Brian O’Dowd was born in Dublin. He lives in Toronto. O’Dowd is a Professor at the University of Toronto.
His novel ‘A Wicklow Girl’, was published in 2017. Available on Amazon etc. Publisher: Tellwell, Canada.
In 2019 he won the prestigious Prix Galien 2019 Canadian science award, as reported in the Irish Times.
The piece here is from the collection of his unpublished short stories, Kevin’s Lament’ which is the best.
Brian O’Dowd Ⓒ
Feel as last day of a grand week in Bray,
just to say why I can’t meet you later!
Fully occupied, this packed and special day,
frightfully busy, taken a turn for the worse,
needing to be abrupt, soon I’ll be heartless.
Sure I’ve to catch my six bullets this dawn,
bullets as late trams come speeding together.
Big wigs decided, I’ve to be slain ‘en rapide’,
royal parchment signed by all Four Courts,
their license to kill, caught me dead to rights.
Execution day really can mess things up.
This life heading south.
In bowels of the jail house with shackled legs,
ropes for my wrist in case I’d break free,
head through iron bars with my thick head?
Their castles come with dark dank dungeons,
descend iron stairs, await due comeuppance,
a one score life I’ll be having this time round,
pimpled galore still barely with a weekly shave.
‘Vagabond ruffian foulest of all mankind,’
odious Judge bellowed, his spittle aimed at me,
‘we’ll have no truck with youse as martyrs.
Away, away, shoot him tout suite. Don’t miss.’
Pulling out the best of stops, Mother begged,
‘Sir please send him off to Connaught.’
Constipated old scouser sent me down,
black hat donned had me condemned,
label taints my shirt, this rough hewn garb!
Chest holes darned, itching as hive of bees,
loaded heavy by sweat of fear stink and gore.
Ma and Pa had rented a long face barrister,
horsehair attired declared ‘law of this land.’
No big shots on my side, now face a fusillading.
Young me with doings gotten into fancy pickles!
When you wake this morning, no mourning,
take a Grafton street tram for tea with friends.
Unlike a butchered pig, I’ll be off the hook,
away in the stars, pass our Milky way ‘bye, bye’.
An aching soul escaped from scary horror place!
Body seized, consigned to quicklime salting,
as Lot’s wife that’s now my lot! C’est la vie.
Riding on eternity’s comet with trailing tears,
regret for all our might have beens. My Dearest.
Even the earth worms will not happy with me,
no bones about it, salt of this earth. Forever.
Once off to Van Diemen’s for shackle draggers,
bad lads, gurriers, dossers, mostly plain eejits,
now getting sentenced from Kangaroo courts,
with me dragged by the hair, snagged by RIC,
hauled to face Squaddies in their Yards. Ha!
‘Why youse still here?’ Swaggering by our sod,
using me as practice, before off facing Zulus.
Since in these dire cells not a cup of porridge,
‘Ah sure look it you’ll not be hungry so long.’
Only distracted by predecessor cell wall tales,
now it’s me under the gun, stand next in line.
No full bottle of Irish with porter as a chaser,
down the gullet, send me off with better spirit.
It’s leaving that’s hardest, so much yet to stay.
Slainte, be free, a real Irishman’s parting glass.
Scrawny screw Paddy on a shilling plus soup,
from his grubby mitt handed a lit Woodbine,
safety pinned bull’s eye on me donkey shirt.
‘You’re good to go,’ from his whiskey breath.
‘Put it on the wrong side!’ Says I, half in jest,
bullets to scratch that tormenting itchy vest.
‘No pardon lad, black and tans will be loaded,
doctor to see it’s done right. No silly messing.’
Smoked a fag together, then with rosary beads,
more decades than Ma insisted them evenings.
Paddy shoved poppy seeds in my shaky hand,
‘Keep them yokes safe in the back pocket lad.
Soon we’ll have Big fellow’s mug on pennies.’
President Michael Collins! Worth the sacrifice?
Tell me St Peter why did I ever get born at all?
Will you be still accepting ruffians likes of me?
Only crime in my time was for the larking,
as a caged albatross I tried to break free.
Clergy came by this midnight for last rites,
solitude interrupted, declared I’d ‘no mortals’.
Confessed even only once French kissed!
‘Water to wine?’ I asked with the tin mug.
Priest slipped a full naggin, surely hit the spot.
‘If you’ll not be in heaven, neither for one of us!’
Two grand men, came and offered me peace,
and that dram of Uisce baithe to lean on.
Left me whistling in the dark.
What manner of neighbours do we have at all?
Europe pestilence passed, rat disease avoided,
our plague a parade of sordid next door hustlers,
foul or fair weathers through tumultuous reigns.
Sent genocidal merchants, Cromwell and cronies,
tools of their trade, baton, cudgel and truncheon.
