He got away from a field of barley in County Galway,
wood-bones wearing trousers and topcoat
and wide-brimmed hat, hung casually a few squally days
by a roadside, nothing occurring to him,
straw stuffed up his sleeve, a pair of black eye-patches

fastened across his rag-bag face. Labourers trucking back
to the city gave him a lift—paraded variously
around the building site as ‘boss’, ‘commis chef’, ‘rare
tulip’, ‘night nurse’. Cue a spew of jokes
and uncouth guff, but whoever would harshly judge them

mightn’t as quickly grudge them the standing room
cleaved under their lime-bleached boots,
the ‘floats’ of gargling concrete, the slobby wheelbarrows
lolloped over ramps, the screed work and shaky
gantries, the iron-welted paws and eye-scalding dust devils.

Fear bréige—‘scarecrow’, ‘straw man’, ‘man
who is false’—finally accommodated behind the basement
window of an inner-city dive, became
the incurious curiosity, a pine board for spine, a transverse
slat his arms at full stretch, a green-tinsel hair mop

pinned under the hat, twigs of blackthorn his fingery jut.
Did he feel before the lads could the rumble
rising from the street, hear the new optimism, himself
a sounding board for economic boom?
No, he was entirely witless. Yet the boom came, rubbing

its hands, talking big, gathering force. Their
employer had a simple policy: just build an’ be damned.
Payin’ over the odds for materials anyways,
shake a leg, boys, shake a bloody leg. Windburn, sunburn,
frost and rain, they worked the hours he gave,

soon were coining. Could afford a posher place,
but the ingrained things held, touflish and hovel comforts.
Revelled on bleary Saturday nights—as galoots,
muck savages, hullabalooers; returned, spinning fictions
to fit the rags-and-wood man for a laugh.

It’s how he earns his keep, they’d say, it’s how he
minds the house. He wouldn’t answer to that, or, if he did,
no one heard. Given a good kick sporadically
but couldn’t take umbrage, and when the wrought-iron bath
grew cluttered with bean tins, beer cans, spud peel,

left-over T-bones, truce between them was a pretending
of blame on him. Slowly he gathered dust.
And they would dance rattling scaffolds of high-falutin hotels,
size up swing-a-cat mews, sort snag-riddled
apartments, guzzle their lunches in big galvanise boxes

whose walls were bare except for the cellotaped
and crinkling poses of Page 3 models, and whose exteriors
provoked a sideshow of scrawls of graffiti
daubed by local kids wiping their runny noses. Clear-outs,
dislocations, clutter of traffic countermanding

the hard-won communal thing forever at cross-purposes
with its own good intentions, its blundering fall down
humanity all messy and glorious in hard-knock
existence—none of that was their concern. Just doing me job,
they’d mumble to complainers, before moving

again, quick and rudimentary with shovel and barrow,
power tool, trowel, sandstone lorry. Some
could go through brick walls for a short cut, others played
live-wire tamers in deadly earnest, more knew
how to make a hammer talk, a saw sing a song, dull wood

turn marvellous. One grew deft as a surgeon
in the ways he could swing and swoop a mammoth crane
on meticulous traverse of the gapped skyline.
So the asphalt thoroughfares gleaming with cat’s eyes
and whited demarcations whooshed into gear,

the peg-legged bridges spanned high and low, the ring roads
led onto ring roads, the thronged arcades
hoisted domes and unweary cupolas. Great constellations
of steel and glass across which sky and cloud
would abstractedly slide came to pass—sunlight’s mill

and splintering a fierce bedazzlement. So the tall trees
let linger at the perimeter of each new venture
made a show of old-world maturity, though if you scanned
for a moment they might semblance only
stuntedness in face of the high-rise they were set against.

Most things went up pre-cast monolithic, the votes
of corrupt servants of the people commodified
and biddable—secret, cash-stuffed envelopes, deals done
that could slew a shopping centre away
from neighbourhoods it was intended to serve, green-field

outskirts hurriedly rezoned and sectioned grey and pink
and yellow on maps in atria of council
planning departments. It was rock and roll, entrepreneurs
the new stars whirling their helicopters
above the heads of the commoners, shimmer of ‘virtual’

fortunes, golf-coursed coastal rights-of-way, African
oil wells, pitch and toss of the markets assuaged
by insider tradings, moneymen and government ministers
privately tickling each other, tumescence
of bankers’ bonuses, tease and titillation of social columns

in Sunday newspapers. How many ways can you sin?
Just one: by getting caught. Beatific republic
of the poor made to pay and scarcely visible the multitude
of true movers and shakers tasting only
their own sweat, uncelebrated struggle, honest and tenacious

as the overlaid, unloved, still-breathing humus.
Gazing of a morning with no food for the kids and no Santa
coming, a mother might stand skeptical of fairy lights
studded against a girdered sky—Merry Xmas,
Yuletide Greetings above her in-hock-to-the-lenders rooftop.

Seductive mantras, spin doctorates, financial analysts
luring the gullible, our ‘spire of light’
a prideful focus, tallest sculpture grandstanding on God’s
grunged earth, frenetic gaiety of youth
milling and sad youth gone flopping to grief, casual antic

of hula hoops slung over the upraised arms
of Big Jim Larkin, down the corner pub a gun fired, a hole
burned in a drug pusher’s heart. But would you
not feel disposed to slum in your Provencal summerhouse,
or breast the wavelets of goddess Shannon,

explore her Allen, Ree and Derg in your pleasure cruiser
if you were a powerful union leader, a big
company executive, or a tribunal judge goodly gracious
in long-winded deference to swindlers,
your retinue and argument of wizards conjuring a fortune

from the legal light show? Politicians skied
to a Rio conference on tropical rainforests, ‘no women’
aboard the government jet, ‘only wives’,
and plaintive the head of our nation doesn’t know
why all the cribbers and moaners won’t go commit suicide.

Plush hotels two a penny now turning empty, houses
foundering—o rainy isle—in rivered hollows,
their pipes burst, veneers cracked, jambs and architraves
gone to rot, slipshod manufacture, exposure
of multitudes whistling for their supper the unavailing

warranties, while the quick and easy cover-all
cover-nothing of cliché plausibly hums the burst balloon
of the golden egg of the arse of the goose
fallen out of the bucket. No waylaying old ghosts, penury
and emptiness, shivering home to haunt the dream.

As for our red-neck heroes with dirt caked
under their nails, those laid off big boots—well, pundits say
it’s the nature of casual labour to take what’s
available, to stomp expendable and unnecessary away
when job’s done, to keep an ear out for the boom

that might give them a start elsewhere. Diaspora again, our
favourite chatter word. While the very rich,
whose country is all countries and whose nation is none,
save themselves a cosy refuge, scurry after
their squirreled profits, trailing hard-done-bys and promises

to bounce back stronger than ever. But the fear bréige,
grown weary perhaps of doom and droning
pessimism, thumped and clumped his two wooden feet
up step by basement step, out the streets,
across the fields, over freshet rivers back to the ground

where he first saw the light of barley flowing. There the crows
flap about him undaunted as before, land
on his head and caw in raucous glory, heedless of his story
and unimpressed equally by the unvarying
shape, the one and only, he ever seems capable of throwing.