Bennet McNiff – Two Poems

Bennet McNiffBennet McNiff was born in Dublin. He was educated at St. David’s Secondary School in Greystones, and at University College Dublin, where he later taught in the Department of Economics. He has worked as a librarian, lives in Drogheda with his wife and two children. His poem, “The Working Week”, was short-listed for the 2015 Listowel Single Poem Competition.

The Working Week

The purblind sailors jockey for position
On the car-deck. There is a smell of diesel
From the crow’s-nest. Eyes scan the horizon
For… Land ho! Bleary-eyed commuters
Trace a line, as the unwilling train
Chugs them into Monday. Another week begins.
Another week of fear, for some, the fearsome
Burden of certainty, and the boredom
Of looking at a wall, of water, or
Of figures, or, for others, just a wall.
In the early morning rain a siren wails.

The butcher in the dentist’s chair takes them
Into Tuesday. A line of goblins queue for supper
Before the trauma of the lunchtime bell
Has faded. All hands on deck as the heat
Intensifies. The thermostats are turned
Up on the workers, as the management
Drink champagne, with ice-buckets at their elbows,
But no elbow-grease, only the power
To diminish, which heightens their
Euphoria, their sense of enterprise,
As the spinnakers flutter in dark bays.

Full steam ahead then, with the wind behind,
So to speak. The captain still flays the boatswain,
But the crew have something to hold on to:
Champions league football and the smell of beer.
Wednesday. As they guzzle their sandwiches they’re
Half way there. Never mind the endless meetings
And the constant threats. The jailers will dish
Out ice-cream if the weather is hot. They’re
A decent crowd when all’s said and done.
It’s the way of the world, to toil and toil.
If the company is wrong, the company will fall.

Or so they say. Others swear to golden
Parachutes, hanging from the boardroom windows.
If the building burns, watch out! The workers
Will be the first to fry. The fallout zone
Does not extend to management.
Some day this slow burning anger will explode,
But today, it’s Thursday, and the herd
Are ready to forgive. It would go hard
With them if they were to awake, but
This crew will boil alive, dreaming of alcohol
And lotto tickets, and charms less futile.

Until Friday, when the steamer crashes
Through the harbour wall. Redemption beckons.
They drink coffee in atriums, and dream
About the future, as pixies dance in
Rainbow holograms, and the admiral
Bares his teeth, to smile, this time, the cat-o’
9-tails stowed aft for the present. The
Dog-workers salivate, as the train pulls
In, to take them home again, to football
And the wife, the job no longer crushing.
They salute the look-out post, with strength returning.

Vanishing Point

The eye like a diaphragm contracts,
Expelling joy, the dilatory nature of love
Glimpsed from a shuttered room,
Down the melancholy avenue of limes,
With the plane trees spitting on the pavement,
The long looks back, over the shoulder,
The laughter that died out years ago,
Late, on a summer’s day, echoing,
Trembling from the ear-drum to the pupil,
The lips gasping for breath, asking to know.

All these semaphores of youth, have flown,
Disintegrated, as the petals fell
One by one into the bowl,
The midnight pond, where the beaver splashed,
And the bikini girls danced,
Their plastic spectacles flashing
In the moonlight, the ancient ruin lurking
In the catalogues, to set us free,
As the summer camps employ the poor,
And the wind-blown samovars brew the tea.

Who, sated by this nostalgia,
Drew away, into the workplace,
Serenaded by a clapped-out tune,
The Spanish Civil War dead consigned to fate,
The tears and castanets on stone-cold brows
And hands, the marble furniture of the past.
Who sweated out their days in clammy offices,
Trying to pretend those summers never happened,
That the dead have not their offices too,
Those cold, unspeakable places underground.

To stand here now, with a sense of realism,
That clarifies the view, but leaves
A strong residue of sadness,
The kind that lovers feel on damp, cold
Misty mornings, staring out to sea,
Or, emerging from a basement
To the traffic grime, and soot, and the old people
Whose youth has vanished years ago
Into a cruel parody of enjoyment,
The fate of those with nowhere to go.

Will these streets support us
In our quest for authenticity,
For the pure, driven wave of humanity,
That beaches up in villages and farms?
Hungry for the past, we feed on photographs,
And other paraphernalia, the blind,
Furtive fumbling of the poor,
Who, too weary to turn back, despair
Of the road ahead, and search for guarantees
Of love and charity that are not there.

If we could rediscover some old friend,
Albeit one who has fallen on hard times,
Who raves at the moon, and at other despots,
Who shambles around Dublin in torn clothes,
Who lives with his mother and rails
At his former wife, then we could begin
To decipher the pieces from this wreckage
That we call life, the worn-out bells
Of faded music that pursues us
As we each mount the steps to our corporate jails.

If only you would visit me! If only you would come back
To the life that you promised yourself,
To the promises you promised me
On the buckled streets of our town,
Past the ice-cream vans and the video stores,
Under the archway, and out, to the beach,
And the fickle sands, and the eternal horizon,
With your sad eyes reflecting the sun,
Looking back to the disappointments,
And the triumphs, still within reach.

Have you wasted your life?
Has that thought ever occurred to you?
That you could have stayed here, and built something,
Or did your wisdom surpass my own?
Did you know even then that
Such experiences have a sell-by-date,
And, after a certain span of time,
Are not available, and can only haunt
Those who linger in the same place,
So that relocation is a question of survival, and saving face?

It was a betrayal nonetheless,
A slaughtering, a shot in the dark,
A darkness, that came over you, and
Set the clock in motion, spinning out of control,
So that I only saw you from a distance,
In other people’s arms, men for the most part,
A new one every year. There were those who died,
And those who were discarded, and still between us
The same silence, like a shadow at noon,
Or an empty beach at sunset.

And so on, until the end of time.
Will we meet again, at a funeral perhaps,
Or by chance, on the wide steppe, with
A belligerent sun cooking every granule of light,
With no horizon in view,
Free at last from the bustle of the city?
We will forgive each other our youthful trangressions,
Or just shake hands like old friends,
Free at last from the urgent life forces,
Which magicked you from sight.

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