We Will

For Brenda O Connell who completed a monumental task in a fierce manner.

I will come from your hinterlands to fling open your doors,

I will swim from your oceans to strike at your shores.

I will climb up your trees and let my voice soar.

And when you should stop, I will sing more.


I will cross your borders to pitch my flag,

I will scale your walls to stand and brag.

I will take down your drum and beat it to four,

And when you should stop, I will beat more.


I will walk through your lands to take up my place,

I will name each woman and state their case.

I will dance their pain and sing their mores.

And when you shout stop, I will let my voice soar.


I will take up a stick to shape their face on the land,

I will stamp the truth of their past in each grain of sand.

I will paint their joys and tear up their veils,

And when you shout exile, l will pull down the sails.


And then when we meet me on the road as we will

I will offer my name and expect to hear yours.

I will meet you half way and stand fast where I am

Emboldened by voices from a whisper to a roar!

Under Grandad’s chair

There lives a host of special toys.

Bottle tops, lost spoons and Teagasc papers

On grass and feed and growing beef from your seat.

Under Grandad’s chair

Far back where my little hand can reach

Lives ‘gurl’ and rag time ‘ra ra’

Far back where they slid underneath.

Under Grandad’s chair lives

‘Cah’ that goes ‘beep’

Far back where it crashed below the ‘seet’.

Under Grandad’s chair lives dust

And ‘do do’* , ‘do do’, ‘do do’

Far back where I can’t …

Far back where I can’t stretch .

One more week and maybe I can reach…


For Clara on your first birthday

I forget the time when there was no time at all

When a stretch in the crèche meant midday drinks

And catching rays was a festival stay.

I forget the time when time went uncounted

When nights fell into mornings and mornings into

underground clubs painted silver.

I forget the time when the house just stood

Waiting in quiet for your baby chat to echo

When all my efforts to write sought words of elegance.

Now your ‘nah, nah, nah, nah’ ‘da, da, elongated ‘ya,ya, ya’ and

loud ‘ta,ta, ta’

break time with beauty.


Hickory, dickory, dock,

We  work around the clock.

Play and wash and prep and feed and change and play and nap and feed.


Toilet rush before the bough breaks.

A  baby  in a new mother’s lap

with growing arms reaching for the roll and now the  taps –

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,

Soon we all might crack.


The clock strikes one

and She arrives.

She soothes and smiles.

She coos and plays and gurgles.


I step and step and step until the body miles stack up.

Hickory, dickory, dock, the mouse wound down the clock.

Thoughts still before a time bomb bursts.


Hickory, dickory, dock.

She soothes, she calms and our doula leaves.

We begin again.



Asparagus Fern

If I could sketch

an image of four women would suffice.

You would see their hair,

black and dark and brown and blonde shining in the lights

of a bar where noodles come with noodles.

In the center there would stand

a casket of endgame beans


With dips and snaps and dips and squeezes

backtracking stories that wind and swirl and peak and ravel.

Catching up, filling in, listening up and laughing out.

If I could sketch you would see smile lines and glassy eyes, wide hugs wrapping you warm and best wishes wished and wished and wished and wished.

But my artistic talent long ago described

as a ‘ student who will always be happy’

can only ask you to imagine

a Christmas mantle, battery operated lights twinkling white through the lace of an Asparagus Fern

growing since that Christmas night


those four friends reunite.


A leveret lifts from his home,

Sinews stretch, extend and disappear.

A hand descends into the warmth of his form

And rotated grasses return to stand.


A mammoth is lifted from the ice,

Skeletal striations melt and disappear.

A tenancy dissolves with a vanishing scape

And museum bones return to stand.


A medic lifts a sleeper from her cave

Sodden bedding peels back to disappear.

A form slots into polythene

A mortuary lozenge never to stand.

To have the freedom of the drowned sailor #repealthe8th

I am a big college pointer,

Travel sick without moving.


I am a 22 year old shop worker,

Unable to walk on water.


I am the belle of the Barn,

Hiding beneath Emmet’s bridge.


I am a dystopian virgin,

Crouched and cold and slick with dirt.


I am a fifties country girl,

Creased and crazed and fraught with fear.


I am the child crucifix,

Abused and broken with arms outstretched and feet mud frozen.


I am the isolated mother,

Business heels and taut gym skin.


I am your walking sin.


I am the watcher on the banks,

Trapped between the dank black stilliness and the drowned sailor.


And yet

I am the watcher on the bridge,

Caught behind the sailor’s pearl dead eyes,

Listening to a republic’s dying sighs.


I am your nurse, I am your teacher, I sold you shares, I am not your mare.


Bells ring and bibles beat,

Swallows swirl and dive and dip.

One by one they pick an oil skin to lift.


A long dead sailor is carried from this wasteland

While I remain

bathed in the glory of stained glass light.


