Barrage Balloons, Buck Alec, Bird Flu and You
for Dermot Seymour
First there is the weeping one weeps when one reads a good poem,
I would never again be able to go home, never mind home on the range.
The Swede who invented the Aga
had previously lost his sight to an explosion. The rain summoned by a blackbird’s raga
came sweeping over the Shankill, over the burning car
where Boston and Lowther were dumped, having been fingered in the bar
as a Prod and a Pape
enjoying a wee jar together. A wee escapade. A wee escape.
That would have been January 1977, when you were twenty, I twenty-five.
An era when we might still devoutly skive
off for the afternoon to the Washington or the Crown Liquor Saloon.
Almost every day someone floated a barrage balloon
over the city. We treated the wicker fence
that ran between us with such reverence
it might have been hooked up not to the balloon covered in ox-hide strips
but the “ox-hide” ingots of tin from a sunken Phoenician ship.
Until I met you in Tedford’s Ship Chandlers, where we’d both gone to buy new sails,
I’d assumed the boat I was in was the largest not to have used nails.
All along you’d been spirit-gumming a Harrier jump-jet
while the wind blew its own trumpet
at the exploits of Buck Alec Robinson and Silver McKee.
In Sailortown alone there were three
of those sweetie shops
where they still sold pieties at a penny a pop.
In the midst of all those sacred cows, in the midst of the fish, flesh and fowl,
we heard only the limer-hounds howl
as they pursued a mountain hare we’d taken as our totem.
Often a swollen scrotum
may not be traced back to an ill-fitting loin-cloth
just as not all potato diseases may be laid at the door of the potato-moth.
On Cave Hill, meanwhile, the hunt was on and the time was ripe
for the limer-hounds to revert to type.
Though you may dismiss as utter tosh
my theory this gung-ho stallion’s by Bacon out of Bosch,
there’s no denying a rooster
will put most of us in a flooster
while the pig that turns out to be less pig than ham
is every bit as alarming. Am I right in thinking that’s meant to be a ram
in a ferraiolo cape?
Hasn’t the ewe with scrapie got herself into a scrape?
I don’t suppose the moorland streams over which the huntsmen ride roughshod
and the puddles through which their horses plod
will give rise to enough salmon
to fertilize the soil and stave off another famine.
I hadn’t seen the connection between “spade” and “spud”
and “quid” and “cud”
till I noticed the mouth of an Indian elephant from the same troupe
the film-makers fitted with “African” ears and tusks was stained with nettle soup.
It’s taken me thirty years to discover the purple dye on your royal mail
derives not from a sea snail
but the fact you’re a scion
of the house in which Buck Alec kept a lion,
albeit a toothless lion, which he was given to parade along the Old Shore Road.
I still half-expect to meet Buck Alec conducting a merkin-toad
on the end of a piece of Tedford’s rope
while decrying as aberrations Henry Joy McCracken and Jemmy Hope.
We’ve all been there, I realize, on the brink
of a butte covered with sea pink
and rising from the swell like an organ pedal.
Think of Kit Carson, Free Mason as he was, winning another tin medal
for giving the Navajo the old “Get Thee Hence”
from their pinnacle. Although the UK is now under mass surveillance
this ram couldn’t give a tuppenny tup
about the passing of the cup.
Even Christ’s checking us out from his observation post.
Even he can’t quite bend Tiocfaidh Ar La to the tune of “Ghost
Riders in the Sky.” An Orangeman is his regalia is still regaling us with a sermon
about the ways of Fermanagh men and other vermin.
The Aga-inventor continues to gape
through the streetscape
of smoke and dust and broken glass flickering down like so much ticker tape
from the entry into Jerusalem of the King of the Apes.