Fragments from Another Life: A found poem

Frost on my mind.

“Nothing gold can stay…” 

The red tailed hawk builds a nest in the adjacent orchard, another hawk on the next tree.  

Lights flash. Warning signs. 

In deep water the octopus stretches its tentacles and embraces the current.

Badges and postcards litter the desk. 

A letter from an ex-girlfriend’s mother to my aunt and uncle, written on the occasion of my grandmother’s death.

Years later I’d fall in love with this woman’s daughter.

Two weeks after I moved to California my father hit a hole-in-one.

Ancient scripts from Old Ireland.

My mother’s cousin wrote, “You would not believe a father could say such things about his daughter.”

Beechmont Lodge, Navan, County Meath: Sunday.

A photograph of my mother as a child with her cousins, also relatives of James Joyce—John and Desmond Murray.





Stormcloudsdropwisdomonearthsday’s Childe

The sound. A bubbling over, as if millions of child-blown bubbles are popping all at once, small ones running here and there to explode them. Triptaptriptrap. The loneliest time of night is 3am and the lit moon slanting in the dusted-over window. Dog shifts; a snort, a rumble of dissatisfaction.

Across the world my mother wakes from unremembered dreams. Everything she does these days is without memory.

“Thank you” and “Thank you,” the chorus of voices. Scoliosis. Backs bearing weight today will be irredeemably arched like the bow of a harp some thirty years from now. Then it will be me unable to bear witness to the unfolding day and the small events that make up life in a small place.

There are times I keep good company in my writing life. Between the pages of a journal. Sandwiched between stories of apocalypse and flight. These days the words are petulant; not wanting to emerge from the dark. Meditation might open roadways to progress. Not enough hours in the day.






Death on the never never. Bass baritone spine tingling chill of the Irish Sea. Walls sheathed in snow like frosted cake on the dining room table at Christmas. The decorations of childhood are now no more. The sled. I remember the sled, and Santa urging the reindeer onwards, the back packed with parcels and bows.

A glass bead sits on the desk. The future reflected in its glow can’t quite make me understand. A list of sorts. Payment for services rendered. Boxes without packing slips. Meetings to discuss trivial things. Worry too much about checking off standards and measures, and not enough about impassioning the young students who want to be thralled.





A slow falling rain. The gauge ticks steadily to three. The downcast eyes of a stained glass Jesus. Before my time. Giant clips constrain the pages of disappointed manuscripts. Energy and effort are lacking. The writing must wait. There’s not enough time in the given day for all to be addressed.

Meat dried on a prairie. The lone coyote at the far end of the box canyon waits for the dim light of night. Men on horseback click tongues and move through the grey slush. Acres. Thousands. Widgets create wealth. A line item on an agenda goes unseen. The pastel painted card askew on the desk is a reminder of what’s left to accomplish.

Every falling drop is hungrily absorbed by the dried earth as it flexes its girth and welcomes renewal.

Sometimes I wake in the night and stare at the beams and their painted weight. Dreams remain forgotten. A hint here of what makes one anxious, a taste there of what engenders fear. A grave holds five coffins. There’s plenty of room for more beneath the frost-rimed surface. Don’t fool yourself to the ache of impermanence.


Rollinghillsofgreenburialmoundsday’s Childe

Miles flown this month: 5100+

Pints of Guinness drunk: 9

Pints of Murphy’s drunk: 1

Days without rain: 1

Pages written: 19

Rejections whilst away: 2

Books read: 4

Mentions in Irish Times: 1

Cows seen: 1191

Sheep seen: 4574

Shite Indian meals: 1

Shite fish chowders: 1

Burial mounds visited: 1


Easter1916yeatsandtheoldmanintheirgravesday’s Childe

Easter, 1916 by W.B. Yeats

I HAVE met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse –
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

My Father’s Last Full Day on Earth

Fifteen years ago today was my father’s last full day on this earth. What does a man do on such a day, I wondered, looking out the window at the breeze-stirred avocado leaves? I know he was unconscious and hadn’t spoken in almost two weeks. He’d have loved this house I live in, and my daughter and son. He never got to meet either of them. I picture him sitting in a deck chair on a warm day in Dublin, snoring, newspaper by his side, my mother pruning roses, or digging flower beds, or, asleep like him. He was a simple man, knew what he liked and what he disliked. There was no artifice with my Old Man. I wish I could magic myself inside his head on that last morning, before he stopped breathing and the monitor went to flatline. We’d all agreed, no resuscitation. The sun was coming up when he breathed his last, reaching its early tendrils across the window ledge of the nursing home room, the staff up and about their pre-breakfast duties. I was mid-air, en route from Los Angeles to London. When I landed at Heathrow I plugged a few coins in a payphone and called home. My mother answered. Gave me the news. I’ll never know his thoughts that day, or any of the days prior, only how little it took to make him content. Tomorrow is Easter Sunday, the egg hunt in our front garden for a second year, the hot cross buns to be baked, Jesus to emerge from the cave, as my toddler says. Risen. My glass, too, will be risen, to toast my father’s memory. “Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis!” 


Aprilsfoolsagooseberryfoolsday’s Childe

Fell hand defaced. Yesterday was the twenty-second anniversary of my arrival on these shores. I flew Dublin to Los Angeles and took a puddle-jumper down the coast, amazed by the stunning vista of San Diego’s harbor and the approach to the airport, low and close to Mister A’s restaurant and downtown homes and offices. I arrived with no ambition, a bagful of books, and about $3,000 cash. Looking back over marriages, break-ups, childbirths, miscarriages, kidney stones, and other landmarks of my life in America, I wonder how I am still here, still alive, writing under the bright California sun. My parents were sorry to see me go, but they’d already waved me off at the ferry in Dun Laoghaire years earlier on my way to live in London for a couple of miserable, lonely years, so maybe they knew I’d be back, defeated again by another country, sent packing with my paltry possessions and dented psyche. I vowed no return. One-way ticket. Still here. Writing. Teaching. Parenting. Planting berry vines in dry earth. Stories in anthologies and magazines. Book published. Mother in a home back in Ireland. Father underground. Eight tattoos. Two children. One divorce. The hair is grayer, thinner perhaps, though the hairline maintains. I’ve lived up and down the coastline here, from San Diego to Mission Viejo, to Dana Point, to Carpinteria. Baton Rouge and New Orleans, too. The accent wanes. Needs work. Reminding. Tangible connection to home. Spider’s thread. Home is a Barry’s tea-bag and a listen to the Dubliner’s on Spotify. Skype calls from brothers in Dublin, Cork and London. Home is the scar on my arm from our old neighbor’s glass-studded wall. Home is where the hurt is; in my mother’s slow decline, her arthritic fingers, the recipe books with her meticulous handwriting. A place of rain and music, words and worry, gravestones and faded photographs. Sometimes I hear of old acquaintances hanged in attics, divorced from wives, fighting eating disorders, spinning wool in dim kitchens where long ago I might have sat, reciting the blessing before meals. Those connections are few and far between, now, and my mind at peace more now my mother is looked after means I, too, am fading from view, like the old black & white negatives in her closet, my features softening, my shape less clear, and in a matter of years I’ll be more than half my lifetime in this new world. Maybe not. The future is never certain, the fall of a card, the roll of the dice, nothing is guaranteed us, which is why everything matters, the past and the future, both traveling inextricably in the same direction, both destined to collide in some epiphany under the shadow of Clery’s clock, or on a beach in Carpinteria at low tide. Either way, year twenty-three is under way and I go out to meet past and future, burdened by both.