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.