Homage to James Douglas Morrison
For Giovanna Nappi
“Did you know freedom exists in a schoolbook?”
Late October. Dry, breaking light.
Morning as cold and luminous as a corpse.
The wisps of cloud part like lingering vespers;
images of you evoked by a pertinent gull’s cry,
lamenting the rosy-coloured breaking that was spawned
from your mortuary, its cold steel finish,
the cardiac arrest, pronounced in your death’s, horrifying grimace.
Venice beach, California.
Libran equilibrium with Virgo in the ascent.
A Foucaultdean exploration,
adapting a Heaneyesque, linguistic stealth.
Eco-soundings. But how to rupture the academy,
their supreme, first-world, Apollonian calm?
Respect lies calcified off the coast of eternal regret.
Rome, Piazza Colonna; steel hooves echo along the cobbled streets,
evoking the seventeenth century: Bruno, Galileo and Caravaggio.
Knowledge as a flame, eternal, being passed on.
There in the kiosk, happy days, the newspaper vendor
is buried alive in a mound of paper and words.
See her burning like leaves in the November light.
A veil of vegetation blankets the baroque walls, her disparition.
Frescos on air! Baristas dressed up like admirals
commandeering the cafés, which will steer us back
onto the streets. Cupolas, domes and priests jettisoned
through the sky where plinths, columns and pillars flit.
Petrified stony faces peer out at you from above ornate balconies
which frame, apparently, solitary discourses being enacted
by apartment dwellers. But, back down on the street,
pedestrians cruise like miniature Ciceros in this
the second capital of rhetoric. I watch their hands
grappling as they try to grasp the unutterable words
parked there like invisible brick upon the air in front of their noses.
The preferred colours, to these figures, being:
blacks, silver and grey, and many differing forms of navy,
all hinting at mortality; wannabe Homers all, exiled from the azure.
While their women march, stride and amble along in boots
of every form, a fetishist’s kingdom. Knowing that us men
are visual creatures they tame us with their eunuchs
into obedience through our eyes. O rich silken ambiguity,
the hooves, a glimpse under the table, with Mathew,
muscular calves of the harlequins, those boys…
“Where’s my husband?” A tourist shouts up in alarm.
1980. Here we are, exiled like Ovid, back in Ireland.
In the land of the barbarians. The first thing that strikes you
is the bloody cold. A fucking rock in the Atlantic,
battered and embittered. After Rome, t’is very plain fare,
all alcohol and misery and new money.
The only part of Rome you see here
is the influence of the Vatican.
Then one day from the turntable the baroque sounds
of the sixties grabs you by the juggler,
and the leather cocksman introduces you to the vineyard.
And with him you enter into a Greek world;
Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Dionysus through Euripides.
This Bachhic splendour lends some warmth to your days,
your teenage mind crucified by the Sunday’s spent upon your knees.
Next comes Nietzsche and The Birth of Tragedy.
You are seventeen, eighteen. Such a rich, heady schooling for such tender years. You love this new, sensual, androgynous figure,
which you find totally compatible with Christ.
Let the dead bury the dead, turning water into wine.
Now you are spiralling towards your first, real encounters with sex
and it is all related with death; for you want to die a thousand times.
Far from disused sheds and churning butter,
we have far richer subject matter here.
Enter Oedipus, Freud and William Blake
and a certain path to some knowledge with the Crawling King Snake.
More than twenty years on, just exiting the dark pool,
and I have finally made my peace with the Northern school.
And in all this time what have I learned?
As regards content, the context which was requisite
was more temporal, rather than spatial, and necessarily, exquisite.
The point being, that here was a dead man
speaking to me from distant years and what he had to say
was more relevant to me than any of my peers.
So, rather take with me the collected works of Jim Morrison
than the magnum opus of any Nobel- Prize winning academician.
Nostalgia, by Andrei Tarkovsky
Poetry is a leather satchel
of Italian design
made in the People’s Republic of China.
It is the sound of a woman’s heels
echoing throughout the knaves
of a mediaeval church in Tuscany.
It is the image of a French actress
modelling on top of the Eiffel Tower.
Or, a procession of crones
dressed in black
bearing aloft candelabra, statues, incense, trees.
Die Welt opened before one on the table,
with the image of a wild boar.
Women praying while men play.
Coffee, sugar, wine;
these simple household items
are full of complexity,
enveloped in mystique, poetry is found
in the history of their deliverance.
In the migration of birds and the hibernation of certain animals.
Metaphors of the flesh,
be they pouting lips or lions,
or sad faces struggling with their private destinies.
Greying hair, broken glass, feathers.
