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Poetry Magnum Opus

Death and the Maidens (Parts One to Four)


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Death and the Maiden


Friar Barnadine: Thou hast committed--

Barabas: Fornication-- but that was in another country; / And besides, the wench is dead;

Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta


The past is a foreign country ... : they do things differently there;

L.P Hartley, The Go Between


i. And then there was Richard


Surely you can see that it has to stop ...

You cannot hope to carry on like this!

Think of your family, think of the scandal.


Thank you, Richard, for your concern

which I believe to be entirely genuine.

Kindly keep your nose out of my affairs.


Affairs! That’s the very word, isn’t it?

The mot juste, the hammer on the nail!

How can you be so wilfully dense?


You will notice a door behind you.

Be so good as to close it, Richard,

without vehemence, from the other side.


Oh, you are quite impossible! I warn you …


A warning well-intentioned, no doubt,

if, at the time, stonily disregarded.

One may accept advice on finance and horses

while resenting pointers on moral conduct.

The Polonius Principle, one might call it:

a weaselly old figure proferring platitudes

from a stained and tarnished conscience.

The advice, if not the source, is often sound.

You expect me to say I should have listened?

Quite the contrary, I hasten to assure you.

Disaster was in the wind. I was well aware of it.

For my own reasons I even welcomed it,

as you shall see ….


ii. Ilona : the Dear Old DDR


Checkpoint Charlie, Thursday,

nothing untoward. Two thousand

East marks in my socks, all as usual,

(you buy them 5 to 1 in the West)

and the surly buggers let me through.

Altes Rathaus by the Alex, see you at three.

Dear Ilona. Tiny waist and impressive chest,

couldn’t take my eyes off it at first,

until I saw that lovely gentle smile.

Husband over in Cuba or some other place

doing the right thing by the revolution.

Ach, quatsch! Says Ilona, garlic and toadstools.

Exactly so! Who am I to disagree?

I bring over silk stockings and a few little sundries

from time to time, offhand, in an agreeable way,

and Ilona claps her hands and goes lovably pink.

Well then, dear, shall we hop into bed?

Roger, roger, roger, roger ….

Ahh, that was quite delightful! Now we can begin

the more interesting part of our day together.

She wears a frilly frock and worsted stockings

while I don a peculiar suit with a party badge

and we sally forth into the Worker’s Paradise.

One thousand marks (Ilona discreetly pockets the remainder)

will buy you no end of glee in Berlin Ost.

We go to the lakes, rent out a rowboat,

drift happily here and there. Coffee and cream cakes

at the little shop she likes. When her eyes glaze over

ever so slightly we taxi (extravagance!) to the flat

for a likkle more roger roger. Change back

into my Western clobber, decide on a restaurant,

and head off primly arm in arm. Champagne!

At ten to twelve I cross the border (Cinderella rules!)

See you tomorrow in the Alex at three!


Yes, of course I got busted.

I knew the day it would happen

and was clean as a whistle at the border.

God! They were sick as parrots!

I knew because Ilona told me.

She’d been reporting on me all along.

She’d told me that from the beginning,

it was the only way we could pull it off.


iii. Peking, Yan Mei Ling


In the east arises the red old

revolutionary sun, while the cowed

diminutive seasons follow

in their laid-down appointed courses,

and then, suddenly, surprisingly,

a something,

a small little thing,

a simple gallant gesture

sets up a spark, ignites a rush of feeling,

a flame, a blaze, soon to become a conflagration.

Just like that.


Nothing, I mean nothing

can change you quite so suddenly ….

but then again her smile.


Mei Ling, the way she touches you on your arm,

and says she will meet you, discreetly, after work.

What would it be like to kiss a Chinese girl?

Rather nice, I should think.


That little touch, that sidelong glance

transforms all. At such moments,

this ponderous old planet,

bumbling its way through space,

stumbling among all its

grandiloquent aggrandisements

gives a little hop and skip

along its axis.


She is who she is, scented, unique,

I mean, what more can you say?

