Denis Foley ≈ Four Poems



Black Cap

Black the Raven, blacker still the Raven’s eyes
Grim silhouettes slash across the skies
Black rags, torn jagged from the night
Riding high towards the battlefield
Across the centuries of fright.

These careful undertakers
Watching beady from a tree
Waiting for the noise to stop
And the end of endless agony.
When all are still, they hop and poke
Through broken squares of blood and smoke
Ragged flags and banners brightly burning
Cannon carriage overturned
One wheel still slightly turning.
Shattered lances, gunpowder reeks
And now the shocking silence speaks
Of old lessons ripe for learning.

Perching taloned upon the breast
Of our bravest and our best
Our only child, our gleaming youth
Who died for lies and was killed by truth
Curved wings arch and covert shroud
The sweet flesh of virgin soldiers
In death no longer proud.

The Raven let out a happy croak
And clicked his beak at the ancient joke
Then thought in wonder ‘Perhaps it’s true.
The salty ones are coloured blue.’




Steaming southeast off Socotra
At the Red Sea’s jagged mouth
We were bound for Singapore
And the islands of the south.
The ship was long and low and lean
It sailed as quiet as in a dream
A fast twelve thousand tonner
Silent turbines whirling
Propelled by silent steam
A wartime blockade runner.
One night soon after passing Aden
Hull down from Arabia
Sliding across this most Exotic Ocean
Between Africa and Asia
Where island groups delight the chart
Comoros, Maldives, Madagascar
The Seychelles, once at Eden’s heart
Dead calm, at twenty knots
Our passage wind the only hint of motion.

I was on watch that night
From twelve to four
On lookout from one to three
When I saw a sight that changed my mind
I caught a glimpse of me
And something else that’s rarely seen at sea.

The night was dark, no moon on show
Black purple sky and stars
Stars by the million shooting and slow
And I had in my pocket a small radio.
Strange shimmering music
And cascades of rhythm,
Pouring out of India
a thousand miles away
Bombay signal strong and clear
Sitar, Sarod, tabla drums
all new then to my ear
Not understanding added urgency
Until all I could do was hear.

The night then went a little strange
With fires deep within the wave
Clumps then rafts of floating light
And reality began to change
With underwater fireworks bright
Arcing quickly out of range
Green rockets exploding from the ship
Shoals of fish exciting phosphorescence
Their escape routes lighted briefly zip
By the flutter of their tails.
Hot rod dolphins zooming in
To leap dripping embers and splash cold flames
Racing around the forefoot, sleek and smiling
soft torpedoes with illuminated trails.

We soon left the fiery wastes
The darkness growing thicker
An upturned bowl of purple black
Stars sparkle shine and flicker
The sea was calmed and scarcely moved
And then the magic came to pass
The ocean stilled to a vast black pool
Water smooth as a looking glass.
Then the moment came, the transformation
I’ll treasure ’til I die
When I saw, much to my surprise
Though I shook my head and blinked my eyes
This old steamship freighter
had somehow taken to the sky.

We were flying through the stars
Reflected in the mirrored ocean
No sea or sky, no up nor down
No tide or set, nor fast nor slow
Flared bow our swept back wings
In flight to no horizon
Shooting stars or flying fish
Above us deep or deep below.
The sea so flat no sound was heard
No beast or fowl nor bat nor bird
Just me and the stars aglitter glow
And my trusty transistor radio.
The evening raga throbbed and moaned
The heavens whirled and I was stoned
Ripped on music stars and sea
Full of passion and emotion
Never seen again, that miraculous time
When I  was alone, on the prow of a ship
Far out on the Indian Ocean.