Empty pillows awaiting heads to claim them,
all such absences which further indicate a possible presence,
Everything happens when nothing, or nobody, is there;
Renaissance eyes and dishevelled hair.
Cigars lying crushed in ashtrays, still smoking.
Unopened books, tired eyes.
Poetry, poetry, poetry all.
Dogs awaiting leashes.
Ballet slippers awaiting their feet.
Wood its fire.
Autumnal vegetation clinging to walls of granite,
shifting in the eternal light.
Jets climbing to their zenith,
ants scurrying beneath our feet.
All have hidden significance.
All are underlined with meaning.
You look to each phenomenon as if trying to decipher a code.
Like a woman they resist you.
You can only press against the grill like a shark.
Faces, mirrors, and seed scattered over millennia.
Angels depicted bearing humans up into the light.
Flowers cut and arranged into vases.
Vibrant mechanical reverberations.
Madness and cherries, carpenters and Christ.
Corpses hidden beneath piles of old leaves.
Alcohol and symphonies.
Green leaves illuminated by Winter light.
Smoke, apostles standing in the shadows.
Rainpools, Alsatians lying down and abandoned hope.
Smiling faces, bread and wine.
All of these things have their importance.
Forget the trouble you see there in the glass,
the truth is the years pass, without your consent.
Bottles are emptied and replenished.
Confusion, treason, regret.
Each one sees where he or she has to go
and it is not enough that they have to live for themselves
but they must also try to live for others,
for they must turn outside themselves in order to look in,
relinquishing proper madness,
be theirs the history of the elected,
or the chronicles of the truly expulsed.
An Innocent Removed
In memory of my mother Eithne O’ Neill
An innocent removed,
like a glass from the shelf,
like a bird off a roof.
Keep her close to your heart
for in death, as in life,
she will prove to be a most trusty companion.
I entered the kitchen,
like an Egyptian tomb,
every little thing lit with love,
from the hieroglyphs of her script
in the notepad,
to the old, brown mixing bowl
balanced precariously on top of the cupboard,
emblazoned like a pharaoh’s crown.
And beside the window,
with its vista of Hook Head,
a message torn from a greeting card from a friend,
comparing friends to good eggs who are always slightly cracked.
And this figment of popular wisdom
is suddenly my locus to you,
for it is true,
every word of it.
Now that you are dispersed into the religious
and scientific, wholly dark.
An innocent removed,
like a glass from the shelf,
like a bird off the roof.
The Book of Being
Athletes have full exigence on the verb, literally;
Pindar’s exploding metaphors of the flesh-
In sport they morph and then as quickly change,
We know not why?
Imagine to have fully embodied human freedom,
To have run with Solomon in Lebanon,
Under the cedars then, drinking wine?
One must learn to live in peace with one’s imaginings,
Metaphors, like bodies, are also a form of prison.
Remember those impossible fleshy walls
You once so stealthily climbed?
God is science, a grammar of truth,
The unlimited structural chain of events and things
Which are finally made manifest.
Localize the creator in the deft suspension
Of seemingly discontinuous support,
A question of awareness then, such is Being.
The apparent randomness of the detail,
Edifices are built on nano-technology.
He is atomised in the clay, reconstruct him,
In the ruins of the everyday.
The self is nothing without first the total acceptance
Of another, first act to being oneself is already
To be found in the acceptance of another,
One’s other Other, call this union love.
It is an unwritten contract which is written out in being,
In other words, through acts. Words don’t count,
As much. They are secondary to acts,
Being merely descriptive, going back over
What has already happened.
Words, as such, are merely commemorative events.
There is always a certain renunciation in the act of love,
Such is the price of exclusivity,
The wages, as it were, for your sin.
Only by losing are we ever winning.
The greatest gift ever to be received is in the taking away,
Which is why we value so highly our thieves,
Storing them away like precious jewels to avoid their utter corruption.
The prize won then only in absence,
For when you have, you have only,
Never clearly seeing what it is till it’s gone.
Reality can only be ever possibly seen
Through the invisibly real, hence the attraction
Of all religion, but such seeing requires,
In effect, for nothing to be there.
Ideally, then, things being laid bare, you alone
In the dark, somewhat naked.
So called depth is but another surface,
Totality, in one’s giving, is all,
However, apparently superficial.
Exigence of the verb, and once again,
Auxiliaries first above modals.
Who are you? What do you do? And what have you,
Exactly? These are the eternal questions,
For which one must have some kind of answer,
At least for oneself. What is capital?
Memory is property, tender the currency
Which makes one man. In deed
Account alone for oneself, and all,
And by this will you be true?