The Heavyweight Shade

(i. m. Joe Frazier, 12th January, 1944 -- 7th November, 2011)


In the sweat-shrouded ring, sparks pounced

   from his gloves.

I saw his overcast face, right eye swollen shut

   as he squinted to see his way,

Crunching undercut primed, through fourteen rounds

Of Metro Manila heat, fulminic taunts sneered

   at him from the ring-side.


Photos of him linger on the evening news: a man

   sculpted from fire, instead of feeble clay,

Arms case-hardened, fists cemented against both

   defender and challenger.

Manhandled by obsession, neither sham-artist

   nor showman,

He stood unflinching in the spotlight, poised

   in green trunks, sweating

And determined: the very prime of warrior-hood.


A god of few rugged words, applause

   and scorn discolouring his name.

No challenge to waken him back

   to another sweltering fight; fists raw

As sand, hawk’s eye gashed open,

   head kept low, shoulders huddled

As he bobbed between blows.

   The smell of blood clotting his nostrils,

Bogus fighters gave no answer:

   Joe Frazier was a left-hooking giant,

Shrivelled up by liver cancer. 

In the National Stadium

Encased in the four corners of the ring,

Before laying down face or name,

The boxers stand ready for the gong,

Middleweights on the brink of fame.  

What are they without rivalry’s impact?  

Isn’t blood a fact of the prize-fighting life? 

The rough edges for keeping pride intact, 

Branding irons to scald the other’s life?

And do I share their hunger for success, 

The impregnable resolve to be a title holder,

To floor an enemy after four rounds or less,

If I have no invidious scar to gloat over?

Better men than me have stood in that ring,

Battled and bruised, slumped on its canvas:

Has-beens, greenhorns, all the latent kings 

Of the Stadium, facing failures they’ll surpass. 

June, Provence



The road is tasselled with vineyards and vine-stalks

green as springtime, the sweat of olive and pear 

soak my t-shirt through, and starlings fly in flocks.  

The famed friction between mistral and midsummer

has yet to arrive, but blood irrigates the soil

of this tourist’s Eden. A slow-burning haze

warps far-off Luberon, and the lofty windmill,

with blades long as the old law or sunrays, 

built to grind out cereal or barley, stands

like a milestone on the hot ridge. My twenty-fourth

summer. I might grow to love this sultry province, 

birthplace of troubadours, its cypresses staring north  

like a Van Gogh nocturne, the mimosa’s natal wince

at my touch, the bulk of fate forcing my hands.




Such barefaced sentimentality has little place

in the world, yet even the small farmhands here

show a care to the groves that money won’t replace.

Earth-scarring winds whisper loudly to the lavender,

and the bullfrogs’ snarl is chronic as clockwork.  

It is June: the beer tastes frothy and calm, 

the last peach harvest is over, gates with electric

bolts lie open, dry palls of dust rise like the fine atom

of a genie, and the ruby hover of a dragonfly

specifies the hour when the shutters on the upstairs

window slam their displeasure at my tenancy

of the villa in rippled wind, jolting me unawares.

I am a failure who has had his taste of triumph

in that sun-drunk sky, this aged pasture of wheat,

the swimming pool’s blue shimmer, a late-blooming nymph

unripe for flight, in boneless recoil from the heat.  

Savonarola (Reformist)



Before me

in the stern piazza

flames crackle to high heaven

freeing the myrtles of briar,

the firs of thorn, 

fluent in the wagging tongues of fire.

Penitents arrive in doleful

parade, miscreants to a man, 

astray prodigals returned. 

Compunction in their eyes,

guilt guides each and every hand. 

Many hands make light work,

and the Lord favours those who work

for the sin of loveliness.

None hold back, none show

reluctance in offering up

their cherished anathemas  

for fiery termination: 

I see silk ties, a gold watch, cufflinks,

a pair of Armani sunglasses,

bought-and-sold college diplomas

shrivelling to cinders in heat,

a prelate’s reliquary,

title-deeds to home and workplace,


a bevy of smartphones and chargers,  

a Samsung flatscreen

and amphorae of scented liquid

cracking in unison,

their licentious reek clouding the air.

