for Fabio Barcellandi

When I make my routine phone call home
we never talk about long ago, except for vague references.
Mom says, Things were different back then,
then updates the local pages, with all the latest
births deaths disputes christenings and marriages.
She’s right: after all, childhood trauma makes for adult tedium
even when there’s heaps of profit in it.
Ask someone in the avant-garde of listening,
a literary agent say, a slush-pile reader, or a prostitute,
a small-town barman or a school pyschologist.

Unlike Mom I can’t seem to stop myself remembering
although I sometimes wonder if such cruelty
as I can recall going through and witnessing
could really have been allowed to exist as it did, that is
with the complicity of thousands in an average Irish town.
You see the little brute who made me chew worms
with bleeding gums was only a compact, a figurine,
a garden version inspired by the cell of fat sadists in ‘teacher’ masks
who lined up in a five year long gauntlet
of terror for infants at the heart of parish,
in the midst of our ‘community’.

Forward focus? Let bygones be bygones? Positivity?
Get lost. We’re silent about past crimes because violence works,
because a force field of implicit violence
is ever present in our pyramidal world.
It clamps us like a forceps at the moment of our birth.
It locks us down in institutions when we’re young.
It never for a moment stops prodding us along.
Its fuel is money and it’s powered by an engine
of inexhaustible greed at the top.

Strike out against the grid and you are guaranteed
to activate a truncheon surge,
wave upon wave of pepper spray, a plastic bullet whirlwind,
a stun-gun tsunami, death squads, rendition planes
black-ops’ bombs, and boiling bathtubs full of electricity.

Against all that I can give you only my defiance
in the act of remembering a vanished schoolyard,
a fat serrated finger-end poking at and tearing me,
my bully-boy telling me repeatedly,
west-corkonian high-pitchedly,
you’re dead, do you hear me, you’re dead
you’re dead, do you hear me, you’re dead
you’re dead, do you hear me, you’re dead.

After school I would be phalanxed
by 9-year-old guards and led
to a fag-butt, fuck and flagon field,
a walled-in outlaw patch we called The Orchard
and forced into a ‘scrap’ with him.
Dozens ringed us, cheering him on
as he cork-screwed my neck, shoved fistfuls of muck
in my mouth, bored his knuckles into my scalp,
telling me You’re dead do you hear me you’re dead
You’re dead do you hear me you’re dead
You’re dead do you hear me you’re dead.

Sure it was himself all along he was killing.
His spitting hubris and his hexing tongue
deafened the world to his subsequent pleading.
When his rural midnight swayed him near
to vertiginous cliffs of sheer despair
he scanned the sky for staying signs
but the universe of grace withheld
and the ship of hope, drawing up its anchor,
sailed off into a storm of oncoming time with his future.

A shale-coloured shadow oozed out of everything,
trees, windows, sunlight, footpaths, bar stools, bottles,
his own dark-mirrored face. Night numb and endless
got ready to absorb him. Then Death the No-Merciful
came thump thump thumping at the doorway of his life
and it was a mute and towering executioner
with a face made of scabs and rust
swinging fists of a nothingness unendurably dense
which drove and drove and drove
and went on driving him down
into an inevitable hole in the ground.

He was no tougher then, no more frightening
and no taller than those ant-sized words
automatically rapped out
into pre-existing sentences,
a standard entry in the local pages,
another soon-to-be forgotten statistical incident.

Afew days after his funeral,
my unremembering mom passed on the news
that he had taken his life,
as if I should commiserate.
I hung up. I felt a light-headed uplift of joy.
I let out a screech of delight. I was alone in my bedroom
and no one was listening. Save him, I like to imagine.
I’d like him to know exactly what I said.
I said You’re dead do you hear me you’re dead.