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Poetry Magnum Opus

Geoghan's Ghost


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Aequam memento rebus in arduis

seruare mentem, non secus in bonis

ab insolenti temperatam

laetitia, moriture Delli,

Horace, Odes, Book II, iii.



Geoghan tempers his moods of disquiet

with appeals to ancient personal gods,

pre-Christian, yes, that goes without saying,

but also pre-Celtic: he seems to gallop across

the millennia instead of a few mere centuries,

swearing or perhaps just furiously praying,

as he races to catch the 16A to Beaumont

with shoelaces undone and his long dark coat

wantonly flapping in the wind that whishes

and whooshes, aweela, wet from the slimegreen sea.

Geoghan invokes secret unheard of names and powers

that were hoary with age in the time of Baal

and Amon Ra; where has he learned these fearful

Stone Age imprecations? Surely not at home

with the mammy and daddy and his three sisters,

one of whom plays the harp and the other two

dainty violins, there in the plateglass bungalow

picked out from the All-Ireland Book of Designs

for Virtuously Vulgar Modern Living, garnished

with garden gnomes imported fresh from England,

Happy and Smiley, Doc and Dopey, Harold Wilson.

Geoghan’s oul fella was a turf accountant, as we say,

with our penchant these days for the gombeen genteel,

our building maintenance operators, our facilitators,

our elderly female recluses, kept well away from society

and formerly known as nuns; the priests, heaven help us,

are still in evidence, and you’ll find a fair few number

when fire alarms ring in the gayer parts of the city:

Come out there, Father, amn’t I holdin yer trousers?

Young Geoghan was never much good at manly sports,

at thumping others for the possession of a pig’s bladder

and then kicking it up and away like all our national teams

so that your heart could weep out of sheer frustration:

ah, would you pass or dribble, and not from yer bloody mouth?

But, but he had a steady sort of way about him,

not at all what you’d expect at the Christian Brothers

where they’d be beating away all that shite and nonsense

the minute you’d look up to stare in their dark flushed faces;

the fact is, they could feel something; and they were afraid of him,

not that at first I felt the same myself; no, that was later

when he’d look at me with those strange sea-washed eyes,

grey-green, pebbly, distant, unspeakably cold and old,

and it was then you’d feel the odd involuntary shiver

and would offer a joke or a beer, anything to break the tension.

Well, he died, of course, our poor unknowable friend,

and it is the matter of his end I wish to speak of.





Inde fit ut raro, qui se vixisse beatum

dicat et exacto contentus tempore vita

cedat uti conviva satur, reperire queamus.

- Horace, Satires, Book I, i.


It’s only now I’ve decided to break my long silence;

I was afraid, quite frankly, of powers I could not control,

and I didn’t have the protection or belief of poor queer Geoghan.

I was brought up with the mumbo-jumbo of an executed god,

a new departure in religious thinking, when you stop to think,

a god who becomes the sacrifice, not the demanding recipient,

a god who says turn the other cheek and then does fuckall for you.

Geoghan saw through all that. Let me tell you what happened.

He got it in his head, seriously, he could stop the war in Iraq

and so prayed for forty days and nights, each day two bottles of wine

(red and white) just around the corner from Trinity at the Lincoln Inn,

then, his vigil over, he proceeded, ceremoniously, to forlorn Ballsbridge

and the rounded concrete fortress of the unlovely American Embassy.

There for a while he disappeared, and his nervous band of acolytes

(I was not among them) stubbed endless cigarettes on the grey pavements

and waited and waited and waited for a sign. None, of course, came.

After three days helicopters arose like drunken dragonflies in the dawn,

the clapped-out dishwatery grey & filthy mauve of a ho-hum Dublin dawn,

and shots were fired, we heard them, and the Air Force was called out,

all three of our serviceable planes, they went sqwark - sqwark -sqwark

to each other on the radio, a trio of demented parrots, we could hear them

on Radio One; overall, it wasn't a great day for Ireland’s Intrepid Airmen,

with another two muppets cheering them on tepidly from the ground,

for their airplanes wouldn’t kick over when they’d stuck in the keys.


O Kathleen Mavourneen, the grey dawn is breaking,

The horn of the hunter is heard on the hill ….

So didn’t we hare over to Howth Head and Killiney? to the high ground,

to the two encircling, ensnaring arms of this fiercely possessive city,

and from there we could see it all, but what we saw can never be agreed.