Vats of pitch freely flow,

wind stirs the flame to holocaust,

a priest’s cassock shrivels,

ash to designer ash, waxen idol melting.

Twitter accounts are deleted

for all time while Narcissus

snaps his selfie-stick in two.

I’m glad to see his Virgin Atlantic

tickets from Los Angeles

to Firenze smoulder alongside

a UFC season pass, junk bonds

drafted in the investor’s hand. 


I see manuscripts, inked,

autographed, irreplaceable,

rich vellum pages open

to the sky, crumble to dust.

I see hard drives laden with kiddie porn,

hours of illegally-downloaded distraction,

the links, the codes,

the full hi-def spectacle

that diverts men from God.  

I know that contracts

between former Irish Water

head honchos were slashed

and burned in the overnight round-up.

The merchant, the pimp

and the alderman’s wife watch

their livelihoods wane in the waxing glow.

Their icons are photoshopped,

their hymns auto-tuned,

and their oil-on-canvas Madonna

cups her fake tits as she adds

a fresh layer of bleach to her pasty hair. 

Know this: I am as good as my hated word.

The antichrist works in ways

as mysterious as the Lord. 




Lastly, I see a painter drop

his unframed masterpiece onto a bed

of puttering coal, unable to weep

or rejoice at its lagoon blue

and persuasive green thaw

the oils’ noxious perfume

licking the night air,

the stray hairs of a wig

still knotted in a comb’s teeth

fizzling to their end

and a stack of playing cards,

the joker first, then the ace,

then jack, queen, and royal flush,

a Milanese codex, allegedly the last

of its kind, but in fact a clever forgery,

and a marble bust of Diana:

ornaments that once would have

held pride of place

in a cardinal’s loggia, in vogue

as private villas,

fine as florins, coins to mint or melt

all laid bare to the radiance of God’s will,

all fair game for a pyre’s banquet, 

all cremated in holy succession

of ash and steel. 

None of it can be repaired or replaced.


Shrouded by the olive-branch girls

dancing in gowns of sackcloth,

ecstatic in their contrition,

the bonfire roars its sermon,

smoke its natural apostle.  

I had hoped its flames

would be higher, more pungent,

and to hear the sparks

dance in holy debate.

Yet, it is wondrous as a miracle, 

a pillar of sin, visionary

and oil-soaked, offering up in smoke

the fat of their repentance

to ever burn, and to never go out.


The city is hushed,

my flock stand clay-footed,

too grovelling to look away.

Some weep or kneel

to the ground. 

Rain does not fall

or douse the miracle;

the Arno slithers under the bridge

of Ponte Vecchio.

I see where I might one day

meet my own white-hot demise,

faith incarnate

in the glowing tongues

that speak of light. 




I remember every word

the Medicean croaked

in my ear on his deathbed

sweaty and feverish,

offering thirst

as a wake-up call to Firenze. 

Truly, that crimson river

was sweet for him to drink,

sweeter than wine

or the Gospel’s assurance.

There’s new blood on the mountain,

he said, squeezed

from the rose’s thorny heart

to be sprinkled over pagan brows.

The city is a hospital

without surgeons, without remedy


I was never of this world;

therefore I would cure her.

Piety in my spine, piety reddening my heart, 

the Lamb bled the last of its godly ewer

into a throat of flame

which cooled at its touch.

If every man was truly his own leader,

would the world not burn from the inside out?

The dignity of my office

was to let men know they can never

truly govern themselves.

Had any of you known me,

you would have hated me;

but its my work you’ll remember and follow.  

And so, during that festival


of fattening delights, my sermons

plucked salvation from thin air, 

hot Dominican words grilling every ear.

The beads rattled uselessly

in their hands as they huddled in the pews

of the thunder-strafed Duomo. 

The price of sin is a bloodied back, I spewed

from the pulpit, a sudden whip-bite into flesh

From my icy cell of stone and salvation

I heard their operatic errors

howled, day and night, at the sky. 