Penal Laws displayed endlessly punishing spirits,
priests with mass in hedgerows, no gaelic focals.
Our tormentors are grifters, sniff on those roses,
disguised by garlands and red ribbons.
My hat left for your brother and sturdy shoes,
those dear glasses frames when I first saw you,
I’ve the cheap ones with the crack, more fitting.
Tommy at school put his ham fist into my face.
Have a rummage around in the bedroom press,
few pound notes I was hiding under the mattress,
one is five quid, sure I’ll go out on the high note!
Our O’Connell street photo, books, check with Ma!
Piggy bank loaded with half crowns. All of yours!
Rugby medal and 100 yard sprint if you even want,
tell Ma for definite that hooded raincoat you liked,
on the hike at Easter to Powerscourt waterfall.
Make double sure you take our carnival teddy bear,
cost thruppence, when I beat carnies over in Howth!
Dearest don’t sit or dwell, I’ll not be at gates of Hell!
Manacled heroes hauled to Tyburn gallows tree,
horsecart ride down streets, halt at Bowland’s pub,
tankards with guards, before vile pursuits began,
fierce violence spectacle for Neanderthal crowds,
their legacy ritual skullduggery, terror mutilations,
best seats in high demand for silver guinea tariffs.
Witness a human abattoir in greasy City of Gallows,
easy to lose footing down on those slimy avenues.
Then our young Robert Emmett on Dublin’s street,
matched by Silken Thomas ‘hongyd hedded, quartered.’
Evisceration, castration, only wild daily chopping,
keeping splayed lads alive longer by royal decree,
as bulls in Spain with estastic wagering crowds.
Screams muffled, pebbles shoved deep in the gob,
released from torments by long branch lynching,
purpose designed, slowly take last breath away.
Such pageants recorded for over 500 years,
forking over arms and leg, never a one off thing.
Where this came from? Mulled wine in lead pewter?
Vicious artifices inherited from Vlad the Impaler?
These agonies to put the wind up any miscreants,
our whipping boy land hidden from world’s scrutiny.
Whether fox or rebel they’ll be pulled apart. Tally Ho!
Anyway mercy bullets for me, these enlightened times.
Get some breaks.
Famine Queen lies resplendent in a golden casket,
where were you when we needed you most?
No loaves, meat pottage curds and whey for us?
Skinflint had presided over wondrous estates,
giant pink octopus tentacles astride an entire globe,
keen as mustard lording over God’s land and water.
Right neck with Flag planting every new conquest.
Bagsy for us! Finders keepers, losers weepers!
Hip, Hip, Hurray! Hip, Hurray! Jolly good, I say.
Iron willed filling their bulging strapped sacks,
steel sent to Africa for railways and slave chains.
Always be raiding, collecting riches from abroad,
avaricious activities bore rewarded consequences,
more jewels for stiff necked crowned Royal to bear.
Shire mansions, scullery maids, four-posters, library,
croquet, maze fun play for any tiny fair and dainty.
Mise judged by robbing hoods?
Tonight my lads sit with reverence on hard bar stools,
drinking poteen, busy nursing those distressed spirits.
Uilleann pipes, snuff, pipe tobacco, lots of sad blather,
provide scant gusto for patriot’s songs of rebel times,
stooped shoulders, no tail wag, head sighing, mutterings,
defeat and despair, accustomed to all since the GPO fail.
1916 crew massacred, wounded James shot in a chair,
topping all their old school cara gets to be slaughtered.
Vicious claw talons exposed, ‘submit or may ye perish’,
any lackluster amicus with neighbours fully cancelled!
Before bells, times be chatting with those snug girls,
me yearning to be there holding hands, kissing you.
One more night on the sauce, mighty craic together.
For Napoleon youse even gifted second chances,
have my pale skin sweat buckets in West Indies,
be dispatched on prison ship even with the fevers.
Gladly endure Hobart’s terrifying hog-tied courts,
four bright stars of the Southern Cross in Oz skies,
safe nesting for this wild goose, far from the plough.
Antipodes feast on beefy marsupials, roast Cassowaries,
I’d be off the wall, with such a palate jumping for joy!
Playing didgeridoo’s as Gauguin with the brown girls.
You’ll be shut of me, and save those heartaches.
Give me one last shot?
Manor Lords festooned with Dickensian girth,
no dropped crumbs from their loaded tables,
while Trevelyan’s laissez-faire starved our millions,
‘sharp effectual remedy’ for over-population of us.
Gorta Mor exposed real blights! Those laconic Earls,
when the chips were down they with big fish to fry.
Their ballyhooed potemkin ‘Act of Union’ farce,
jokesters had fooled us, with baloney shenanigans!
