May 25- 31, 1998: Brian Dodds and Amélie Frank

Week of May 25, 1998-May 31, 1998

Brian Dodds and Amélie Frank

Brian Dodds


I’m 52, from Northern Ireland, have lived and worked as a teacher in England for 26 years Most, though mot all, of my poetry centres on North Irish events, my memories of life there and observations on visits home But have a look yourself! .

The following work is Copyright © 1998, and owned by
Brian Dodds and may not be distributed or reprinted in any manner whatver without written permission from the author


Spectres walking among us still
shriek banshee warnings but nobody listens;
skin and bone from the Hunger, blood from the Boyne,
torn flesh from Warrenpoint and Enniskillen

They cast invisible shadows on the landscape,
stain drumlin, lake and mountain, so at every turn
horror howls at us A parallel universe stalks us
with ghastly memories of what we have done to each other
The past is not behind but here now and before us,
history is bunk and can teach us nothing, for
arrogance swamps the seedbed of realisation We talk emptily of a future for our children

and gnaw like dogs on the bones the Planters tossed us, 
suck nourishment from dead scraps like Auschwitz skeletons;
but that dread nightmare was not of their making Media maggots fatten on our corpses, and

hope is like a crow’s feather on the grass
where we tear dark furrows from pitiful small fields and we conjure lies about warmth and hospitality,
make wings and missiles, whiskey and Irish linen,

as once we built a ship that surged through the dark,
sought out an iceberg, rammed it and was lost.

The Good Irish Shepherds

I worked in silence in the steam,
purifying surplices, God’s own labour Pretty as a picture I was, dragged
from our front gate, ma and da
praying for my soul, urging penitence
because the priest had called me dirty Under a lash of leather, driven

to confession, soiled by the sperm
of Untermenschen wed to chastity,
I wept Behind barbed wire and bars,
my baby torn from my bursting breasts,
I was beaten, shaved and shamed Outside, the boys were bombing
the Black North’s prods into freedom

and Americans were tracing Irish roots In the Congo the Army killed blacks
fed through terror of the sisters of mercy,
while in the Magdalene archipelago
we wept for years that were lost to us,
and wished that there were even more
we did not understand.


He was a mixed-race kid from England,
son, I suppose, of an errant Newry mother
who had dropped her guard in Manchester,
or some such English den of sin; the boys
gathered round him at O’Hara’s shop,
bombarded him with questions he could never hear Lourdes might bring the gift of a working tongue,
but for now he was like a little donkey
that lightly-pagan farmers langled by their beasts
to keep disease at bay; and I prepared for triumph Heart thumping, I drew one palm across the other
as if to wipe away a cuckoo spit,
touched index to index, tapped the life-line twice,
brushed the tip of the ring -finger
Following the clumsy movements, 
his eyes came suddenly alive, his hands
flooded smoothly and alarmingly
in a tide of fluency, knitting a pattern
as intricate as the crazy ribbons of weed
tangled by the silty waves on Cranfield sands My shifty eyes and redding cheeks spoke to him then,
and he turned away, his casual shrug
more eloquent and stinging than a sharp retort
He spoke no words in my tongue;
I knew just one in his.


Basket-of-eggs country, Poyntzpass
sleepy in a March unusually mild; the canal,
blighted from birth, links border killing-zone
and murder triangle; but this is a peaceful place,
no rebels or Orange bigots-a strange little town
though not unique, I know After twenty-nine years
the shadow has slithered over the green fields
where Poyntz’s men once routed the O’Neill’s
Ochón, ochón, ochón, agus ochón, Ó

Damien Trainor and Philip Allen, we know
your names now, killed on the day of the sheep sales Unemployed barmen may stir in their sleep,
but not because of you, or your families, your
brides-to-be, lost hopes The Sons of Ulster,
whose great-grandfathers marched to the Somme,
may stir in their sleep, but not because of you,
your neighbours, friends, the untouched few
Ochón, ochón, ochón, agus ochón, Ó

Politicians will comfort your mothers, touch
shoulders, clasp hands, mumble, even weep,
but your wasting will not melt their bitter resolves You are buried now in sight of each other,
just two more victims, the people of Ireland still
dying for gunmen whose songs will soon be written,
sung in a thousand smoky Railway Bars; and
this time no-one can say it isn’t one of ours
Ochón, ochón, ochón, agus ochón, Ó