I saw faith spill and overflow once again, 

the prophet’s unsoiled wisdom

trumpeted by the palazzo bell’s brass toll.




Sinners, saints and sceptics,

please come closer. 

If you are worthy, you’ve no reason

to fear me or my words.

Now, lend me your ear.

I’ll tell you a secret about the Almighty.

Are you listening? Good.

He heralds His coming

with a whisper, never a roar,

yet all of you shall hear it as clearly

as the vespers bell.

I am the beacon He sent ahead of Him,

whom you grope for in the dark. 

I have rebuilt Firenze in the image

He intended for her. 

Brothers in Christ,

there is still lava in my throat.

I, a dour reformist,

love the vexation of sparks.

Listen now, for the echo

of mine own laughter.

Lord, let my right hand clutch the city’s yoke.

Let me tame her like a tigress.

Make me the scourge

of her satins and silk.

May this be the last fire to burn her,

her sins airy and grave

alike consigned to its heat!




If I’m a good saviour

then I’m an even better scapegoat

for people in need of villains.

My followers will convert

themselves to traitors someday soon.

I know this, feel it in my bones.

Murder or martyrdom; that is my choice. 

I tax the rich of their vanity,

and they call me saint;

I do the same of the poor

and become the very antichrist 

I warned them against.

For that, they’ll banish my name

from the history books and from among

the reliefs and statues lining

these cobblestone streets,

but never from their memories.

As long as I draw breath,

I’ll measure the magnitude

of their deceit.

They prefer their radicals safely dead

and their followers alive.


So damn them all, and me

along with them - give me the pelt

of meteors over mercy always!

Let me taste damnation, savour it fully!

I’ll walk through their flames

lightly as a bird, for my soul

is flammable as tinder.

What vanities would they cast at my feet now?

To hell with their furs and masks  

which saw only the inside

of a banquet hall of drooling oversexed

self-appointed pontiffs.

Easy for them to call me fanatic, magician,

fool of iron, a madman growing fat

on the sacrifice of prodigals.

I weave mist from the saints’ polluted blood,

slain between the temple and the altar! 

Did any of them ever once listen

to my hymnal roar?


Note: I've always found the 15th-century Dominican friar and preacher Girolamo Savonarola to be an especially compelling figure. A contemporary of Machiavelli, Lorenzo de Medici, the Borgia family and the painter Botticelli (upon whom he had an especially transformative effect), he bore witness to one of the most turbulent eras in the history of the Florentine republic. His apocalyptic sermons, which denounced the corrupt decadence of both the Church and State and advocated political, social and spiritual reform, won him many followers and enemies in virtually equal measure. His eventual ascendance to power as Florence's Grand Maestro, following the death of Lorenzo and the invasion of Tuscany by Charles VIII of France, was cut short by his increasing fanaticism, puritanical measures of reform, and his refusal to comply with an excommunication order issued by the Pope. In May 1498, he was finally arrested  by the papal authorities and hung in the Piazza del Signoria, in the very spot where he'd once held his notorious 'bonfire of the vanities', a mass burning of luxury items, works of art and anything else he deemed to be sinful. Equal parts a political revolutionary, visionary, fanatic and martyr, Savonarola inspired this poem, which I wrote in June 2016 and which was later included in 'The Gladstone Readings' anthology, edited by Peter O' Neill and published by Famous Seamus:

Passage Plan

Anchor of yearning,
Cleat me to the seabed
Where boneless algae stands upright.
If the breakers grow fat on kelp,
Then let me sleep among the drowned.

Keel of tenacity,
Propel me through this saw-like cove
Before drowned sorrows resurface,
Oily as tentacles,
Intent on dragging our frail craft under.

Bowsprit of fealty,
Lash my limbs to the figurehead
When green salt spices the deck
And no terra firma stands in sacred sight,
That I may face the wind’s crescendo.

