Francis O’Hare was born in Newry, Co. Down, in 1970. His first full collection, Falling into an O, was published by Lagan Press, Belfast, in 2007. A further pamphlet collection was published by Lagan Press in 2009, entitled Alphaville. He published his second collection, Somewhere Else, with Lagan Press in 2011. In the same year, he also published a collection in America, with Evening Street Press, Ohio, entitled Home and Other Elsewheres. A new collection, Sailing To Omeath, was published by Arlen House, Dublin, in January 2020. He has published poems in various magazines in Ireland, the U.K. and the United States, including Poetry Ireland Review, Evening Street Review, Glasgow Review of Books, The Galway Review, PN Review, The Blue Nib and The Yellow Nib.
While Saval parish
lay in a dream
of frost one time,
a strange thing happened.
in Sheeptown chapel.
The place full
The altar lit.
A shining star
above the crib.
The scent of far
away. I breathed
it all in and
held my breath
until she entered‒
Ned’s Anne’s daughter.
hair. Rose lips.
Eyes down in prayer.
in the chapel doorway,
the starry backdrop
the Blessed Virgin.
She took her pew
as the choir rose
and the organ lifted
me in excelsis.
Robert Smith Sings
I can still smell the dry ice on my clothes
from the first time we met. Top bar of Lavery’s
on one of their Thursday night alternative discos.
The Cure and The Smiths. Joy Division. The Pixies.
Everything’s dark. The floor sticky with spilt
cider and blackcurrant. Pernod. Harp lager.
Gothic fog filling the dance floor. The tilt
of the table my pint is balanced on. Her
sitting across from me, conjured from thin
air, as if magically. Out of the night.
And then deeper magic. After I’ve been
given the brush off, my mate says ‘All right?”
Turns out he knows her! Suddenly things
are transformed in the time it takes me to ask
her what she is drinking. Robert Smith sings
off in the distance. We enter a masque
of music and romance that seems like a dream
which proceeds, via a taxi-ride through neon Belfast,
back to her parents’ house. We lose track of time
and talk until birdsong awakens us. Kissed
softly by sunlight, the sofa we’re sitting on
creaks as we share one last lingering kiss
of our own, as she tells me her folks will be down
any minute. I take the hint, leave with a promise
to ring her next day. Which it now is… I can
still smell the dry ice on my clothes from last night
as I shut the front door behind me. The lawn
in her front garden glistens, oh so dazzlingly bright.
Christmas in The Cove
for Michael Sands
Christmas morning. After Mass. The Cove.
I’d called in for a festive ale or two.
Snowflakes danced in the frosty air, a mauve
or lavender tinge in the window’s tinselled view,
as I sat at the bar and ordered a pint of Guinness.
You pulled one, let it settle, slowly topped
a perfect head. Watching you do this
was a rite-of-passage, like ascending the snow-capped
summit of a mountain in the Mournes.
They sat like Christmas puddings, berry-red
under a wintry sun, its flames like thorns
piercing the pale horizon till it bled.
More pints followed swift upon that first one,
each one tasting sweeter in the blur
of cigar-smoke, spices: nutmeg, clove and cinnamon,
whiskey-fumes, and order after order.
And then I trudged back home for a pre-lunch snooze.
I recall a slurry phone call to my new
girlfriend up in Belfast, who smelt booze
down the line and hung up halfway through
me telling her I loved her. Lucky thing
she hadn’t been a witness earlier on
to my playing harmonica, badly, trying to sing
‘Love Me Do’, in the style of John Lennon,
stood outside the full-up men’s toilets.
But no harm done. Sure, ’twas all a bit of craic.
And now it’s a Christmas memory, warm as chestnuts
roast on an open fire, and downed with Cognac,
which I think we did, or tried to, as the snow
fell in earnest now, Bing Crosby-style,
outside the pub, its interior all aglow
with seasonal goodwill for a precious while.
Fairytale Of Belfast
I remember sitting, a lifetime ago, or more,
depressed as Morrissey, in a dingy Belfast pub
the Friday before Christmas, waiting for
some friends to turn up, trying not to blub
into my pint glass in seasonal misery.
I’d just been slam-dunked by my innamorata,
the night before, in the wheelie-bin of history
and here I sat, persona non grata,
staring out to see snow coming down
on the street outside, in flurries, soft, unspoken
as grief or heartbreak, until the twinkling town
was lost in a snow-globe, cracked and ruined, broken.
Then, from a jukebox, I heard the piano intro
to ‘Fairytale of New York’, Shane MacGowan’s
tobacco-drawl blending with Kirsty’s voice, the slow
lilt of accordion, bagpipes, violins
painting a bleak-beautiful portrait of despair:
Christmas Eve… the drunk-tank… and New York
lighting up like a Christmas tree. The air
ablaze with life and love to spite the dark.
The boys of the NYPD choir singing “Galway Bay”.
Bells ringing out across time and space
to me sitting there, at the fag-end of the day
in a smoky bar, tears falling down my face,
wondering how I would ever make it through
this night, the morning after, the rest of my life,
but joyful also with wonder and awe at how
such music lifts us above ourselves, our strife,
and gives us a ticket, a beat-up betting-slip, to
a better time, dreams, a Sinatra song,
an old man singing ‘The Rare Old Mountain Dew’.
So I finished my drink as my buddies came along
and Belfast was wonderful, how wonderful, and bright
with music and laughter, dancing and love, the stars:
Cassiopeia, Ursa, Orion, their light
spiriting us through a galaxy of bars
as snow kept falling, obliterating all
the bad stuff in a blizzard, les neiges d’antan
faintly falling, upon the City Hall,
the dark mutinous waves of the River Lagan.
How Many Nights?
How many nights
have I fallen asleep
to the sound of The Smiths
in the darkening subway,
its graffiti-daubed tunnel
moss-dank and lonely,
of my 80s-grey soul,
as Morrissey croons
his songs of lament
and longing, the tunes
jangling with latent
violence and love,
the menace and music
of Manchester, mauve
in lamplight, its redbrick
streets all begrimed
with rain, smog and fear,
where child-killers roamed
on their way to the moor
at Saddleworth, swathed
in a cloak of mist, cold
as the grave, moonlight-bathed,
in folklore, the last
words I hear sung
in my ear by a ghost
or ghoul, hopeful, haunting:
“There is a light
that never goes out…”,
while I become night,