The God of Broken-Down Things
What words might walls hold of times past?
In your cement box for broken hope, listening
to the crescendo of a clock, knowing the worst
meal is one that haunts you from an empty
table, how sadness resides with darkness under the stairs
in a toolbox rusting, a perfectly ironed shirt and in idle cutlery
you find a kind of strength, the lament of old slippers
and half-opened drawers that rasp now in defiance
joy is the parrot that shouldn’t be contained.
And through the porch door voices
from the slough below where we fought oblivious
and in the hedgerow an unseen raucous referee
our silhouettes stretched out before us like all summer
mornings -smell of curing hay and sounds of laughter
a scattering of starlings on the boundless sky.
When I think of that boy, out there alone, oxygen
deprived. I think of the people who called his name
his nickname, his father’s name, his full name.
People who scoured the land in rows. I think
of abonos, and morta, the different names we gave
to bog wood, submerged scents of yew, oak, and pine.
I think of maturation – a seeping blackness over time
and how we raise these objects up.
So, I carve this piece
for you boy.
Two wooden hands
pulling at the cord of heaven’s sky.
A Plumb-Line for Testosterone
Difficult to explain where our passion for throwing iron grew
an age before a game of ball, amongst the grunting
and snorting, in the steam of midmorning sunshine.
In this world of margins and forgotten shepherds
men would pace their chalk lines
like backroads of ancestors, between dust
and the bellows of a thousand people gathered
at the cross roads of a thousand promises.
How word of a game was hushed anticipation
spread slowly – the molecular oscillation of a bloated tide
a message softened like sea-spray on the tongue.
And from the hidden coves and inlets women emerged
to measure testosterone by the yardstick,
a plumb-line the depth of a beating vein,
or by the hectares of yellow forest
harvested of kelp.
Canal Bank Hole
This is the place I stood amongst the smoke
where long bottomed boats meandered by
en route to Dublin – the place I heard no bird song.
This is where I chose the plot and took off sodden clothes
to cut and turn and stack and sat by the water’s edge
watched the ripples diminish from a fattened fish
knew this might be the driest spot to rent.
This is where I dug my hole and pared my turf – how I
made my roof and turned it over so the weed could feel
the sky. This is how I blended in, made no fuss.
This is where I put down straw and studied famished flames
– where I watched my reeking roof. This is the doorway
where my children played with cat and dog and pig.
This is the only cup spilled, the bowl that broke.
This is the dirt corner where my hollowed
children met the earth.
The sky swoops to gather in the puddles between
giant stepping stones as we pick our way along
the colonnaded street. I offer my umbrella up, a trident
glistening in salute to mountain gods who wear bulky
clouds like burkas in the afternoon’s waning sunlight.
In the adhesive breeze I feel the rush of chariots,
hacking from a gladius, the levelling of the pilum.
The trident now cumbersome I lower it, clutch
instead the warmth of my partner’s hand, hear a voice
whispering along the hallways of antiquity
resonate through mantis green mountains and in bone.
We are safe now in our knowledge,
I work in retail management; some might say rather banal employment for a person involved in writing. Definitely not my first choice when penning the infamous ‘what you want to be when you grow up’ essay so many years ago. On the other hand the term ‘writer’ or ‘poet’ or ‘author’ or anything similar has never sat comfortably with me. For some reason I don’t think it ever will regardless of any future successes. I have always viewed myself as someone on the periphery—both in life and in my writing and I think this is where it stems from.
There is crossover in the most unlikely places and I think this dichotomy between my profession and what I view as an avid pastime is interesting, namely because I take my pastime to work with me. Long, repetitive retail hours give me all the time I need to mull over recently written lines/or even a single word. In this way I find poetry to be all immersive. It has its own way of seeping into the everyday and for me it makes for a much more enjoyable work environment. Whether this is to the detriment of my actual job I will leave for others to decide.
I also enjoy puzzles and view poetry in much the same light. A word puzzle in which you are trying to make the pieces fit. When it works it can feel very rewarding. This particular group of poems came together while completing a first year Masters in creative writing with The Open University. The birth of my son has slowed down this process of research and of completing the second and final year.
I’ve been accused of escapism in the past. Not the worst thing I’ve ever been accused of but perhaps then my poetry mirrors this. Who doesn’t enjoy a break from the habitual/mundane? While in college I did some research into Irish history, specifically around the famine as well as old pastimes. I realized a lot of my poetry is far removed from anything I will experience or encounter. I think there can be a risk involved in writing what is essentially from a disassociated point of view. Is this a fair interpretation? Am I doing this justice?
Some information was so over-powering however, that there was a real need to write about it. Reading accounts online about turf cutters in Ireland during famine times really resonated with me; how they literally cut a hole into the side of an embankment which they then fashioned into something they called home. How families would live in these hovels and be forced to pay rent to local landlords to stay there. How most of what they earned from the physical labour of cutting turf would then be used to pay the rent for living in such appalling conditions. A vicious cycle not too unsimilar to what many ‘modern’ societies experience today.
There may also be another reason for me to write about the unfamiliar. That a person can maintain a sense of aloofness from this and that in aloofness a person may find their comfort. On some level I think this applies to me. Perhaps writing about the unfamiliar deflects from my own problems in life. I’m attracted to the opposite style—the ‘fuck you/this is how it is’ style of poetry and admire writers who can embrace this.
I don’t think I could ever write about my own marital breakdown with great gusto or maybe that’s just not the type of ‘writer’ I am or really want to be. Maybe I’m more secure in letting others experiment with this. Or maybe I’m simply too scared to try. As with most things people find a niche they are comfortable with and go with it. Writing isn’t the exception. Either way, there is both hope and sadness throughout my poems. Real joy comes in being able to channel these emotions coherently through poetry. This is, in itself, a form of meditation and redemption for me.
Vinny Steed, from Galway, Ireland, is widely published in poetry journals and anthologies both abroad and at home. Some journals and online sites that have featured his work include Skylight 47, Dodging the Rain, Crannog, Ofi Press Magazine, Boyne Berries, Headstuff, Mediterranean Poetry, Windows 25th edition and Cinnamon Press anthology. One of his poems was nominated by Into the Void for the Pushcart Prize. He has placed or been shortlisted in numerous competitions during his short time writing. He is working towards a first collection.