A long dead sailor is carried from this wasteland

While I remain

choked  on rhetoric and  the poverty of sand.


A long dead sailor is carried from this wasteland

While I remain

gagged by the past and  weed clogged waters.


I am the woman threading time’s spinning wheel,

waiting for a chance to choose but forced to kneel.

I am your prisoner, trapped and dying.

Now is the time to repeal, repeal, repeal!

#repealthe8th #righttochoose #timetoact #ifonlywomencouldwalkonwater

Moon Dust in your Face


I lift you to my face

And you leave behind the faintest trace

Remnants of another time, another universe, another place.


I settle you on our bed

And in you see the faintest thread

Dust woven from stars and moons into a history of saids and un-saids.


I rest your head in my hand

And lay you chin against my lifeline,

My palm, your cheek and eye resting flush with its broken rejoin.


I lift you to the sky

And watch all those other moons fly by

Spinning galaxies of stars reflecting your helix, your eyes, your smile, your cry,

All bound in you with the touch of a never-ending tie.


-For baby Clara who has brought about the undoing of us all!


An homage to Middle Abbey Street, Dublin

Middle Abbey Street, Dublin

is a suntrap.

On a clear day, just as noon ding dongs its approach,

Sitting behind the glass of a café window on the northside of the street,

early summer will broadcast its arrival

– warming your hair, your face, your shoulders, your back, your being.


Sun shadows will throw themselves across the floor,

Catching dust in their wake

Capturing the contradictory density of light.


Middle Abbey Street, Dublin

is a suntrap.

On a bright day, just as lunch time busies its approach,

Sitting behind the glass of an old bar window at the top of the street

afternoon heat will rise and accumulate

calling your face, your shoulders and  your closed eyes to the sun.


Glinting light will bounce from a passing Luas,

Catching the speed of dreams,

Hibernating since last year’s July fervour.


Middle Abbey Street, Dublin

Is a suntrap.

On a bright, clear day, just as tea time slows in its approach,

Sitting on the stepped stone of a bookshop in the middle of the street

Evening sun will splinter light into prisms

Casting rainbows all around your being.


Middle Abbey Street, Dublin

is a suntrap built for the realisation of awakenings

Once thought long lost and almost forgotten.


The mirror I have been hanging
for two years
lies at my feet
in smithereens.
The reflection
it had caught
careered me into shock.
Me, my mother in  a recent photo on the opposite wall,
and her red coat still hanging on a wooden crook beyond
the open door
to the porch.
That shifting picture, her face, her red coat,
made me think  once more
I saw her.
Ephemeral visions make hands jump
and now the mirror has
slipped from that newly driven nail
and lies,
in smithereens,
at my feet,
on the floor.
Trembling, I turn
to catch the image of my
figure in the
See through.
In the light  beyond the frame
I see a solid figure lift our daughter to the sky.
He draws him to her in a kiss.
Only the fragility of glass and an open door
lie between that happy pair and I.
Driving a nail into my grief I abandon the smithereens
of flinted mirror to the floor and walk through
to join them.
The solidity of  definitions merge and I think,
later, we will sweep those pieces up together
like we have a thousand times before.

-For Steve, the always solid amidst the shock of the ephemeral.

Gone: Part Two

Brick houses on Warwick terrace stretched upward from flights of stone steps. Detective May  lifted the door knocker noticing  the half moon fan light above the frame . ‘No spy hole’ she thought. The house seemed to stand as it had been built. Heavy curtains and a piano sitting inside the window suggested the interior  had avoided the concern for contemporary refurbs among Ranelagh’s 21st century property owners. All was had it been built over one hundred years ago.

It still looked like a home, like a house where someone sat at a Shearton sewing table  finishing their needle work before the evening light dimmed. If Mahon had worked here as Finola suggested it was unlikely he did so as an accountant. A gardener perhaps, but not an accountant. The door had yet to open and this line of investigation already had the mark of a wild goose chase.

The length of time it was taking for the  knock to be answered made May think there was possibly a one hundred year old person shuffling towards the door on. ‘They could be deaf’. She hammered again.  African Lilllies lush and full swayed  in a huge pot beside the door.  ‘Finola – something did not quite fit with her – she clung to moments from the past as complete and defining life markers. The disappearance and violent death of her life partner in the present did not seem to register at all. Why had Finola insisted she come here?’

In any case  the door remained shut. Any answers to the question of Jim Mahon’s death that  possibly  lay on the other side of the Warwick terrace  Georgian door were beyond May’s reach. She turned to leave  before her frustration grew.

‘Yes? Who are you?’ Already two steps from the bottom of the stairs Detective May turned to see a medium sized woman in her sixties standing  in the door way. Taking her in May realised she could be any woman of a similar age  from the affluent burrough.

