From a sequence by Karl O’Hanlon

Author pic

 
 

from In Our Outrageous Masks of Dog-Skin

 

Prologue: St Joseph’s Seminary, Belfast—“the Wing”

 

What did I learn up there?
What do I now know?
- Padraic Fiacc
 
 
In the chapel, eldritch
windows by Harry Clarke gathered
                 the lead of dusk.
 
 
Half-asleep over my breviary
I could still taste Paris snows
       lemon-edged
       crystals blanched
on the flame of the tongue.
 
 
In Paris, I’d broken
             no vows, technically broken
             none, pagan
prevaricating apple
picker city; in lying
snow, I’d broken not a one.
Lay on my buried faith,
             fold on fold, bichon ears.
 
 
Compline brings
       a quiet night, imperfect end.
My brother seminarians
    
         
       the United midfielder’s holy hat trick,
the Father, the Son, in off the goalie, post;
       the big man from Glenties
who drove Gobnait, the seminary car,
slaughtered the Salve Regina.
Our chef from Catalonia, ex-Foreign Legionnaire,
       tiens, voilà Dieu en pain!
                  voilà Dieu en pain!
 
 
After night office:
pale Christ withered
       on the wall, a jonquil
       in a shelved book.
 
 
His mother still fires
       the milky way
of my eye, immaculate jungle
cat in primary stripes.
 
 
Maria, what strange miracles
an Irish Old Master
had there been one
could have made of you,
              Gaelic Madonnas
 through rain-blur
 dotting the countryside
              in moss and rock salt
 —men have choked on their own
       blood and such sentiments!
 
 
I watched her window spin
the treadle of gloom
 
 
when someone whispered
              out of that gloom
 
 
my name is O’Hanlon
 
 
              voice rushing
              splintering flurry
              of goshawk feathers
 
 
smashed particles
of the Tullahoge stone
        where great O’Neill was crowned.
 
 
His voice snarled, racked
with its own shifts and devices
 
 
peccavi
 
 
Sir Oghy, the Lord of Orior
come to confess
 
 
Kinsale, Vinegar Hill, Greysteel, Omagh,
the blundering centuries
streaked together in his plea.
 
 
Unfacultied, I could not absolve him,
and no confessional seal
yet squatted on me, o faithless
as Parisian snow, to guard his words
that leaped weird and high-coloured
      from the dark,
fused—mutant, collusive—
with my heretical midnight.
 
 

His confession went something like this.

 
 
 

A Quarter of a Red-Breast on the Fire

 

In granny’s porch
The Gleaners by Millet:
‘Why are they
still looking for their car keys?’
      Ali bali, ali bali bee
Lagan’s stew of sewage wafting
me the throbbing red beacon
on St Matthew’s steeple,
even then, pious aspirations
      assonant and sinewy
      as monk’s copy,
bubbling in the blood.

 

Fern tables and fern forms
we spread under the stars,

 

we knew all Ariosto then

 

spoke Latin like a vulgar tongue
in our schools of leechcraft and law.
But not too proud to writhe my mouth

 

in clattering English

 

when the Queen’s men came
doling out their bonnyclabber treaties.

 

Here is O’Hanlon country,
a far reach of its booley;
sleepy sentinel fires
the sound of strigils on wolf-pelts

 

a dawdling burn
         ignited damselfly wing.

 

Rakehelly horseboys
gallop past in cavalcade
guldering ‘ooh ah, up the ’Ra!’
       steaming with shit-flecked gore,
       endless mire of gobshitery
       treachery
       murther

 

as now we present
Mrs Robinson’s Loyal Sons Flute band:
       cola cola, can coca cola
       curry my yoghurt-o bullen a la
World Service air, with pips,
fortissimo near St Matt’s.

 

A stone in the school bus
       window blossomed, little flower
       that grew, and blooming
shook its pollen in the white seedbed
       of a girl’s scalp.

 

O stone in the midst of it all
       I wonder where it ended up

 

we saw the High King shake
Plantagenet’s hand
and Slick Willie turned on the Christmas lights.

 

All treaties are signed by slow learners
       Deo gratias
       for that skittish
 reluctance of ink

 

      it suffices
      as the bull and his harem
shiver a little, the dew starting to nip
the dog legs of the border (you know
it hasn’t quite gone away)

 

      I fill this song-book
with resentment and straw.

 
 
 

Lough Swilly Waltz

 

A bright and clear night ribboned
with a breeze, the French warship
pulled anchor at Rathmullan
and sailed out. Tiber birds worship
mud in their bird-brained world,
ignorant of how a broken bell
sounds in an Ulster storm,
ignorant of all save bellies
swelling for parasite and worm.

 
 

Karl O'Hanlon

About Karl O'Hanlon

Karl O'Hanlon's pamphlet 'And Now They Range' was published by Guillemot in 2016. He lives in York.