Big Stephen

drove a jam-factory truck
powered by the pickers
on the Savilbeg plantation Sweet-and-sour raspberry bins
circled by wasps in summer
put the juice in his tank
A Chivers man A pay-packet
collector in a town of dole-takers,
untouched by sad sagas
of cotton firms that cut and ran
when the free rates ended But, just in case, he had a sideline
Pigs Fattened by buckets
of spud peelings and meal
simmered to a lumpy pulp
in a Burco boiler; rooting
soil in a small back garden,
sending a stink over the walls,

they sucked and grunted their way
to the hammer Three strong men
to hold the rope, heavy death-head
swung high, flat face downward,
rape-screech, thump and crunch
as the skull implodes Roll the shaft,

swing down the spike, sharp snap
as the bone breaks, mincemeat
eruption of brain, and slobbering mouth Big Stephen was an expert His cobbler’s knife with concaved edge
slit the jugular, and bright blood shot,

heart-muscle pumping uselessly,
voiding hot life on the concrete floor With boiling water from a big black pot
he’d scald the pink skin, cut-throat
razor scything off the bristles,
barbering the carcass clean and shiny
When the men had heaved the pig
like a stiffened lynch-mob victim
up to a rusted wall-ring, with one rip
he’d slice it ribs to arse, spilling
slippery guts to a wooden tub, 
and then blow up the bladder for his kids

to kick around among the scattering hens Thick blood drying on his fingers,
he’d pass around a Woodbine packet,
slip shillings to the sweating men,
hose down the yard as they enjoyed a smoke.

For Gabriel

Like John Lennon
I heard the news today, oh boy!
and this poem is just for you,
my grandson, latest male in the line,

the last girl born in 1947 And
suddenly, I ratchet up a generation,
bus-pass material at the age of fifty-two Gabriel William George-strong

man of God, born 1998 in Bristol Images of journeys on the M5,
birthday cards and gifts, like train-sets
and nursery-rhymes, interfering

in ways I swore I’d never do Out
came the Black Bush to wet your head,
Word 97 to record for all the world
a new granda’s emotional high
And I’d wondered how I’d feel
knowing there was now yet someone else
to think of me as old; but holding you,
warm, fragile and so small,
a new fierceness came into me
that you should grow up strong in light,
that you should know much love
in a dark world; and suddenly, you smiled

Amélie Frank


Amélie Frank lives and writes in Los Angeles where she is publisher (with Matthew Niblock) of the Sacred Beverage Press She is a third generation typesetter and host of the twice monthly reading series at the Hot House Café in North Hollywood, California Her work has appeared in Caffeine, Dance of the Iguana and other places She claims to have nearly died giving birth to Rick Lupert of the Poetry Super Highway Rick’s flesh-mother has no comment on Amélie’s claim.

The following work is Copyright © 1998, and owned by
Amélie Frank and may not be distributed or reprinted in any manner whatsover without written permission from the author.

The Auk is Gone for Good

“He could not, Himself
make a second self
To be His Mate, as well
have made Himself:
He would not make what
he mislikes or slights,
An eyesore to Him, or not
worth his Pains “

–Robert Browning, Caliban Upon Setebos

A woman at work, 4-1/2 feet tall,
hairpin spine,
and a throw pillow for shoulders
Has anyone loved her? Ever?

Mother hunkers in the mud garden
trowel angled like a first tool, 
aggrieved with God
because she thinks she is someone’s maid Has Father loved her? Ever?

That is my bit of spine
in that bottle
It is the Missing Link’s wedding gift “Will ensure fertility (ha-ha) “
Tell me, do you think
I could have walked upright
if that little bone had
been in its proper place?
Would I have moved my opposable thumbs?
Invented the wheel?
Could I have aspired to beauty?
Successfully mated?
Have I a place in the fossil record?

This lizard moves through the world funny Easy for the cat to draw first blood The cat is not evil It is just in its nature
to snick a claw across
the lizard’s spine
That man is not evil It is just in his nature
to trap my bumbling form
in tar and stone
to exhibit by calcified heart
like an ugly bug
or a curiously paned leaf
or a bone in a bottle
Keepsake Conversation piece A slice of hip The butt of a joke I endeavor to camouflage my strangeness
before that man makes like Ted Hughes
and burns the memory
–that evidence–
out of my flesh
You see this, this ant in amber?
Ant aspires to glitter in the sun Beauty is an accident And my multitude of strangenesses
has no place in the George C Page Museum

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