‘I’m May, Detective May,  from Harcourt street. Here’s my ID’ she answered proffering her badge and Garda number.

‘Yes – I see. Well, what do you want’?’

‘Do you know this man?’

‘Jim? Yes, of course I knew him.’

‘Knew him? So you are aware he is dead’

‘Is this a joke? Are you atually a Detective? Of course I know he is dead.’

May had a flash back to Finola’s anger. Perhaps she didn’t connect with older women? Wy else would they become so irate when she questioned them? At least the earlier anticipate goose chase seemed to be off the table. She identified the man in the photo as Jim. They were on first name terms so whether he was an accountant or a gardener this  particular woman certainly seemed to have known the deceased well.

‘Do you mind if I come in? I have a few questions about Jim and your relationship with him while he worked here.’

‘Worked here? What kind of a detective are you?’

There was the question again. May was definitely not connecting with these women.

‘Jim didn’t work here. He lived here. He was my husband for 35 years. If you don’t believe me just drive down the road to the cemetery. Find his headstone – third row in, fourth from the end. When you have done some proper detective work come back. St Finbars- is down the road. You can’t miss it. The gates are always open.’

The door closed with a thud.

‘No wonder Jim had proposed not to marry Finola. He was a potential polygamist in the clothes of a bohemian’




Icy waters pour into the country as a  reverse tide pulls silt, animals, stones, plants, power and shards of beauty from all over the world.  Below flapping birds, the river stretches ahead providing a perfect landing strip. Skimming their landing surface, the striking striped heads of  Baa Headed geese can be seen through the light of morning.  Their  goslings are nearby and ready to fly. All of the world has arrived.

The city is a vast playground where the fluorescence of rhododendrons and atomic primulas mingle with the bass sounds of markets.  The music of the people modulates the air with the deep  beats of the Caribbean. Young men move through the crowds parading their cultivated spikes of joyful colour confusing the Baa headed geese.

How can you compete with a Mohawk celebrating the life of circus red and electric blue? The geese, it seems, are not the only show in town. Soon they realise they share their platform with the intoxicating sounds, colours and textures the river pulls into the core of  the city  from around the globe. All  the world is here to see in all of its intoxicating beauty.

Young women stripe and curl their hair, listen to the screams and melodic tones of punk and rap vibrating in time with the urban scape they navigate. Their boxed leather jackets rub shoulders with Drag Queens picking their precise steps to the disco superstore.

Fragrant trails of elegance hang in the air moments after those statuesque queens have moved on, turned a corned and disappeared. Somewhere a clock is ticking, licks of fire whisper to life  and a user slips into the numb haze of the opium addict. Free of their pain they miss the distracting glistening of the mini globes turning and spinning in every area of this vibrant world.

Icy shards that made the perilous journey from the Himalayas float on the surface of the river. Glinting like mirror balls they attract the giant Himalayan bees who  have followed the  path of the  breakaway ice as it cut across the plateau of Tibet into the ocean and towards the city.  Busy and bee like, the constant buzzers  build  three-foot-wide homes on the remains of what was once a glacier.

When their combs finally begin to slip over the edges of their ice floats the giant bees retreat to the crevices of the metropolis’ rising buildings. Window washers smoke the bees and pull nets of thick gauze around themselves. They pull 15-foot sponge extensions across the giant screens of London offices that let  workers  look out at the ever growing world.

Only the bravest screen cleaners  have been known to poke the combs with their long poles in the hope that some Himalayan honey would be theirs. Largely unattainable the uninvited poking usually sends combs spinning downwards instigating chaos on the ground hundreds of feet below. The bees survive; they have, after all, survived the Himalayas.

For now, their honey is in ruins but soon the bees will join the huge Himalayan Cranes standing 20 feet high in the Thames. They will begin to build their homes again.  Just as a wonderful Crane swallows an electric eel whole, a stalking Queen passes the river and marvels at the wide flapping of the birds wings and the halo of bees around its head. Perhaps I will add Crane wings to my next show she thought and moved around the corner. Someone in this world of worlds is bound to like  it.

Time Capsule: Part Four

Hoking in the foundations Ryan found more bones.  Night was showing  and his boots were already mud heavy. Jude’s was desolate with only the scratching of his spade breaking  the dusk. He thought of the clatter  of the cash box on the tiles.  It had fallen from his grasp as he rummaged through handfuls of notes and whatever coins were left. The clang of tin on tiles had echoed through the school as he stuffed the notes into the paws of the  JCB driver. Reflecting in his own condescending way  Ryan thought only  a witless alcoholic with  a thirst  and an old fashioned fear of the dead would have taken the money without a question.

He had  pushed the notes down into his pockets indicating to Ryan he could never be convinced to hand them back. Ryan had watched the driver as he had scurried from the school without querying the bones he had seen fall from the foundations. ‘He was no better than him’ the priest thought to himself. By now the driver would be spitting porter stories and spittle  at whatever other miscreant had the misfortune of sitting beside him in  Slatterys. Ryan could picture it.