Yard-arm of solicitude,
Poise me above board, over the gulf
That an iron prayer may be offered
For this uncalled ship
To land at safer shores.

© Daniel Wade, 2016.

Author's note: this poem was originally published in HeadStuff.

John de Courcy Ireland tribute


Ma quando disse: “Lascia lui e varca;
ché qui è buono con l’ali e coi remi,
quantunque può, ciascun pinger sua barca
– Dante, Purgatorio, Canto 12, lines 4-6

Yours was the first low cadence of tides,
A rusted bawley now sent to the breakers. Who
Could follow you through soused everglades,
Your phantom still set on cataloguing the slew
Of uncharted alts, death-crooning mermaids?

And now the salty wonder-pill pushes away
The database of names you’d so fussily gathered,
Registries of men scuttled and unsung, the etymology
Of barnacled weather-rail and waving oleander,
The cut-glass Atlantic, washed fodder for history.

You organised Dun Laoghaire lifeboat station
Like a man aloft, standing watch for a glimpse
Of reef or risk, good and lost in the mirror-like ocean
Whose urges you knew to exalt. The oily lamps
Kindle half-measured miles, inked into a margin

Of your silver memory. This pebbly ledge
Whitens at dusk. The oarlock’s twirling glance
Acts on your hand’s biding, your ultimate voyage
Too far off for gales to gag your response
To our common and ignored heritage.

We islanders, oblivious to the cold blue element
That is needed and fuels our need, have dove
Past the porpoise’s inshore library, the green ferment
In an appendix of anemone, a luminous sea-cave

Immersed in plain-texts of sand, the acrostic hunt
For bass or mackerel flavouring our hook.
Your headstone, if you had one, would face the coast
As pilgrims face Mecca, no matter how deeply brooked,

How deeply moored in soil you’d be. An offshore gust,
Hard as the fact, bestows on us neither a look-
Out’s clarity nor strength enough to bear
The burden forecast or the grey churn
Of a maelstrom, our blindness made clear
To the global sea that binds nation to nation,

As you had always declared.
Your Argentinan hills bristle with uncut cypresses
And her dissolving sky, with scuppers of cloud,
Rams the rolling swish that calmed you, redresses
An anchor feted with the shame of rust and seaweed;
You are bound homeward, yet willing your mind always
To frigid depths where prosperity may yet be trawled.

© Daniel Wade, 2016.

Author's note: John de Courcy Ireland (October 18th, 1911 - April 4th 2006) was a sailor, teacher, peace activist, humanist, linguist, RNLI volunteer, staunch advocate of Ireland's maritime heritage and a true friend of seafarers who did who did much in his long career to promote and preserve Ireland’s maritime heritage. This poem was originally published in Coast Monkey. 

*"But when he said, "Leave him, and onward pass,

For here 'tis good that with the sail and oars

As much as may be, each push on his barque."

- Trans. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. 

Confirmation Day, 2004



With sanctimonious dignity and war-coloured dress,
the bishop made for the altar, a small squad of robed
sky pilots following behind. One held a gold cross aloft, 


another swung a censer from side to side, permeating
the church with stern, pious perfume. The moan of an organ
surged slowly amid the pews. At the altar,


His Grace stood as a flame stands, a Trinitarian inferno,
smokeless and oppressively tall, eyes darker
than coal washed in bathwater, bloated by iron bifocals.


His mitre was a pointed talon, fangs of light leapt from
his crosier, his cassock seethed in red, papal polish -
I watched him in petrified awe, glimpsing hell


amid heaven’s regalia. Above me, the Church
of the Guardian Angels was an edifice of concrete brick,
a cooper-roofed hulk rinsed with stained light.


