In her hands

Sleepy, between an important writer (like Zadie) on my right and a young man on my left. She asked something. How does it feel to be the way I was in my story? I only ever see her hands. We’re at desks in school perhaps. I think carefully in my dream and then I say it’s not being one way, it’s constantly trying to think which way, trying to work out which way to be. I feel this has restored my dignity. I’m pleased but so sleepy, I lean my head on her hand, this way and that. I apologise but she doesn’t mind. She says she would like to come with me to the prizegiving in the hall. The little guy on the other side asks for a loan of a couple of bob to get some boot polish. He likes boots, he says. And he wants to shine his boots because he wants to come and sit beside me at the prizegiving as well. I am pleased and falling asleep in her hands.

Image: Saint Bearchán, Saint Brigid and St Fachtna from one of Harry Clarke’s masterpieces in stained glass for St. Barrahane’s church, Castletownshend, Cork.

“Home Sickness” by George Moore


“There is an unchanging, silent life within every man that none knows but himself.”

I was introduced to this story as part of the Irish Writers in London Summer School at London Metropolitan University. George Moore (1852–1933) was himself an Irish writer in London for much of his life and this story deals with the eternal topics of leaving home, exile, ageing and the idea of return. It is also about love.

The story is structured like a road movie. At the beginning, James Bryden is in New York, where he has been for 13 years. He works at a bar in the Bowery but he is ill and his colleague suggests he take a break, go back to his native Ireland for few weeks.

When he returns, Bryden lodges with tenants he used to know on the demesne of a big house. He is troubled by his home place’s decline into poverty and dereliction, and the resignation and banal talk of his neighbours. He misses the vibrant life he had in New York, albeit cold, albeit in a slum, often recalling the smell of the barroom where he worked.

His health improves as he begins to settle into the life of his old townland, rowing on the lake and fishing. He happens to strike up a relationship with a local woman and they get along well. He encourages and finances parties in people’s houses because he wants to be with her.

Word reaches the local priest who takes a dim view and intervenes to stop this American “moral contagion”. The woman says she will have to marry Bryden if they are to continue, and he agrees. Then a letter comes from New York asking when he will come back. What will he do?

You can read the story and my intro at Scratch Books – Classic Stories.

Photo: George Moore by Edouard Manet (ref: public domain)

Life is a Mystery Tour


We don't know where we're going,
only that we'll end where we started,
a dream forgotten on an icy morning,
dissolved in the breath of some god,

all that we ever felt nothing
but the shadow of clouds on a hill,
all thought evanesced, forever secret,
and all that was said gone with a kiss.

(Rewritten 9/5/2023)

Ballad: The Leaving of Ballymun

Air: Skibbereen*

Oh father dear I often hear you speak of Dub, about
Its coffee smells, its Book of Kells, its billion pints of stout,
The thanks and please, the ocean breeze, and colleens by the ton.
Then tell me Dad what was so bad, you left old Ballymun?

Oh son, I loved my concrete home, its basements and its towers
Till I got the chop from my old job for canoodling in the showers.
My name was mud, my reference dud, my hopes for a rise undone
And that’s the cruel reason I left old Ballymun.

Before I left, was all upset and thought I’d change my mind.
My folks and friends took some offence, and let me in to find
Another boy, some hobbledehoy, had rented my room for one.
I heaved a sigh and said goodbye to dear old Ballymun.

My girlfriend too was bored I knew, and glad to see me go.
Apparently, she two-timed me with a plasterer called Joe.
I got the word and now absurd, what else could I do but run?
And that’s another reason I left old Ballymun.

That you exist, I somehow missed, till you turned up at my door
Ten years hence, with fifty pence and my darling from before.
More plastered, Joe, than plastering, he found out you’re my son,
Then changed the locks and said you pox, get out of Ballymun.

Oh father dear, let us stay here, I’m sorry if I weep.
I’ve made new friends here in Hatch End, and cider is so cheap.
I’ll tell you jokes and quit the smokes. Me ma says you’re the one.
And anyway, we have to stay - there’s no more Ballymun.

* I didn’t like any of the guitar chords I found online for Skibbereen, so I made my own ones that seem to work okay. I think it’s in waltz time (3 beats to the bar).

In my version:

[Am] Oh father dear [C] I often hear you [F] speak of [Em] Dub, [Am] about

[F] Its coffee smells, its [C] Book of Kells, its [Em] billion pints of [Am] stout.