He would talk. Not at first but he would definitely talk. No would would believe  the driver or at least, initially, no one would  believe him. But Ryan knew it would be only a matter of time before some sod turned up at the school emboldened by  the chip some clerical brute had carved in his shoulder decades earlier.  Ryan knew they would confront him or worse they would poke around for evidence and that would be that – it would all be over. His aspirations would incur their final crushing blow.

With that thought  Ryan felt the weight of time pressing on his mind. He tried to move with greater speed but the clay was heavy and the spade  heavier. He was not the man he once was. Time had taken care of that. Time. It was perhaps Ryan’s greatest enemy. Or at least he had thought it was until now. Right  now, the weight of wet clay was his arch nemesis.

He had thought it was staining and hiding  the offense of each bone’s brightness. It had seemed the clean limbs  were gradually being incorporated back into the earth. But  with each disturbance the spade seemed to encounter the suggestion of more bones and remains that felt closer to being a corpse than a skeleton. The tool seemed to be pushing through flesh and muscle rather than the brittle break of  femurs.

Could it be that the deterioration of corpses had slowed to a halt? In one mad moment Ryan had a vision of himself as the priest who uncovered the blessed and  untainted body of  a saint.  It is more likely I will appear on Top if the Pops he thought to himself in a rare moment of  humor that checked his own ego.  The absurdity of attempting to conceal what he instinctively knew was the mass internment of Jude’s lost and unmissed causes with wet clay washed him.

The more  clay he moved, the more unattached limbs, skeletons and corpses he encountered. ‘Give up your grave and walk’ he shouted. ‘Go!’ ‘Get out of here!’ Not even Ryan’s obscene pleas could alter the past. Each body, each corpse, each skeleton , each bone lay innocently  like a Time  Capsule releasing their story to the world. ‘This is what we are’ they whispered. ‘This is what you are’. Whispers surrounded Ryan, thickened the air and rose to a din. Both knees crumpled and kneeling in the flooded mud a cracked voice answered back:’All is over.’

Slattery’s residents were beginning to tune into the spittled tale of flood and bones.  Ryan lay face down and waited. Immersed in the breaking truth and suspended between his life of blank walls and the frenzy that was to come, Ryan waited.

The night lay dead and still. Nothing could be heard. Frozen Romans stared at the hanging head of a dying man. Lifeless elms stretched skyward and the windows of Jude’s, silvered by the rising moon, reflected  the scene below.


Time Capsule: Part Three

Death was constant in Ryan’s world.  Never far from his thoughts, it had become his closest companion. Death surrounded him, swaddled him and propelled happiness of any kind away from his heart. The Ryan wing constituted his last heave of ambition in life.

He examined the thick dust that furnished his living quarters. Sparsely decorated there were only a few  dark paintings of Romans at the foot of a crucifix  hanging on two of the four walls.Those paintings had followed him from cell to cell throughout his adult life. Imagined Romans frozen as their gaze turned towards  the hanging head of a dying man.   He felt just as sure of what they were looking at as their look  suggested: death.  He turned away. 

“Dam paintings! How many walls in how many countries have they slanted across?” His room echoed his words and threw them back. As always he was the only one present to receive them.  A life of blank walls  marked by  religious reproductions and plastic saints  stretched before and beyond him.  He drained his glass and luxuriated in the dry burning sensation it left behind. His version of dying  had rendered him bitter with a sharp tongue oiled by the shadow of a whiskey hangover.

Down stairs the front door closed. The far away thud of oak meeting its frame meant the school administrator was leaving, eight minutes before time.   Ryan watched  without moving. Through the corner of the window he saw her cut down the avenue towards another figure standing at start of the  elms.   Raising her arm in a wave she exposed a scrawny limb.  For a moment her  figure was a moving reflection of the dead trees reaching  into the fog.

“That rag and bone of a secretary! Who is there to meet her now?” Just as the couple  took the  turn of the avenue they moved out of view. Ryan envied her effort  but viewed her actions with  cynical misogyny.  He felt she had lived too much. Her choice of  evening tipple over dinner  and thick coffee over breakfast had taken their toll.  The accounts rarely balanced and the flesh had fallen from her frame leaving  worn twin sets hanging on angled clavicles.

He thought of the job that lay before him.  The day’s digging had  pulled lozenges of clay from the from sodden foundations. Weeks of rain had washed away the straight lines of  the new school’s  grounding. It  had only taken the JCB a few angular movements to expose the skeletons from their unmarked and unmentioned graves. Ryan knew those skeletons did not belong there.  Clean bones, white, straight and solid they seemed  longer than any human limb could ever be.

