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Cathal (Charles) Mac an Bháird

My eldest brother, Charlie, who in a schoolboy essay provided a chuckle to various clerical teachers by describing himself as "mother's and father's first experiment", had a book of his poems published after his death in 1980. I had the task of putting them into typescript for the publisher, and often railed at his scrawly handwriting. Now I am glad to pay him fraternal tribute by reproducing a few of them. Incidentally, I was the last of four brothers, by which time my parents' experiments had reached the peak of perfection, I being the proof!



Clouds move across
my eyes
Blotting out holes
That I can see
In the sun-lit blue,
Escaping momentarily
To let the sunlight
Flicker through
To chestnut, larch,
High pine, and yew.

Clouds move across
my eyes
Moving intermittently
But not obscuring
That living blue
Rich lit by light
Rich living hue
That only this
The sun can do;
Give life and living,
And leave
Living as it was
In doubt.

Clouds move across
my eyes
In the sun-lit blue.


The Flags

The flags of the city are grubby,
Shields of the Eireannach unpainted.
Plastic tubas tinselly riddling
The cliche's skies;
The Patrician soul is not present
Among the discarded packets,
And rust lies below the veneer
Of a rotting lip-service.
The flags in the streets are grubby,
Shields of the Eireannach unpainted.

The weak cold wind is blowing
On the dust of dead aspirations,
And cleansing rain revives not
The mildewed Green.
"Once again, brothers'; and tiredly
Type it to Thule or Hy Brasil
The words profaning the air.
The flags of the city are grubby,
Shields of the Eireannach unpainted.

No Seanchan to die for the poets,
No youth, no hope, no detergent
To wash the grey-white of living
Hoist on a pole,
The faceless streams pouring past
The tomb of Cu Chullain, spending
Themselves in the dried womb of Erin.
The flags in the streets are grubby,
Shields of the Eireannach unpainted.

The soul of Patrick is lonely
Seeking oil in the North Sea,
Sand-hogging the street mire of London,
Desperately lonely in Africa
Under bombed palms,
For paternity searching in Brendan's
Manhattan and Bronx, while at home
The flags of the city are grubby,
Shields of the Eireannach unpainted.

Decimalled gold limply dulling
On shopworn flagstaffs, making
A crucified trio descending
To ultimate dust,
Rotting the roots of expecting,
A rich pregnance rejecting
In the new commercial aborting.
The flags in the streets are grubby,
Shields of the Eireannach unpainted.
With the penny mortician awaiting,
To the wake come unknowing scions,
Eager, nostalgic, new-living
Seeking a sign,
A sword to gleam in the night.
But the near-spent bulb is flickering,
Fly-blown, loose in its holder,
And the words on the wind are gone.
The flags of the city are grubby,
Shields of the Eireannach unpainted.



At last I know
My thoughts are not my own;
Someone will take them.
So why then should I
Keep them to myself?
The sin of life is secrecy.
Which makes sane common-sense
Of ritual disclosure,
We are our own confessionals
Opening tight-closed doors
Behind which littler plots
Are hatched by littler men,
And ears are cocked
For unimportant whispers.
The taboos prove a sham
When all that happens is
That which can be easily surmised
By wider ranging minds.
Who needs the Watergate affair?
I do. It proves to me
The utter imbecility
Of playing secret games
In that society which we
Have in our time opened
And built with glass.



This is the day of decision
My Rubicon
This is the day for bravery
Or cowardice,
My Rubicon,
This is the day to go back retreating
Or go forward wryly smiling
To capture my Rome
My Rubicon.

Does my Rome lie forward
My Rubicon?
Or is my Rome behind me

I look at your waters
And decide to find your source;
Forward, then,



I will not reap what other men
have sown,
I will not sign my
name to
other men's effusions
Nor falsify by my subscription

Nor steal another's word
Claim false title to my
neighbour's seed.
Paternity frustrated in its
native bed
Will not find fullness
by forgery,
But fleshly un-ful-filled
Will father words
To make all men and women
Sons and daughters.

Words good or bad
Words beautiful, self-conceived
In the hermaphrodite womb of
Mind and heart,
Words ugly when the thought is base,
Words, lighting words
That pinprick holes of light in
The dark veil shroud of our life
And let us glimpse of newness.
These words will be my own,
Will bear my name,
Will show the lineage of their paternity,
Their muddied ancestry,
My words,
My words.


The Old, Old Story

The lad was young,
The day was cold;
The greenheart was
Infirm and old.
The net, his sole remaining toy,
Was tattered, like an orphan boy.
The little flies within his case
Looked more like mouldy curtain lace.

And yet, ye gods that rule o 'er pisces,
The lad caught more than me of fishes!


Making the "K.B."
(The "K.B. "is the pet invention of a well-known western angler)

Little bits of tinsel,
Twiddling lengths of silk,
Yards and yards of feathers
Getting in the milk:
Where on earth's the tweezers?
Lord, I've dropped the wax --
The hackle's like a hedgehog,
The dubbing feels like flax.
There's sweat upon my forehead,
There's silk floss in my hair,
The vice falls in the butter dish,
And the wings begin to tear.
The baby's in the tool-box;
There's mole's fur for my tea,
My poor old wife
Has just gone mad --
But I've made My First "K.B."!


Brother Athanasius

He rubbed his
Round stomach
And he made
Us smile,
And he used to say,
"Boys, after school
Will you stay a while?
I've something to show you
That you ought to know,
Something that helped
The world to grow,
Something that I picked
Up yesterday,
And it's in the press
To be out of the way".
And we'd look at the press,
Of which he kept the key
That once in a while
He'd entrust to me.
Behind the locked doors
I could see the things
That carried the mysteries
Of world-growing things,
Big conch shells from
Seas I would one day see
If all my dreams
Would come to be;
A bag-pipes, and I
sugar-watered the bag
To keep the leather soft
And never let it go dry;
A key that could tap out
Telegraphic Morse code,
And a jar with a stopper
Holding a toad;
A big jews harp
That he used to play,
If he'd a chance
He'd play it all day;
A galvanometer thing
That gave you a shock,
And a piece of
Volcanic pumice rock.
Brother Athanasius,
Thanks, from all of us.


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