Britain my father loved W.H. Auden and all his poetics.
I loved them both and all their after-dinner conversation though neither had the answers I was looking for.
Britain when I was 15 I read The Communist Manifesto.
I fought alongside the miners, those history makers, those heroes of the class struggle I thought we could change the world.
Britain its 20 years since I joined the disaffected.
I never played the stock-markets.
I never climbed the social ladder or doffed the cap.
I never believed in the sanctity of the family or marriage
or went to church on Sundays.
Britain I never learned how to kill another human being.
Britain I wouldve converted to Buddhism but couldnt grasp
their need for prayer.
Britain I'm strung out with thoughts of smouldering bodies.
I'm wired with thoughts of unexploded cluster bombs
and flattened cities.
Britain when does a bomblet cease to be a bomblet?
What is the evil scourge of terrorism?
Who will write the history of the world?
Britain I'm afraid to sleep in case I dream my dream
of the dead.
So many millions.
So many millions of delicate humans.
So many millions, gone forever.
Britain Im on the side of the living.
I'm larger than you think.
I contain multitudes.
All there is of love I contain it.
All there is of loss I contain it.
Britain where does the history of infamy, begin
Britain I am the redeemer of the oppressed.
I never meant to do you harm.
I'm dying all over again.
I'm history repeating itself.
I'm the children of the Gael burning at Drogheda.
I'm the Indian nations dying of smallpox.
I'm the walking dead in the lanes of Skibbereen
I'm the ghost people of Tasmania.
I'm James Conolly, my body all holes.
I'm the city of Dresden burning by starlight.
Britain did you civilize the Mau Mau? Those damn Kikuyu
always were trouble.
Do you still follow your humanitarian impulses?
When will you eradicate the propaganda of the left?
Britain I'm not joking.
You must defend the free world from terror.
Britain theres no need for excuses.
There is no insignificant enemy.
Youll rewrite international law when the time comes.
Those rogue states must be dealt with.
They are like academics, with their cock-eyed view of reality.
Past atrocities can remain safely forgotten, like summer fetes.
What everybody says must be true.
Ah, those halcyon days.
Ah, those salad days.
Ah, those heady days of empire.
Britain you do not lead the new imperial order.
You are only the junior partner.
But you must keep your eye on the ball.
Britain its a thankless task, being faithful to the bitter end.
O cover ups...assassinations...dirty wars!
It's time to enlist.
It's time to dole out fig leaves for the dead.
Fig leaves for the tortured.
Fig leaves for the displaced.
Fig leaves for the dispossessed.
Fig leaves for the disenfranchised.
Fig leaves for the poor.
Fig leaves for the unholy.
Fig leaves for Kosovo.
Fig leaves for Iraq.
Britain taking afternoon tea wont change history.
It won't sweeten the pill.
It won't strengthen your hand.
It won't save your skin.
Britain the future is a long time.
And the wearing of cricket whites won't impede the truth.
And the donning of tennis whites won't delay the verdict.
And being British wont excuse you from court.
And brass bands playing in park pavilions on a Sunday afternoon
won't bring back the dead.
Britain we can be sure of this.
For you, I will be everything
a poet should be and feed the dispossessed
outside of every holy shrine.
For you, I will sell love-poems to the Jesuits
and they will take sustenance
from them as though it were the new blood of Christ.
For you, I will ride into the lions den
and face every enemy
to free the poor man and the slave.
For you, I will denounce the evil doings
of the despot's armies
and march to meet them at dawn.
For you, I will save the heron from the fox
and pen happy endings
for all the broken and the lame.
For you, I will re-write the book of pain
and bring laughter
into the wards of disease and disaster.
For you, I will marry solitude
(for I know solitude) and keep my inner quiet
Taking Shade with Buddha
Of all the dense vegetation in this wild country
I have come to take shade with Buddha
(though he is equally at ease in sun or shadow)
under the bent branches of the Bodhi tree.
Frankly, it is not the best spot to make camp,
break the night's fast,
or break the habits of a life-time
but Buddha seems at home, like a man who has lived
irreverent aeons alone; he makes a welcome as only he can ;
confident of my comings and goings, naked
as one new born, sure that living is its own answer,
he offers figs for my hunger.
Slowly then, Buddha savours the morning air
as though it were sustenance enough
while the first light bakes the land
and each man and beast in the field is busy with the crop.
Already, I am in at the deep-end with my questions:
what if the knowledge of trees is no knowledge at all;
and if the trees should support the sky no more,
and the deliberate hush in the night really is the end, then what?
But Buddha is having none of it. And indeed, why should he trouble,
being at one, as he is, with forest, sky and the hallowed ground.
And by and by a talkative brook bothers the shadows
and Buddha is smiling; pleased at the sound of water on stone.
For an instant, he is like a child who has found his mother's hand
in some crowded place and then a moment later
he is old all over again like a being who has lived many lives.
Buddha breathes deeply. He breathes in the universe.
As the night comes and goes without trace,
so the years come and go without any hint
of us ever having been and we pass
on the stairs as if these ten years of our passing
meant nothing. Perhaps it was impossible
for me to tell you stories to make your dreams.
Now my ordinary sober world wishes to catch
a knowing glance, a last smile of approval.
I catch your scent as you gather your self up
to leave this place for some other shore.
Soon only memory will account
for your presence in these dim rooms.
I imagine you on the night ferry to Dublin:
your man cradles your head in his arms.
The sea is calm, your children sleep beside you,
time hardly matters outside this family group.
What's past and gone into myth matters
less and less. We hardly understand.
We who are left behind, made up
as we are of our own doubts and longings
look after you with all the sadness of old age
and though we are not yet old ourselves,
we feel the future beckoning like some new
decade which does not yet belong to us.
And then it happens, another star in the light universe goes out
and the star gazers are baffled by its demise;
thinking as they did that it was such an immature star.
From nothing, through nothing, to nothing (says the philosopher);
we are alone here, this much we know, without seeing
the quickening that would leave the night sky dark forever.
And then it happens, in that not too distant place
where linear time is measured in moments not aeons;
the heart closes to the possibility of connection.
And the thoughts of lovers were yet to declare
an interest in creation beyond the reach of the naked eye,
give birth to the incessant beating of their own ending.
North Sea Tyger
I thought about death, then,
as though, his dying
was an event of little majesty.
Gone was the splendid beard
of Cannery Row, gone
the coffin ships of the North Sea.
Gone too, the survivor's story
of blood stained hands.
He had wanted nothing less
than glory on the high seas,
but death came, bald-faced
death in breathless morning.
Gone, then, the gnashing teeth,
the all conquering hero,
wild with rebel blood rolling,
the revolution's steadfast son.
Gone the poet, gone the man,
then, who, then, who, to carry the van?