He had sent the digger away with a story of an unbaptized children’s burial ground.  It would take more than one drink to dispel the ache he now felt. Concealing the bones of lost children would deaden any life that had survived death’s tight swaddling.  One more whiskey and he knew he would face his own grave. It would be worth it for the school though.  It would be worth it in the end.



Silks, Synthetics and Songbirds: The Texture of Loss

Throughout my parents’ house there are presses filled with three or four life times of wearables, scarves and hats, books and colouring books, broken crayons and blunt pencils, jigsaws with thousands of pieces, lego blocks, teddies and dolls. That is what happens when one generation after another is brought up in the same house. Bit by bit the house accumulates its very own history, its own archive. Indeed, the walls of photographs tell the story of not just my family but of my father’s family and my mother’s family and to a lesser degree of their families before them.

Each wardrobe tells a story too. Mostly it is the story of the women in my family. It is important that you know that they and we are not hoarders. However, were you to open any one of those wardrobes that is perhaps the first word that would spring to mind. Hoarders. People who are keepers of things and in this case, keepers of clothes. Those  belong to the women who have gone before us. We are not accumulators rather, none of us, including the women who have now passed, could ever attempt to dispose of my grandmothers’ ‘things’ or my aunts’ ‘things’.

My grandmothers lived with us at different points in time when we were growing up. Consequently there are still pairs of heavy dark framed glasses lying about. Any hipster would be proud of them. Somehow some of my aunts’ clothes also came to be tucked into various wardrobes. Most of what belongs to those two glorious ladies lies in one particular press and consists of scarves silk and the fine wools of merino sheep. Little did those sheep know that one day they would sit in a wardrobe beside the fur of an animal that my grandmother once wore as a stole. Even now the proximity of their respective fibres seems to threaten those poor sheep. None of these women were wealthy but their good ‘things’ were kept safe with a view to prolonging their duration. Ending  that preservation now would be untimely and certainly not something for which I could take responsibility. Somehow  my grandmother’s voice , ‘mind that now’, still  echoes behind me. There is a degree of comfort in that. The voice is after all a close and familiar one.

Of course, my mother’s clothes now hang undisturbed in those same wardrobes. Each time I open the doors her red walking jacket stands out just as it did when she wore it. So too do her array of good coats worn to funerals both near and far, to weddings, to parent-teacher meetings where reports of giddy behaviour and day dreaming were punctuated with some good stuff, to trips to the theatre and to various matches. They have no use now. But to throw them out, to give them to charity or to simply move them at all would be to undergo yet another wrench none of us could possibly bear.

For me however, this is not the sole reason for their continued presence.  They bring a sense of the haptic, that is of almost touching those that once wore them. Morbid perhaps but touching their textures works as a means of leaving an intangible storm of upset and entering the world somewhere between loss and everyday life. When overwhelming loss comes to visit it helps to rummage in the pockets of jackets to see what you might find and to trace the wear on a cardigan’s elbow.  This sense of the haptic and the unexpected  distracts, brings a texture to loss and focusses upset onto an object or material that you can then shut the door on. Exploring what hangs in the wardrobe acts like a bank where you can deposit what threatens to consume and undo you. Somehow you can  walk away somewhat sobered.

Sometimes when returning towels to the hot press I find my hands plunge into the overflowing box of headscarves sitting on the corner shelf of the press. They are of assorted colours and belong to all of those women now lost to us. One is deep red and carries the print of various song birds in blues and yellow. The birds’ vibrancy is obvious. It shines through the series of still life frames I seem to be watching from a distance for the past year.

Since our mother died life presents itself as the fuzzied images you see through window condensation. Scenes and situations are recognisable but rarely present anything with which my mind can engage. The vibrancy of those yellow song birds disturbs that state and briefly reignites an awareness of the moment and brings about a certain hope.

Grief takes turns and some turn seem crueller than others. Some  scarves still retain the faint bouquets of perfumes. They are subtle smells. Inexpensive but expressly her. I can tell you on the odd bad day I have plunged my whole face into that box of scarves in an attempt to inhale any last traces of her.

On days marked by such a turn finding a way to pause the pendulum of hurt helps and even if dipping one’s head into material of various shapes and colours seems odd, it is what must be done to help the moment pass. Grief is messy. It is a face twisted in and ache that simply can’t find sound. And grief is, to put it mildly, an endless snotty mess.  No one looks well in this state. Except those song birds.

The hot press box also holds a lace glove crocheted by my grandmother as a young woman. It is probably almost a century old by now. It still holds perfect patterns that have greyed and hardened with time but in that glove you can trace the tension of a needle and the uniform tension that transformed thread into intricate patterns. Moving it through my hands I recall an essay by Alice Walker about her remembering her mother’s creativity and self-expression through her beautiful garden.