A frowning archangel spread its robed arms
in the entrance window, the angriest custodian
a boy could hope to see. The sacristan’s bell


dragged us to our feet to repeat their lingo of shame,
drizzly, apostolic slang, to munch timidly on force-
fed guilt. Another Novena, another hymn sung


without melody, or the fervour of conversion.
Flanked by godparents, we marched to the altar
in our school uniforms, Coins of cardboard bread


were slotted onto obedient tongues.
I handed over
whatever faith I had in the droning, rehearsed utterance


of the phrase: “Peace be with you.” His Grace intoned
the same to every boy and girl who kneeled, grovellingly,
to kiss his ring - as if peace could only be attained


by trusting in the papal myth we were made believe
was an inheritance. Blonde fangs of light chewed
through stained glass, tingeing the alabaster dove


outstretched above us, shattering the stainless
metalwork of faith, and nearly claiming the names
of my classmates for their own. While he fumed


New Testament clichés, the church’s alabaster
enormity silenced me, the final Novena hazed
God into a mirage, and fear quelled the afternoon.




That was long before the dirt of priestly legacies
was smeared daily in the papers, before I read
his name with cruel regularity in broadsheet editorials,


before the cancer of secrecy he helped keep alive
was lanced by the civic glare. 
Before my voice broke, and my face bristled,


roughened out by the necessary torture tools
of adolescence, I had the canting ritual he rounded
us up for discerned. Like a scornful mark burnt


into a convict’s flesh, my own memories
do not leave me. The symptoms of silence:
children whose tears were erased from reports,


state-protected pederasts moved from parish
to far-flung parish, and the coals of myriad
childhoods snuffed down to profane cinders.


Faith was a dream none of us could realise,
fortified by ritual, the tedium of scripture.
Faith is now a beacon that laughs at anyone


who holds it up against the darkness it professes
to pierce, from whose subtle gravity they pray
to escape. And where’s religion? Cowering


in the doorway of every church built in its honour,
behind pillars of chiselled marble, at the feet seraphic
statues where candles drown in their own wax,


eroding winged statues that posture and pose
on lined plinths, swallowing the rain in throbbed sips,
as naked, as raw-boned as you could expect to be


in this logical century, when candles of piety
are no longer lit, when a pilgrim’s horse pants
beneath the aged sun after trudging through


the sepia desert, or funeral refrains gather moss,
while martyr and heretic alike dance around see-
through bonfires. But it’s not the age of darkness,


nor of enlightenment, just another fraught chapter
in the codex of self-blinded eyes and gutless
reverence. And now that I am cut loose of both,


without locust or honey to eat, I will leave you to
carry the heavy atonements of secrecy and abuse
through this venal country where no prayers are heard.



Author’s Note: I made my confirmation at the age of twelve, in April 2004.  The man who confirmed me, Martin Drennan, was later named in the 2009 Murphy Report as harbouring known child molesters among the clergy during his tenure as an auxiliary bishop in the Dublin diocese between 1997-2005. Of the five bishops named in the report, he was the only one who did not resign from his post as Bishop of Galway, despite numerous calls from both the media and general public that he do so. 



i.m. Dermot Healy

I carry the books of your poetry like relics,
Read them as a pilgrim reads his own footprint.
Even now, you are taller, burlier than me, 
Like a statue chiselled from peninsula flint.


Did the colours of Ballyconnell change,
Or dim in accordance with the season?
Does the wind still rampage over the rocks,
The Atlantic’
s polar, colourless treason? 


I carry the books of your poetry like dreams
That refuse to be forgotten or denied.
In fathoms-deep winter, or the pinnacle of spring,
I try to kneel before the swell of the tide.


Do you watch for a flock of barnacle geese,
Your winged time-keepers, and wave to them
As they soar over your cottage’
s metal roof?
Does their yearly flight console, or condemn?


I carry the books of your poetry like blades
To cut through the knots of my illiteracy.  
I was one of your more wretched disciples,
Untrained, untutored in your legacy.


Before all that, you were a hitcher to Dublin,
And then a veteran of London’
s building sites.
There you answered the private demand of poetry,
Forfeited your shelter from arctic lights. 


I carry the books of your poetry like banners,
Hold them aloft for crusades yet to come.  
Outnumbered by the terse cavalry of your words,
I am the squire, apprenticed to your martyrdom.      