Not one stood up meerkat vigilant for our plight,
somnambulant as indolent sloths to our woes.
None for you ten for me, none for you 100 for me.
London had beefeaters, when we stewed the grass.
Far flung Turks sent aid, as did the Choctaw tribe,
desperate New York orphans sent 2 whole dollars,
God bless them young one’s with all His mercy.
Young Lincoln’s $10, later bucks stopping by him.
Toast for Her breakfast from our pilfered wheat,
our bitter brewed barleys lifted on Her Birthday!
Erin’s every shamrock, straw thatched cottage,
every boreen, all islands, Galway and Dublin bays.
Royal canal pike, trout in river, lakes. They owned?
Portrayed as poachers, again they’d turned tables!
Out foxed us once again.
‘Just be that good student’, Ma and Da demanded,
finish homework algebra, latin, history and gaelic.
So wanted me to be their rising shooting star,
not this useless, now dispensable as a ragamuffin,
humiliated, clad in prison rags, no one’s proper hero.
Now my life is spent, whimpering facing doom,
fell short of their mark, not even guts for garters.
Born sans my four wisdom teeth.
Imperial’s Empire net slung over earth’s minnows,
given unhealthy coveting and want for our land,
lonely Iceland existing in their exclusive location.
Irish Sea and Isle of Man never half belonged to us,
as with any good natured neighbour’s hedge row!
Beaten into our dim wits was they owned all of it,
depicting us in cartoons as haggard gargoyles,
Holyhead to Cliffs of Mohair all in their Kingdom.
Cabin fever ‘mainlanders’ had for our Celtic island.
Clontarf Brian Brou defeated malfeasant Viking thugs,
two centuries of barbaric pagan molesting intrusions.
Springtime they’d let loose mayhems by sea shores,
long boats outfitted to bulwark linings with treasures.
Oh what fun goon pirate hoards had with marauding,
crisscross a broad Atlantic, vagabonds ribald thieving.
‘Throw out all from those round towers and churches.’
Danegeld we coughed up when finally they’d vamoosed!
Missed by no one, fair dues gifted us blond haired celts!
Romans turned their nose at this poverty ‘Winter land’.
Lickety split nearest islanders showed up in our harbour,
invited by MacMurrough, no sentinels sent out to protect.
Our island filched by invaders, nightmares began again,
fought tooth and nail each century they reigned o’er us.
Never had enough turf, then got stuck in our mud.
Stone bed, panes cracked, drizzle chill, damp sheet,
no moon darkness with me staring in a deep abyss.
Gethsemane times, but no rooster with crowing,
distant bugle reveille rousting six riffraff dragoons,
each alone with killing dreams, why they’d joined up,
one rifle a blank, so all left unsure of real killers.
Also another to blow my top with a kill shot,
under the circumstance make sure I’m a goner!
Nothing better happens on Execution day.
No fish and vinegar chips for my tea.
Near Ellis island Liberty’s torch flares astride a bay,
at hard stone feet her shackle chains lie shattered.
Their citizens hauled hard to dispatch pesky invaders,
revolted Yanks partings achieved, President Washington!
Anchors away! That fleet fled full sail on an ebbing tide.
‘Watch those titanic icebergs don’t hit youse on the ass.’
Cracks appeared in that wake for an impervious Empire,
beacon of freedom to navigate and find our pathway.
Under their cosh we suffered, on a battered old land.
Wherein much lies buried.
When deposited in the yard feeling bedraggled,
meeting my slayers and soon afters my maker.
I’m that nervous with public speaking, stuttering,
shaken, drips, fear, palpitations to beat the band.
So no ‘gallows’ speech I’ll be keeping my trap shut.
Now my fateful beating heart aware of our last legs,
no shaking of squaddie hands as one brave Eriskine.
Like Anne Boleyn ‘not come to preach, come to die.’
No place for rehearsal or after need no hearse.
Reincarnation? After this fiasco never back here.
Fool me once? Next life Hawaii or Japan Samurai.
I’d better not upset squaddies, let me go easy,
likely feeling queasy under a stinking blindfold.
Still seeing clearly.
Paddy tells they’re late, off killing in another yard,
okay never any hurry to get beating heart stopped.
Wondering how long Heaven’s Gate stays open,
busy season now with this deadly Spanish flu,
plus lots of old folks ending such grand lives lived.
My Guardian Angel to deliver my battered spirit.
‘One unwanted soul presented at Heaven’s gate.’
As returning a worn school blazer to Clerys.
Rushing now hearing steel chain clanging,
rattling gates opening down long corridors,
loud belters with bloody thirsty antics.
Steel heels on stairs, braggadocios ramparts,
gallivanting panics, such mad blasting!
Well gra geal mo pumping croi.
Pulling off any stops, hullabaloos racket coming.
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