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Poetry Magnum Opus

Michael Agonistes


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Five generations of trouble

come down to this single evening

in a stark and isolated barn

with the mud outside, as deep

and thick as congealed blood.


I drive up in the battered SUV.

How many other fields have we met upon,

our great and great great grandfathers?

He glides to the door in an Aston Martin,

the quelled engine slowly ticking.


He is accompanied, and I am not.

This is the present way of things.

I have brought a shotgun, unloaded,

for appearances more than anything else,

loose and cold against cheek and shoulder.


He steps into the light. “Hello, Michael.”

I grunt, my voice not quite the way I would like it.

“I hope we can settle this business quickly.”

I have no wish, I say, to settle anything with you.

“Then why, dear Michael, have you come?”




I used play on the carpet before my father’s desk

as he shot his cuffs, spoke on a large black telephone.

Well, well (he'd say) where has Mummy gone today,

Kiddy Boy? He’d grin and I’d say: “Shopping, Daddy.”

And he’d say that woman, son, will ruin us both.


That was in Farnborough Street in the City

with pale gray light sifting through the windows,

and he would always smile when he said that,

my father, a clean dapper man in his wellcut suit,

smelling of cologne and tobacco and whisky.


I admired him. I must even have loved him

because when the police stopped by the house,

muttering so very solemnly to my mother, I burst

into a cascade of tears, and she turned on me

with a face of stone: “Stop that, this instant!”


I remember that quite clearly, if so little else,

for I was sent off to a distant rain-dripping school

to learn of Duty and Honour and Faith and Empire

and my mother, who never visited, who rarely wrote,

faded with time, and in fact became her photograph.




How many times do you have to kill yourself

before the final death takes hold? Only once,

in Father’s case, but for me the question lingered.

I was cushioned, if not by love, by cash on demand,

going up effortlessly to one of the two universities.


Some ill-favoured ancestor had gone out to India,

a swaggering braggart if I know my mother’s family,

had fought in one of the wars nobody can remember,

and subsequently sailed home, heavy laden with loot.

This the source of our sensitive social standing.


I became a gentleman farmer. I use the terms advisedly,

but such in description and in tax returns I became.

Unimaginatively, I could think of little else to get away from Town

where my mother hovered, ever on the brink of a second marriage

which never came about. I knew how she loathed the country.


I was a failing farmer, of course, but ever so courteous and polite.

The house was ours, and I extended my lands from an old man in tears,

telling me how his people had owned their original house and fields

since Domesday Book, which I thought was rather pushing things,

but I gave him a fair price. Times were hard just after the War.




A quiet man, dour and unwieldy, is how I think they saw me.

I speak of the County and the neighbours, yet within five years

they had conspired to marry me off to a lively lissome lass,

no longer young, the third or fourth daughter of Sir Hugo Holmes, Bart.

The title, of course, brought my mother rushing, fluttering down.


I had three servants then; together we harried the dogs out of the Hall

in spite of the severe cold, poor fellows, in honour of Bride and Guests,

not that Georgina would have turned a hair. It was simply expected,

it was the done thing. My mother, I noticed, was entirely disapproved of

and this afforded secret glee. She very shortly returned to London.


Georgina was a plump and pleasant girl, I doubt she ever loved me.

Nor did I love her, but that is neither here nor there. What she gave me

was a gift unexpected, a gift beyond all reckoning: Nigel, my beloved son.

How can a grey man, old beyond his years, gambol like a fresh-born lamb?

You ask me this and I cannot answer. But it was so, it was so!


Intoxication is a sad thing to see in a man of middle age.

I could not believe I had produced such a being, such an angel!

You’re such a silly old boy, said Georgina, calm and complacent,

and I could not comprehend her! There before her very eyes

lay the future, in flesh and blood, a dream I had never dreamed of.




Nigel died. He was to die. He died at the hand of my neighbour’s son,

in a hunting accident. I assure you, said the trembling tearful boy,

I had no idea the gun would go off. His father held his shoulder,

and stared at me in a tense and desperate way I cannot describe,

because he knew. Knew I wanted the life of his son to pay for my own.


Now you drive up in your Aston Martin, you killer of my son,

and say it is a simple business, a deal to hand over the fallow land,

but I remember, as if yesterday, an ancient tearful gentleman

who spoke of Domesday, spoke at a time when I was not listening,

but I am listening now. The bank is adamant, threatens to ruin me.


I look into your lazy, your relaxed and confident eyes. I hate you,

with a surge of feeling unknown since the death of my only son,

and tighten the grip on the shotgun. “Easy does it, Michael,” you say,

“I would not be so foolish as to come alone.” Shadows separate,

and his men move out of the hidden gloom, armed and menacing.


“You may not be foolish, but neither am I.” I am absurdly relieved

that my voice has returned, is under some semblance of control.

“I dare say you remember Nigel?” He frowns, he steps forward.

I had lied about selling the land, and had lied to you, dear reader,

about the unloaded gun. I now levelled it, cocked, and fired.

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

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I listen, but unsure about the lies. Caught up in the realities that seem an echo. Well, if true, we find a way to live with them--or not. Here I sit before daylight, knocking back a couple with narcotics, although the warnings are plain, just as they have been always. You Irish can be so serious about such short lives. We live as if they never end. You write; I'll heed.

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Dear old Ireland - where the wars are merry and the songs so sad! I set this one in the UK where everything seems a bit sad these days. Good start to the Olympics, though!

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

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Larsen M. Callirhoe

great ending. you had me going old chap or is that a british used word. bredan you are fast becoming one of my favorite living poets. number four on the list. aleks is two. well number one is wynn manners. he writes goddes sensous poetry that i eat up. anyway where do you get this stuff at. i don't know if any of this is based on true-self or not. still a gemwith words like nigel and unloaded. i was expecting a quieter ending like bashing him over the head with the shotgun. lol i lied to the reader. just glad the shell was not loaded with your tecticular fortitude lol.... great read my friend.



Larsen M. Callirhoe

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