous pantaloons. I tease
my hair into ringlets, put dark kohl under my eyes,
and look sexy, decadent and dangerous.

This pleases me exceedingly.

I know dancing boys with bums like peaches,
alas, alas, on the other side of the river!

When the British came the first time
we murdered Sekundar Burnes, assassinated
their commissar McNaughten, and simply waited.
Elphinstone was an old man, a weak commander,
he decided to retreat to British India.

Hoo, hoo, hoo, what a fool!
We cut them to pieces, murdered them all
in the snowy passes from Gandamak to Jalalabad.
What a wonderful killing time that was,
and the old grandfathers made songs and poems.

Now we have the Feringhi again, not Russians,
but Amerikhani, Anghrezi, some others.
Why do they keep returning? One wonders,
since the result is ever and always the same.
They die, we die, and in the end they leave.

It has always been so.
historical reference:

478. Dietramszell



Hindenburg in his declining years
came often, old Prussian as he was,
to soften the hardness, tamp down
his fears. He was so old, near death.

Each gasping breath brought pain:
He, first to know his time was over,
knew that the War had been long ago
but that the politics would remain.

I imagine him in this Bavarian setting,
the low green slopes and distant mountains,
cap-doffings in the street, “Gruess Gott!”
The greetings of God, Herr Feldmarschall!

His steps would have taken him to the church
which stands still now at the bottom of a hill,
and he would have gone in, the Old Junker,
sweeping aside sectarian differences.

Bavarians were well known for being Catholic,
soft and fond of beer. It took Prussian steel
to instill real fear of God! Pause in the annex:
Fallen for Germany, 241 names, this small town.

Slightly abashed, the Field Marshall proceeds.
The main door is opened and glory explodes:
there is no other word, all is white and gold
and decorative and completely unrestrained!

This is the 18th century brought to life again:
baroque, rococo, architecture possibly designed
by pastry chefs, inedible incredible swirls of plaster.
The Field Marshall blinks once, twice. He smiles.