The Americans – WTF, Americans?? - tried to shut down the whole business

with their broken old record, their fee-fi-fo-fum of GWOT and Guantanamo,

but you might as well try to hold back the tide as stop people from talking,

even though nobody (this is Ireland) could quite agree. Only I could see

a strange awkward figure hovering, balancing there in the whooshing air,

his coattails flapping like the dark raven’s wings on Cuchulainn’s shoulder,

his mouth open in an O with a force of words that only I could hear,

yet barely make out, with the rush of the wind and the clatter of the blades,

and yet it sounded like: Hilatoth – Hilagath -- Hilga … - Hilgamoth?

The sacred and secret name of a long-forgotten but unburied god?

But then Geoghan transposed into a flash of light, and his form was gone

forever. No body was ever recovered. And the war in Iraq went on and on.

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

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  • 2 weeks later...
David W. Parsley

Fascinating, I never knew where this was going. And, bless me, we almost emerged with nary an f-bomb, but things just can't be helped. The other bombs, metaphorically and literally, possess the poem, along with the green pebbly eyes of an enigmatic steppenwolf of a man. Another psychologically, spiritually complex creation, Bren. You are a hard one to accost in the open, but well worth the effort!



- Dave

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The 16A, the 16A,

We're lining up for the 16A!

This darling little bus

with no fiddle or fuss

will bring us happily on our way

and deliver us home in time for tay!


Beaumont, Beaumont, Beaumont!

The Old Crocks' Home is worth a pome.

They've locked up Bella and Uncle Jim

for there's really no help or hope for him

in Beaumont. Off to pass the time of day

and come back home in time for tay!


Sorry for the jocularity and jaunty tone, but this is a bittersweet memory: I used to visit my great-uncle Martin in the Beaumont Home (taking the 16A bus). He was a schoolteacher, an early member of the Gaelic League, and he had gone out to fight with the IRA in the War of Independence from 1919-21. He was shamefully ignored, to my mind, by other members of my extended family who were for the most part Dublin-based - the McCarthy side of the clan. Martin came from my father's side who were based out in Clare on the west coast, hopeless country people in the eyes of early 20th century sophisticated Dubliners. But it was guys like Martin who stood up to the British Empire and fought them to a standstill. I had a great deal of respect for him and I used to visit him whenever I came up to Dublin from my boarding school down in Kildare, where I was being reasonably well educated but physically imprisoned. One day I came up and a nun (schools and nursing homes were run pretty much by the Catholic church in those days) was talking to a pair of American visitors. I stood by politely in my school blazer until she stopped gushing to the guests and turned to me with an icy "Well? What do you want? "I'd like to visit my Uncle Martin, I said, but he doesn't seem to be in his usual room. "Martin? Oh you mean Martin Lyons? He's dead." And then she turned back to her American guests and continued talking as though nothing had happened. The two Ameicans, as I remember, cast me a glance of shocked sympathy. I stood there. Then I turned around and walked out, never to return. I have never forgotten that moment. That dear sweet gentle Martin, a deeply-read scholar and efficient but reluctant soldier, should be so clinically disposed of! I have never quite forgotten that moment, nor forgiven the Catholic church nor my mother's insouciant Dublin family. I joined the Army as a schoolboy volunteer within days and served for three years in what you might call the National Guard, serving in the honour guard for the President, then Eamon de Valera. I became, if you like, an Irish nationalist, tempered I hope by common sense, pretty much in opposition to the prevailing laissez-faire mood of my family. I was angry and remained angry for quite some time, getting involved in the Northern Ireland conflict to a certain extent before counsels of prudence sent me out of the country, first to the United States and then to Japan. I dare say such memories have an ongoing effect on my poetry, such as it is ....

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

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David W. Parsley

Why, yes, I do believe that sheds further light on the subject...

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A little, perhaps, but never too much ... stories unfold within veils and shrouds of mystery.

Wait for it, wait for it ... this is the Shanachie's (storyteller's) art!

As for the fragments and details, the occasional small things mentioned,

the broken pencil, the cigarette ash that missed the ashtray, thumbprints on whiskey glasses,

all of these things come from personal memory.

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

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I enjoyed reading this more after your ensuing notes. Like Dave and bearing the title in mind, I didn't know where it was going and took it for sweeping satire.

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