[F] The thanks and please, the [C] ocean breeze, and [Em] colleens by the [Am] ton.

[Am] Then tell me, Dad, [C] what was so bad, you [F] left old [Em] Bally [Am] mun. 

In original lyrics:

[Am] Oh father dear, [C] I often hear you [F] speak of [Em] Erin's [Am] isle

[F] Her lofty hills, her [C] valleys green, her [Em] mountains rude and [Am] wild

[F] They say she is a [C] lovely land where-[Em]-in a saint might [Am] dwell

[Am] So why did you [C] abandon her, the [F] reason [Em] to me [Am] tell.

In their recording, The Dubliners with Ronnie Drew singing, do it in F#m (i.e. Em shape but with a capo on the second fret).

27/5/23: I’ve simplified the chords by using C and F instead of Am7 and Dm7. You can see the chord shapes here. You can decorate the accompaniment more by splitting Em into Em and Em7 and the other ones above. Whether that adds to the effect or detracts is debatable. Sometimes “simple” hits home more.

Illusion: The Penrose Triangle

It’s been a while since I shared a real illusion, unless – yes of course, count my appear-to-be poems.


One passionfruit, 99p from the greengrocer on the corner. It has an unprepossessing shell-like skin, mottled brown turning purplish when ripe, as here.

Featured image: the same fruit cut open, spectacularly colourful interior spilling out seeds coated in liquid pulp in shades of amber or mustard. The soft inner peel is a pastel rosé wine colour under a thin white inner layer.

Alternative caption: “Look what I nearly stepped in!”

What is the Meaning of Meaning?


“He’s got no faloorum, fol-diddle-dol-day
Maids when you’re young, never wed an old man”

Meaning is like faloorum.
Life has no meaning, old men no faloorum.
He's lacking in meaning fol-diddle-dol-day.
He's got no faloorum, he's meaningless too-rum,
Maids when you're young never ask an old man.

♪ If there’s no meaning no meaning has meaning. ♪

So all is fine because life has no meaning
and nothing has meaning, not meaning itself.
It’s no loss for life to be lacking in something
that has no meaning when lack of a meaning
is the lack of a nothing, by definition,
and the lack of a nothing is no lack at all.

Photo: Billboards apparently advertising Day of the Flying Leaves and New Short Stories 12

The Shallow Cove

I mostly follow behind the kids as their father leads us over grass and bumpy paths in the countryside. We’re on an outing to somewhere. The small boy, knee-high to me, grows tired and stops. “Do you want me to give you a piggyback?” As he’s getting on, I hope I can remember how to do this. He’s actually taller than I thought, something like eleven year-old, can’t really get settled on. Then he’s gone altogether. I’m saying the boy is nowhere to be seen but they have disappeared around the edge of a hill. When I turn left by the hill, it’s our destination- a small sunny cove. The open water is far off to the right and featureless. Here the water is only ankle-deep, clear and floored with colourful stones. The family are on the small beach across the water, along with other groups already there. There is no other way, so I call over to my friend, “Am I supposed to walk across with bare feet?” He answers, “Yes, both of them.” I’m amused and think to myself, this is an excellent example of subtle humour.

Photo: A view across Kilkeran Lake with the surface reflecting mirror-like the blue sky, white clouds and rushes. On the far side there are farm fields with hedgerows and a homestead in the distance. (West Cork, 2001?)

Everyone in the Street is a Ghost


An elderly mother of ghosts
traipses the soggy winter path,
the lumpy concrete
of Shakespeare's stage,
this world.

In a side street,
ghosts walk alone in anoraks,
all going home from shops
they passed by without buying,
faceless to each other's backs.

Photo: Crowds of people, Piccadilly Circus, Christmas 2018, blurred night scene with glaring lights and pallid illuminated buildings

I Am Words


A room empty but for a teletype machine, sporadically producing words.
There's more in the words than there is in the room.
There's more in the words than there is in me.
There's nothing in me but words.
I am words.

Photo: Greenford Road this evening at lighting up time. Cars parked, leaving, passing by with their red tail lights, delivery bikes, shops, street furniture, lamppost lit up, litter, cloudy sky, people in the distance further down the path almost silhouettes etc.

Just waving

Words by Jackie Morris


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