My grandmother is long gone and I remember her now without sadness. Instead the memory of her apple tarts, crafts and terrible jokes make me smile. Her jokes were old, well-worn and a little absurd. The question “Why did Malahide?” and its answer “Because it saw Swords Killester” always called for some well-meaning eye rolling just as it does now.

The daffodils my mother planted over the years are now in various states of bloom. There are always a number of blind blooms among them. Grief is a little like that. You stand among people but you are blind to all around you. You trudge on. You function. Some days you do neither. Some time, probably years from now,  I will lift the knitted scarves from that box and the trace the memory of my mother’s hands through the perfect tension of plan and purl knits. For now, however, the texture of loss can only be felt the light weight of silk and synthetics. Not because the loss is light but because only years can allow the full realisation of what is no longer with us through touch.

Time Capsule : Part Two

Autumn arrived as it was destined to do. Rain poured and continued to pour. Each day brought the endless oppression of the previous night’s rain quickly followed by more rain. Progress made on the new school wing  had come to a halt. Cloudburst after cloudburst was washing the new  foundations away. Their edges no longer followed the guidelines so carefully set out by stooped ground workers in the Spring and Fr Ryan no longer paced the site in the hope of stepping out new developments.

Relentless weather  was eroding the whole area, transforming it into a muddy mess. A damp smell of open clay hung around the school.The foundations barely contained the water that filled them, water that would take months to dissipate. St. Jude’s was once again living up to its reputation as a lost cause. Clouds gathered. Ryan could barely withstand an upward look.  He was irritated. The avenue’s dead Elms were even more foreboding now as their  leafless arms stretched up into tumults of weather. September had returned and his plan to open  the new school wing was now further from fruition than ever. His time, it seemed, would never arrive.

Ryan’s moment had been deferred. ‘Move the goal posts’ the architect quipped. But he could  not fully understand the implications of  irretrievably lost time. Ryan passed through each day with a pithy bitterness, answered his student’s questions more curtly than ever and felt a bristling in his mind that could hardly remain contained for much longer. His evening Powers had increased to two and now three. Darker evenings were being  calibrated by the snap of bottle tops twice a week. Nothing soothed his impatience. What had begun as a small whisper of ginger after dinner, was now three large whiskys. It left Ryan with a burning mouth to match his burning mind and by the end of each evening his brain was crawling with regret.

Lives often turn on disregarded detail and unnoticed incidents. Ryan however,  could no longer ignore either. His thinking was alert to every single word and movement as though his life had consisted of some sort of reviewable design. No longer able to withstand the  memory of his uneventful years, doubts poured in and left him questioning  every decision he had ever made. The new school wing was to be his legacy. It would qualify a life spent in a dead end. Unlike a number of his peers remembered for their crimes,  he would be remembered for the transformation of a dilapidated school for the disadvantaged as he heard Department officials refer to his students.

At any other time a new school wing would go under the radar but the Church was desperate for positive news and Ryan knew it. This was his last chance to piece together a memory for those who would  come to Jude’s after him. It was his last opportunity before old age truly set in to become someone.  With each flood however, time and funding disappeared. He was drowning in a crumbling dream. Loss breaks on the back of irrepressible change and for Ryan the more things remained the same, the more he lost.

Turning a cracked  tumbler in his palm, he considered all of the small life knocks  that had left  deep impressions on him.  Unknown bruises were surfacing and the details of their occurrences were becoming unbearable.  The new school wing had become an impetus for change that was now  being stifled by weather. What would at any other time be hardly worth his regard was now  ruining Ryan’s resolve. Ryan would die a no one, a thought he simply could not stand.


in the wake of loss 

After my mother’s wake and a week after my mother’s death it fell to me to prepare dinner. My brothers, relatives and neighbours had tended to the job throughout the previous week but on this Wednesday it felt natural that I would make it. 

Like our other family dinners it would be plain and wholesome and everyone would have more than enough. That is, they would have enough if I could get it off the ground. A number of full but topless saucepans were barking from the stove. Roosters were bubbling while orange garden carrots boiling away gently began to soak up a little too much salt. This certainly wasn’t how Mam did it. 

 For the life of me I could not find the right tops amongst the confusion of lids, pots and casserole dishes that remained in our family home after the wake. There is a strange comfort in all of these ill fitting lids. Too large, too small, nearly right but leaving a gap through which steam can escape. Golidlocks, her bears and the warm cuddles delivered to us as children at story time came back to me. 

The confusion of lids is testament to the warmth and care of our friends, family and neighbours who banded together showering us and our wake visitors with beautiful food and treats. A chaotic meitheal of love and giving leaves houses like this one upturned just as our hearts have been upscuttled and undone in the wake of our loss. 