Home Is Where The Hat Is


They say you can never go home again
If you had one to start with. With whom and wherever
But how long is never, more or less than forever
And again is a repeat of when or whatever.
The unifying idea, ‘As many, we are as one.’
Comes rapidly undone when counting corpses in the Ganges
While you’re eating breakfast on the verandah
Of fresh yoghurt, papayas and banana
Where fetid night creeps to mornings quiet,
The calm and peaceful phase, before the daily riot.
The Sun, hot gong, shimmering furnace heats the haze.
Cruel night’s fitful sleeping to endless hungry days
Children like bundled rags fighting weeping
Small and tough their brothers keeping
Earning the absolution of the hero.
Laughing defiance as the shadow falls
For somehow sadly, there is always a missing child
Left behind and lost, outside the ancient walls
Begging to be let in, to be shackled once again.
Because sometimes being owned is better than being nothing
When your own enslavement is your only proof of worth
And the master that will kill you, is the all consuming earth
Clearly nothing, in that world, is the distillate of zero.

The modern city girl trapped inside her life,
Caught between her job and small apartment
Likes pets and hugs and sunsets. Would like to be a wife.
But she’s going nowhere for the weekend again
Stuck in the here and now, the where and when.
With dreams of children and a kindly heart, waiting for the love to start
Ready and willing to play her part. She knows exactly what she will say
When, upon that blessed day, according to her plan
Where she’s rescued rich and re-intacta, by her perfect man.
The young men whose homes dissolved in blizzards
Of pain-filled recriminations, faces wet with angry tears
Recycling adolescence into not quite mature, not quite sure
How to manage all these fears. What to do with all these years

With phantom guilt and  broken heart, still waiting to be forgiven.
And for all those that believe it was all your fault.
You’ll be sentenced to weep and your tears will salt
Your wounded love, deep where the scornful lash has riven.
While some folks lives had fleeing husbands fleeing wives,
Some had psycho jealous losers waving guns and knives.
And what should have been a feast was only barely tasted
Somewhere along there, their sense of home got wasted

If it was ever there at all. Anonymous suburbs, highway, mall.
Highrise apartments that go on forever in the spreading skyline sprawl.
A life reduced to Yes or No. Lights to tell you Stop or Go.
Half the sky now concrete wall, flash graffiti in the hall
The hope for nutrition being next to non-existent
With the smell of boiling cabbage the menu is consistent
With Mungo Fries and Giant Burgers, and no such size as small.
So it’s hard to get all nostalgic for a father that you hated
When your mother doesn’t care, because the vodka’s always there
And the schools are overrated when you’re not allowed outside
With condoms flung across the playground and needles everywhere
Temporary classrooms stuffy, stagnant, still there since you were five.
The future was always promising. But it never quite arrived
And, to be honest, most of us, we never really tried.

But other homes have come to flower and gone to final charm
Grandpa’s homestead on the prairie; further west the log house
Then in the peaceful sunlit valley, the final family farm.
The long grass beneath the summer trees.
The cousin and her mysteries, uncovered in the hayloft.
Her secrets so secret, we could not speak.
Swimming naked in the pool, then realized
On sun hot rocks beside the icy creek.
For two weeks, before we both returned to school,
Home became the two of us, at midnight, sitting in the moonlight
On our private mountain, the hill behind the barn
Fine tuning the scratchy radio to pick up distant stations
Past Country music and angry sermons whirling across the starry sky
To find the evening Benediction, the Angelus of Cool.
Dave Brubeck at the Blackhawk. Live from San Francisco.


Winter’s Child


It was a hard time for everyone
The mountains were high and the passes few
I thought it would take a week to walk her through
But the police found our tent, and we found hunger and cold
They stole our money and my knife. Helped themselves
Instead of us. Taking all we had saved, to pay for the bus.
But we had some millet and a kettle, soaking it all day
To boil into a gruel. Burning camel dung for fuel
It really stings your eyes, but we were young and strong
Raised to be neither slave nor master. Then she said
The baby is coming faster than I thought…
Not to scold me, she just told me. We really ought
To find some warm shelter before the child is born.

