Patrick Ryan

Winner of the 1994 Tandem Poetry Competition


You pod your beads, pressing
spasmodic fingers from thumbs
on the hard black shells
of their mysteries,
for you would have blood from these.

They are congealed drops
sweated by the One who ate your sins
before they were done.
Your habits match precisely
the colour of His robe
hanging in petrified folds,
telling above your heads.

The Levels

1 - Rayballing

His feet are prongs pushed deep
into the black lard of the bank.
His stick twitches, a forty-five degree erection.
From the viscous tea which slides slyly past,
string, like a strip of linen
swallowed in the yogin's gut,
rises by the inch, it's pulling out
stained with deep juices.

This river's brimming, it's sperm
luxuriates in seminal mud.
At the end of the line, Medusa's head of worms
has evolved into a heavy skein of muscle.
In the whiplash passion of the baited,
eels are seduced into the dripping light.

He takes them for his dad to skin
like rolling a stocking off a girl's leg.

2 - Elvering

The tide heaves them up from it's gut
like threadworms made from gelatine.
Nets and buckets line the banks in ambush.
By frostlight of halogen lamps
muffled figures crouch.

Reeds whisper; an owl exclaims.
Voices, quiet as slick mud rolls,
appraise the trawl and weigh of poundages,
a thwarted odyssey.

3 - Withyworker

Insistent, you ply and weave,
snugging down the sappy wands.
Skinned like eels, you mould
and redefine the branch
that would have grown ungainly.

Wicker, it is called. The word
lost luggage in Norsefolk
who rooted themselves in the east
as fast as the withies you sow
each year in this vinegar soil.

Wicken it is, you spellbind the willow;
conjuring creels for fishing,
chairs spin from your fingers.
Each item, a day's diary,
rings in the secret hearts of trees.

A Beara Triptych

1 - Ballydonegan Bay

Rock and ocean consummate here.
The Atlantic's womb is pierced deep.
Surf surges to its agape
famished for the razor-edged embrace
of these cragged and crooked arms.
Corombona could not relish more
the gouging point, nor fling her hair
more wildly in the throes
than this hissed hysteria of spume
spat out to seeth over stone.

They cannot meld, this land
and this water. Here is no ambivalence
or marsh or estuary.
No synthesis is sought.

At the North's horizon, the peaks of Kerry
spear the clouds like teeth;
a grim battle of Argonauts
knee deep in swell as if arrested
in the act of crossing over.
The mist deceives; they seem to rock.

2 - Allihies

"This is Allihies, d'you know that?"
The unshaven drunk at the bar insisted,
"It's the Allihies you're in now."
His eyes almost closed, the lids drooping
as the whiskey in the glass was refilled.
Through the window, pregnant clouds sheeted water
and sagged, leaning their elbows
on the slither of ruined slate roofs.
Runnels wept down the walls of cold houses.
"This is Allihies, d'you know that?
"Next stop - New York!"

The beach below looked good.
Man-made, the landlord said;
brought from the copper mines, now dead.
"This is Allihies," my friend murmured
as much to himself as to me.
In the bog of his head
he struggled to dig an idea of himself,
to turn it over and let it dry.
"I take the dole. It's fifty pound a week.
"Not bad."

The landlord told of the times
when there were schools and work and voices.
Now ten families cling to this shore.
Where sea claws, the cliffs insist on hunger.
I shook the pumice hand of my drunken neighbour.
As I turned to go his fogged brown eyes
searched for a valediction.
"This is Allihies," he said. "Next stop - New York!"

3 - The Healy Pass

three times we said, "This must be it"
as the road turned and twitched
like the snake whose head was crushed.
Three times our hopes were betrayed
as rain dashed itself against the car
to sluice us back to the coast.
We climbed yet higher into the early dark.

At last, taking us by surprise,
the earth fell away to the left,
the road hunched itself round a shoulder of rock.
Below, the stone strewn valley
was sewn in slip stitch by the grey track.
No life was here, no cultivated squares
defying the waste, no cowering cabins.
Ridge and rock, bronze bogs;
a world shut in, a store of raw materials
shelved on the seventh day.

We turned to hurry for the certainty of shelter
in the car and stopped, unable to accept
what our rain stung eyes now looked upon.
A soaked Golgotha streaming rivulets,
shone with a gleam like weathered bone
twenty feet high, arms stretched out
to the sheeted sky.


"I'm having some people for lunch"
Mrs Hulbert said. She was a big woman
and I believed her. I wondered how many
she would go for at one sitting
with her King's Pattern knife and fork.
Perhaps she would try the youngest first
that pink cheeked blond climbing out of the car.
I noticed Mrs Hulbert's nails
were the colour of dried blood
and that she was wearing her new dress
the one with the tiger lillies.
The victims ambled over the lawn
calves' smiles on their faces, the oldest ruminated among roses.
"Must fly" Mrs Hulbert said.
One day I believe she will.


I used to watch the bitch
with her ringed fingers
dribbling some dirge as we filed into Assembly.
Every morning, words were scaled down
to silence.

But that day Paul, overstrung with glee
whispered to me 'Two nil!'
'No! ' I gasped, just as she soft-pedalled
a few gluey bars
and the syllable sounded like a kettle drum.

She stopped playing, the bitch.
In the silence that settled
like ash from a bonfire
her voice rang out from the stage
as a bell might break out of a steeple.

We got done for that and I still remember
how she looked at me as if I were a turd.
So the petrol came in useful
when I nicked it
and poured it
through the letterbox
into the foyer.

Next day in the blackened arena
that once was a stage
I placed my right foot, so,
on the cracked corpse of the grand piano,
and like a weightlifter
heaved a chunk of falled masonry
as high as I could get it.


Forgive the familiarity
but your name brings you closer to me.
'Grandmother' perches hesitantly
on my lips and will not fly
to carry this to wherever you are.

I'm sorry I missed you
when I arrived too late,
though you'll be glad to know
that your daughter Eileen spoke of you
fondly and at length. I wonder,
did you get to hear of those Masses
they all paid to have said for you?
And I still have your picture,
the one where you sit in the fancy chair.
So the chances are, had we met in town
I'd have known you at once for the colleen with the peat-brown eyes.

Here comes the hard bit, Louisa.
I must admit to a tasteless fit
of curiosity as they eased my Grandfather
into the top bunk of your double plot.
Did you catch me peeping
past the shoulders of weeping aunts
and the bank of turned clay
spread like an altar
with the linen of snow
laced at the edges by the slow thaw?

I confess that in childhood dreams
you threw back the turf
as if it were your eiderdown
and rose smiling, your hand held out
to greet or grasp.
You made me sweat and scream
and then feel bad about the fear.

So on that snowfilled February day
with the bed opened up as if to air
I looked to see if you were there
and found once again that you'd gone away.

Perhaps we'll come across each other
some rain-rinsed April dawn
in a fanfare of daffodils;
or on a blustery Autumn dusk
when the wind harvests words
like leaves from my mouth.
And although I do not speak in the tongue of your Motherland,
I'm sure we'll have something to say.

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