Paul Muldoon

Barrage Balloons, Buck Alec, Bird Flu and You
December 12, 2011 Muldoon Paul

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.

Paul Muldoon is an Irish poet. He has published over thirty collections and won a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the T. S. Eliot Prize. He held the post of Oxford Professor of Poetry from 1999 to 2004.