The high deserts are awful cold, nothing lives there
With towns and villages hard-hearted and far between.
Then the helicopters saw us hide jumping quickly into the ditch
I knew they would be back, circling round, hiding in the sun
Waiting for us to panic, to try to make a run
From the infrared sights on a gatling gun. But I had found
A culvert, a hole beneath the road, deep underground
We slithered in hysterical, afraid there might be a snake
Then the whirling cannon spoke and the earth began to shake.
Choking beneath the clouds of dust kicked up by the cannon fire
Waiting for her screams to stop, trying to calm her.

As I dug us out of what could have been our tomb
Suddenly the child kicked within her womb
And her frantic eyes turned to glittering stone.
So we scratched our way out by evening time
In sudden sunset silence we found ourselves alone
Our brave allies having all flown away. To return, perhaps another day.
We staggered toward the houses begging for water
But no other help was forthcoming; just some bread and dates
From some poor folks along the way.

Then a foreigner said I could work
Clearing mines with him. Dangerous work paid for by the day.
He told me that if I died she would get my pay and be helped upon her way.
But I lived while others paid in bloody rags, the price of real dreams
We headed west towards my family’s ancient home beyond the sunset
Where our people had grown strong among the apricots, the almonds
High flower choked valleys, children laughing beside the tumbling streams.
Haven of formal greetings; Peace be upon you and upon you also.

My father had told me how to find the Secret Pass
Through the jagged canyon, called the Pathway to the Moon.
But the dream of refuge then came crashing to its end
Reality bereft of courtesy coming all too soon
A stream of ragged people lined up silent at a tent
In search of food enough to live until tomorrow
Thin smoke from tiny cooking fires to make chupattis
Strange biscuits, corn from America, lentil stews
Salty bread and thin soup; bitter tears and sorrow.

I found a kinsman from the valley, a distant cousin who knew my name
He told me of the orchards burning, burning fields of grain
Then,his children murdered to his everlasting shame.
He gave us all his money and told me my name would live forever
If I saved  this child and Mother and kept on moving west.
So we did and crossed the border three weeks later
With a mad child and his motorbike to set us free
Five hundred dollars for the two of us
But he tried to charge for three.

The baby arrived when we were safe from harm
Helped by a farmers wife on a tiny farm
Giving birth in a stable, with a few sheep and goats
On a bed of straw with a sheet and some warm old coats.
There were two old horses one black, one grey.
Known to the farmer as Night and Day
Then he and I rode night and day to a phone so could call my mother
To tell her that I had saved the wife and child of my brother
And that she was brave and beautiful; But I could not tell the truth
That it would not be too hard to love her.But I was just a youth.

My Mother had lost her eldest son, the Doctor, to a robber with a gun
And I the youngest was sent to find his grave,to pray for his soul
And now she has a grandson named Sakr for the Hawk that we saw
Outside the stable where she bore her child with grace,
Rejoicing that the child showed not a trace of injury
And that the father lived on, in the baby’s face.

We were taken in by the consulate when I told them who we were
And that I had rescued her, my brothers widow
But the consul could not know that the child
She carried was all that was left, apart from me
Of our most ancient family. We came here with the Great Khan you see
From Samarkand to Isfahan a thousand years before.
Poets and musicians, astronomers, Divines
They destroyed their Mongol rulers with fine food and finer wines
And now like them, long since gone, our time has come to go.
To dry like tears, to melt like snow.
In the abode of War all are poor and all your life is worth
Is a hole in the ground, and a mound of earth
And your real estate remains only that which you can carry.

When the going was really tough, when she was exhausted
And it was very hard to move her
I would tell her about my taxi and the streets of Vancouver
Hastings, Pender, Denman, Davie,
Georgia, Drake, Robson, Cambie
Airport to the Skytrain Stations. The Yellow Cab of the exiled nations.
When we were very cold and had to cuddle like spoons in the dark
I would describe the trees around the Cricket Pitch.
At Brockton Point in Stanley Park.


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