But we know that as lids are slowly returned to their rightful owners, hopefully with the right saucepan, our mother will pass her calm across us, tugging us gently through  the confusion, through the gauze of light that waits for us until we can take clear blue skies again. Thanks to all who helped us with such spirit and generosity. Xx


Speaking of disease…

Bodies are flexible, responsive, malleable, strong, weak, resistant and precarious all at once. They endure more than we can possibly fathom. They live and they die and in between bodies do much to steer and determine the course of our lives. It is from the intersection between our environment, our dreams, our hopes and our loves that our sense of what it is to be human grows.

Engaging with that intersection when its careful organisation is upset by illness of any kind is humbling. Engagement with that intersection while illness pulls the carefully choreographed threads of a life and a life time, even momentarily apart, is an experience of feeling. It shocks us away from the language of bodies mediated through and constructed by policy, news, film, fiction, reality TV and the localised discourses of chat into a reality of negotiation between hurt and existence. It is a thoroughly humanizing and tempering experience.

Returning from this experience back into the world of mediated bodies can be both difficult and illuminating. The watching helplessness felt when struggling strangers and loved ones alike are  effected by illness is offset  by the stark language through which junior government ministers discuss bodies and illness on early morning television magazine programs. Their description of “burdens of care” falls heavy and hollow on ears  made sensitive to the tenuous immediacy of existence.

Reading newspaper articles advocating the continued “battle” against cancer or whatever other disease falls into the journalistic discourse of discussion on a particular day rarely does justice to the capacity of those  experiencing and negotiating a field of body changes and feeling. Even when newspaper articles challenge language the context in which they appear counteracts their argument. One such article appealing for the end of military language in the discussion of cancer appeared in The Irish Times on October 15  2014. “Don’t mention the war: cancer is not a battlefield” focused on the challenges of lifestyle in helping to avoid growing rates of cancer amongst certain image-1groups. In doing so the author Jacky Jones highlighted the need to move away from the military language of battles, growth and target. Jones advocates an approach facilitating the discussion of lifestyle changes. She also argues that the problems intrinsic to the notion we can treat our way out of any epidemic must be challenged.  Such a challenge however, requires a language space that allows room for the very recognition of these possibilities challenges would develop.

Paradoxically Jones’ article was  accompanied by the image above anchoring her discussion in the dehumanized space of battle and biomedicine, away from the human being at the center of the situation and the human beings responding to it. While theCancertolls image is far from the more explicit language of the 1980s HotPress article shown here on the left both image and language mobilise discourses of dehumanization. The  lazy recycling of an age old context shadows Jones’ point and, unfortunately, contradicts her overall discussion.

There is  noticeable and hopeful change at work  however. While those who work with patients deep in suffering may have been educated through a discourse of battle, burdens and biomedicine , they, by and large, have either the empathy, good sense or both  to know that    this somewhat aggressive type of discourse cannot be the discourse through which a human being’s experience of illness should be mediated. Rather they anticipate, and through knowledge, empathy and compassion alleviate pain as much as possible, they work with a body’s capacity to respond and the personality of the human being in front of them to carry out that very simple act of help and guidance back to health.

When news agencies and governments discuss the possibility of blocking care workers who have been at the “coalface” of Ebola, Swine flu or any other current epidemic from returning to their families, the humanity of help facilitated by empathy and supported through knowledge is ignored. It is often couched in discourses of fear and old fashioned prejudice. Even when the Forbes article “The problem with Ebola in the Media” published on November 10th 2014 critiques  the triumph of  the fear of Ebola over clearly thought out effective and compassionate policy it continues to utilize the language of toll and targets.

Narratives  that have developed around Ebola echo early narratives of AIDS and HIV and the situating of discourse of illness in language that protests against fear, dehumanization and anxiety. That same discourse however, simply presents these phenomena as the disease or virus in other ways as though  the description of the disease as such makes it thus. Both Jones’ article and the Forbes article are haunted by the very language of contradiction mobilised here in a 1980’s production of  current affairs program Today Tonight chronicling the AIDS crisis in Ireland. 

illnessasmetaphorcovAt the very least, at the most pressing of moments we should aspire to be as compassionate as we can and challenge the codes of talk that have come to form the ways in which bodies are discussed. In doing so, perhaps, we can return  to crucial moments of experience, carry them into the present thus challenging entrenched language of care, burdens and battles that are so very far from what Susan Sontag would describe as the “pain of others”.

While the multiplicities engendered by representation as well as the singularity of  discourses surrounding certain diseases seem to contradict each other there is a central move within current discourse to  recycle and perpetuate contexts of the body  weighed down by the undertow of history. It also seems hat  contemporary representations too readily take on the highly commercialized world of biomedical industries and technologies into  thinking of ourselves as  becoming machine like or as Deleuze and Guattari might describe us as alternative assemblages working in conjunction with  pre-existing systems.