At your readings, you wore a farmers overall,
Your specs at half-mast, your eyes boiling over.
Your voice was a concerto, scaly with cadence,
Flinted accent and softly-vowelled timbre.


I carry the books of your poetry like friends.
The stereo spews endless jazz into the air.
Literature is as good a hiding place as any.
I can watch the evening news without fear.


I remember you in the Hugh Lane Gallery,
Suffused with cold gusts, even in summertime.
Your voice echoed and reheated every corner,
Unblocking every ear of the deafness of rhyme,   


The violin, clarinet and cello abiding your words
As waves abide a ship, while you read poetry
From your third collection, and I, eleven years old,
Heard verse make its first private demand of me.


In summertime, you drove us through your territory,
The outer darkness of Sligo where greenery reigned.
Dog hairs littered your car’
s back seat, 
The tyres knew the road too well to puncture.


The mountain lifted its head, watching us pass
At fifty m.p.h., a waterfall spilled in white rancour,
Dairmaid and Grainne’
s Cave stayed out of reach
And the Lake of Jealousy lapped at our ankles. 


A sea wall protected you from invading waves,
Safeguarding a solitude all poets must build.
And I know I’
ll carry the books of your poetry
Until time makes me erudite, and skilled.


But I never extended my thanks for the advice
And warnings you gave, free of favour or charge.
I extend it now, mentor, keeper, friend: thank you
For the words, the elation still at large. 



The Liner Reina del Pacifico during Sea Trials

The North Channel, September 11th, 1947


Like a beast’s airless belly, the Reina’s charred stokehold, 
a heat-slurred pyre weaving oil-mist to lagan -    
one more fraught ship of a fraught state.
Her gutted crankshafts boom in sight and mind
scattering like motorized fanfare
all the way across the North Channel to Harland’s.


The native gantries, poised as if forever
above Belfast’s graving docks, stand quiet as a tug
eases her upriver, a day after the fact. On slipway
and wharf, yardmen pause at their work,
doffing dunchers in sober respect
for the newly dead and their ill-starred liner; 
silence briefly rules the deafening shipyard.


The war ended two years ago. Union flags fly
at dutiful half-mast, drum and fife bang to tribal tempos,
a sash of loyal flame fastens the city in two.
Lives are ruled by iron, the discordant opera of hammer
banging off plate, crane sirens blaring on the Lough.
In that Mecca of smoker’s cough and craftsmanship,
1, 742 sturdy keels are laid all under
the foreman’s scowl, and a shared Woodbine.


Work snowballs. Vessels that saw service
return to their old functions, troopships converted
back to liners. Mild September: that it’s a day
eminently suitable for sea trials cannot be contested.
Once more, Reina del Pacifico, aged but still
with plenty of horsepower left in her, will ferry
tourists to Latin America by way of Merseyside,

authorized for a full capacity of 886 passengers,
powered on hydrocarbons.

                                                               A floating shit-heap
in her war years, she’s a great white titan again,
one of Belfast’s proudest. Deep-water oblivion
and failure in the bearings cross only the minds
                                                               of naysayers.


Yet, in sight of the shore, roughly seven miles off
Copeland, raven-black smog gusts from her rear funnel.
Overheating in her crank chamber has caused all four
engines to explode, killing twenty-eight of her crew.
Truly a perilous line of work to be in, not a vocation.
The accident seemed - and it is no exaggeration
Of language - just impossible, but it happened.*



Measuring her miles in the Firth of Clyde
away from the torrid sea -
full ahead, dead slow, half astern, stop.
After today, she’ll be called a “hoodoo ship” - a vessel
with bad luck riveted into her inboard and plating,
her name a cautionary tale for marine engineers. 


The escape hatch gapes, open as a secret: 
her engine room’s mined penetralia is more sewer
than the motor auxiliary of a working ship, and a soon-
to-be luxury liner at that. A half-lit trove of arithmetical
valves, control levers and shafts, where men
are gathered, caked in dust, boosted on stale coffee…                                                                                        doing what, exactly?