Look in the camera, Charley boy.


We have been watching you every moment

so how can this be so? How, indeed,

can this be so. How can there be love, when it

follows neither rhyme nor reason,

no history, no logic, no future?


Stop asking me these stupid questions!

I have been three days in detention.


How can this be love? Why this lady,

Yan Mei Ling so special, she just another girl

among many many dark-haired Chinese girls

police see all around, kon? You, Mister,

you go home America. Don’t come from America.


Never mind, you go. Gobshites,

I do not understand. My Chinee no good!

We English speak. All right, my Chinese is

good enough when I think I need it

and I think I need it now.


Leave her alone, I say.

Bladdy-bladdy blah.

Just leave her alone, OK?

Blah blah bladdy blah..

Leave Yan Mei Ling alone and I will leave China!

Ahhh … hmm. A cessation of bladdy blah.

When you leave China?


iv. Dublin Town, and Aíne ní Bradaigh


They cannot throw you out

of your own country. God knows, they try.

Pillocks! My family’s been here since the Ice Age!

Got that? Nothing much, since then, has changed among us.

Saint Patrick, who the fuck was he? Lookit,

come here to me now and I’ll tell you, owa the

soid of me gob: Dublin. I fuckin love it! Northside

Bad news, pal, if you don’t happen to come from here,

since we’ll only rape your sister. Don’t be looking.

Right then, Jimmo? Gerraway ta shite, Charluss,

and don’t be fuckin talkin. Them days. Horrible.

Twas then I met aine, no fuckin slapper, a fine thing,

going off to one of them girly schools with the uniforms

run by the nunnellynunny nuns, them bats out of hell,

and she all pink and blonde and God Almighty!

You wouldn’t be getting the leg over, if you know what I mean,

but you’d be lifting it a fair few inches off the pavement.

God, she was a cracker! We went off to the clubs to dance

and she stole my city-bred, armoured, steely heart.

She did and all. Dear sweet Onya. That’s Anne in English.

Fuck the English. They don’t live over here like we do

since the Ice Age, etc., etc., but wasn’t I talking about Áine?

I was. Jayz, would you stop with the bleedin interruptions?

Trying to be nice here, civilised, no fuckin need to do you,

unless you fuckin piss me off. Back on the track then, are you?

Right, so, Aíne, imagine. Do you know what that fuckin means?

Here’s herself and meself, all right, on the dance floor,


cracking elbows with the other couples

(oops, so sorry! … do that again an’ I’ll break yer face!)

just dancing, you know. Brill fuckin dancer she was,

and then comes along the slow song:

Nights in White Satin, which the girls like lapped it up,

from some group that now nobody remembers,

and didn’t she press herself up against me?

They wouldn’t be doing this craic over beyond in Tallaght

and yet she pressed herself against me …


Just what the Truth is,

I can’t say any more.

Because I love yoooooooooooooooooo

Oh, oh, oh


Oh, oh, I was having a wee problem inside me pants

since the little lad was arousing from slumber

and I was, like, politely trying not to be there,

but she knew, of course she knew,

and she pulled me in close

and even opened her legs a tiny little wedge

to make him feel comfy. I nearly died.

It’s a long song. Thank God for that fuckin band!


Just what I’m going through

They can’t understand.

Some try to tell me

Thoughts they defend …


Shall we go back to the table for a drink?

My face. I’m glad I couldn’t see it.

The what? Oh, right, yeh, of course.

And she never never said a single thing.

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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David W. Parsley

Hi Brendan, I like your resuscitation of poetic drama as a medium for recording literal exchanges between people, not just mutually stoned-out trances as practiced by so many. You make good use of the opportunity to condense the experience, which is one of the principal powers of our art. In this case, there is particular curiosity aroused by the title and the two quotes. Should be an interesting piece to watch as it develops.


Happy New Year,

- Dave

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The consistent quality of your work (and subject matter) past and present, could easily grace the BBC Radio 4's afternoon play spot. Ben

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