Perhaps there is much we can learn from this language before we abandon it. If we think of treatment as a forging fluid that is worked around cells to  capture and coat them in a substance operating in labyrinthine ways  within the internal workings of the body, then we can begin to understand how  the substance and the body maintain their fluidity, malleability and capacity to resist. However, we become caught in moments of language that trap us in particular formations. Undoing those formations may require the incredible task of  untangling neoliberal society and  ourselves from language dripping in the past. However,  if  a fluid that can assemble itself machine like within a machine and work to  postpone, if not completely interrupt the development of a virus, syndrome or disease then the least we can do as humans is challenge the entrapment of our bodies in dehumanizing discourses that divorce us from our experience of what it is to be human. It is time perhaps we challenge discourse into representing the malleability of our bodies as being part of ourselves rather than as being outside of ourselves.



Ray Donovan: confronting Irish America as neither TV drama nor film have dared

images-4A corrupt present and a shady past dominate a number of  recent TV dramas and films featuring the Irish diaspora in the US. Amongst these is Mystic River. Mystic River,  based on a novel by Denis Lehane, visits the impact of sexual abuse and violence on a number of men who grew up in a working class neighborhood near the river.  The film itself leaves us with a sense of loss as we watch the haunting of the main characters by the effects and memories of abuse,  by the guilt associated with abuse and  by the fear  that its violences will stretch across generations.

Unlike Mystic River and other similar films TV series Ray Donovan confronts the darker side of Irish America in a way that has never been achieved so explicitly before. One reason for this is the nature of television series and their capacity to build slow burning narratives reflecting the livelong grind poverty, abuse, neglect and violence leave on a people. Another reason is the clever characterization evident across the series. Consequently, the series challenges the limits of established stereotypes providing an insight into not only the silent torture behind abuse but what happens when confronted by characters like Bunchy played by  Dashiell Mihok. Those stereotypes are not completely undone but Ray Donovan goes a long way  in developing beyond their traditional limits.

Named after the protagonist, Ray Donovan, the TV drama follows the activities of a criminal with a heart galvanised against the past and the pressures of the present. However, the return of his corrupt father, Mickey, played by Jon Voight, adds immeasurably to those pressures. Where Ray evokes respect within the Donovan family, Mickey evokes some humor followed by the bile of acidic and painful memory. The teasing out of these psychological effect of these memories on the cool, calm Ray sees his character move from being numb, to engaging in rough and disturbing sex with his wife to falling for a journalist. Ray is certainly not an angel and is at times very frustrating to watch move towards what seems like impending psychological disasters, but the complexities of his behaviors point to the effects familial neglect leaves on adults.

Bunchy’s character  stretches stereotypes by using a self-help counselling group for men abused by priests to face his past. Having been left vulnerable by his father’s neglect of him, Bunchy was exposed to and abused by a particular priest. While self-help groups have long played their part as dramatic devices in  TV dramas, we have not seen them utilised by an Irish American character in this way before. Neither have we seen a TV drama challenge  perceptions of the effects of abuse the way Ray Donovan does.

Lifting his girlfriend’s son from his bath, Bunchy become frighted and doubts himself and his actions. We see him fling the young boy into a corner of the room and flee the apartment. Confessing to his fears and doubts in his self-help group, the series confronts one of the taboos of abuse: the fear that  abuse will (and sometimes does) perpetuate abuse is challenged by Bunchy’s brave admission of the confusion he felt when lifting the child from the bath.

Bunchy talks through the moment and delineates the difference between fear and intention demarcating a moment of  realisation when Bunchy begins to reconcile his adult self with his abused self, allowing  him to  to separate his past from what are fears rather than intentions or actions. Slowing, ever so slowly, Bunchy’s character is outliving and outgrowing not only his  terrible memories but  he also to begins to outgrow the stereotype of a silent, broken former alcoholic Irish American. Where Mystic River and other films and series  that deal with the same theme fail to challenge the past, Ray Donovan works at showing the difficulty and  the possibility of moving beyond the abusive actions of others.

The slow shedding of the Donovan’s father also suggests a growing space between the gangster glamour  of a past negatively dominated by an abusive patriarchy. Mickey is hateful and Voight plays him with the swagger of an actor who knows he and his character make the series. In the last episode of the second series Voight’s acting borders on slapstick serving to  momentarily  retire the edgy aspects of Mickey’s character. As Mickey chases his enemy through a plush poolside bungalow, Voight’s movements are all keystone elbows and limbs emphasising the  tension Mickey threads between criminality and the pathetic absurdity of a failed  gangster.

Voight plays on his own physicality in emulating the movements of a once rootless south Boston  purveyor of fear and violence while his character looses the respect of his children one by one.  In this respect Ray Donovan, the character and the series, handle aspects of the gangster crime drama in  awkward ways, but the treatment and challenging of the past makes a refreshing one albeit it played out against a backdrop of violence.