Talking football, or shop? Slagging each other off
or else getting on with it? Grumbling a work-song
in flat unison, sweat oozing steadily on each brow
                            as they brake the propeller shaft?  


Brothers, boyfriends, husbands, sons, sons-in-law,
fitters, draughtsman, engineers, superintendents,
chancers, card players, drinkers, amateur footballers -                                                                                   soon-to-be-corpses -
each with a bone in his teeth for the job ahead.
The motor thrums metrically above them. Shovels blunt
and the fire room is seldom breached by daylight,
only the pistons’ fiendish glow for visibility -
                                                     panelboards wire a crackly

 transmission of hazard and hard labour, reeking
of diesel and atomised air. It comes without warning.


A roar of glass shatters the routine, louder
than the crunch of a rudder entering the water at a launch.
The men feel only the oil’s toxic blast gorging
on their jaws and sinews, flames dancing like locusts
over heavy boiler suits, the smoke’s acrid perfume
swirling to their lungs, drowning screams in black
overkill, its full thickness singeing them to cadavers.
One writhes through the doorway of the water room
like an effigy made sentient, his body engulfed,
embers licking at his sleeve and eye, and another
is crushed under a buckled stairwell, his wheezes stifled.


Some die instantly, while others have five more days
to go before succumbing to their blisters. The rest
lie choked and stewed beneath burst pipes and lumps
of steel in the flammable slurry, luminous spurts
of arcing from where a light exploded in its fixture.
Oil gushes contentedly as blood or mercy.
They can wait only for rescue or death now. 



In Belfast, ghosts shuffle among dockside sheds
toward the Queen’s Island, nurtured
from briny slag and sediment
beyond steel plating, beyond ice-clause.
Oily soot-stains on the funnel are the sole proof
of an explosion ever taking place
aboard the Reina del Pacifico.
Work, wages, shipboard politics, all up in smoke.
A cigarette case,
stamped with the ship’s name and image, 
is dropped over the side
and down below, the engine room seethes
like the belly of a whale
wherein a man may find himself swallowed.
The ghosts loiter in the fog.  
Freshly-cut flames ripple to their cores. 

*Verdict given by Dr. H. P. Lowe, Belfast Coroner and chief identifier of the men killed in the Reina explosion.  

I first heard the story of the Reina del Pacifico and the explosion in her crankshaft cases which tragically claimed the lives of twenty-eight of her crew in a 2009 Irish Times article written by Wesley Boyd ( This poem also follows the epic structure of Martin Mooney's 2011 poem Launching the Whaler Juan Peron, which similarly dealt with a tragic accident occurring on a Belfast-built vessel (          

The poem was also published in A New Ulster:

And in Coast Monkey:


After the Bailey

i.m. Gerry Conlon, 1954-2014


After the Bailey, he walked the streets
at sundown, inhaling death like a coal fume,
his face bristly, boots scuffed to shreds,
clutching a life he knew he’d never resume.


Dawn smiled sadly on the Falls Road.
He heard a drunk’s red-raw laughter,
worn out from dancing to the music
of the spheres, the calm of hereafter,


the sprawl of a city in guarded remission.  
For all things, he felt he stood accused. 
He had to remind himself that, in prison,
the sun and moon are easily confused. 


The past is another country, they say. 
One he would never emigrate from.
The last sound he needed to hear
was the fateful echo of his own name, 


chanted by protesters, spat by prison guards,
or declared, at the pleasure of a judge,
as one more public enemy: an iron verdict,   
overseen from the altitudes of privilege.


He pushed invisible rocks from street
to street, stooping against a bulk
only he could feel, his nerve centre
scorched by trauma’s molten milk. 


Another day to endure, Gerry Conlon.
The sun rises for your trampled benefit,
warming the blameless in a world where
fortune favours only the well-connected.


Author’s note: I had the privilege of reading this poem out in St. Paul’s Church on Falls Road, Belfast during the Feile an Phobial festival in August 2014. I have both Frances Black and Jimmy Smyth to thank for that privilege.