KNUCKLE KNOTTED LIBERTY

 

A navy jumper, twice monthly washed, a blue shirt and striped tie
with a red thread. Grey trousers growing tighter though not getting
any longer. I was 12

in patient leather shoes with points to piece the playground’s pricks,
all sweaty under pit and after-school spit and fearless, only, in the face
of other fools, the types

the teachers all cheered for, for their football field finesses
(everyone wants to fit in) and cursed, later, for lack of flare in their classes
(grade goals were not the same

as game goals). Those were the days of ruby red walls and stained floors
I’d stripped one summer, looking for a more tangible form in the simple wood
buried under a carpet

of complicated patterns- knuckle knotted boards that twisted in place
like my feet, knowing that liberty did not live in things beaten into place.
Those days when education

insisted, with its uniform and a ruler to measure the distance of the hair
from the collar, that similarity was the best way to integrate- 30 not-so-neat
navy jumpers, pulled,

stretched and torn at the cuff for the thumb to slip through, 30 ties tied
in tight knots around necks licked by the sweat of the sport instead
of the inspiration

of individuality. Those days when I turned the cumbersome carpet over
in a red bedroom, trying to carve out a single sliver of liberty, fraternity
and equality

that I mistakenly believed should have been cardinal to the classroom.

 

All words by Damien B. Donnelly. School day photograph

THE BURNING WOOD

 

And so man
within his story,
with all his guts
and gluttoned glory,
failed to reach the heavens  
with his flying ships
and roaring weapons,
looking upwards, 
always upwards, 
never sideways,
never backwards,
never wondering 
how he stood
with his feet
in the burning wood,
on this one time fertile Earth
once filled with hope,
once filled with worth.

And the gods
laughed on high
from their positions
around the sky,
from their comets
in the clouds
encircling a world
now laid in shrouds 
and its curious little creatures 
with hungry hands
and augmented features,  
clambering and clawing
over cadavers, though always falling,
trying to catch a glimpse 
of what was lying
in wait on front of them
but missing the destruction
they were leaving
in their disruption.

All words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

Photograph taken from a moving car somewhere near Balmoral, Scotland

Passing Relations

We found each other for a while, for a moment

That should’ve lasted longer, while we searched

For a new life amid ashes of ones already lived

With frailties and fractures and losses in each.

We stopped for each other- a bond too briefly bred-

And in delighted ignorance planned out a future

As inseparable as sky from sea or water from land

Yet time, in all its wicked wisdom and wily wit,

Proved us more porous than primarily perceived.

We began as shadows; you the night and I day,

Serving distant Eire abroad in separate solo shifts

On Chevelaret’s street, coaxing coins from 13th

With pints of the black stuff and stirring them with

Fine fiddles and fanciful folklore long before Bercy

And Bibliotheque created culture and credibility.

But I felt drawn to you, caught by your secrets

And intrigued- as if you were a rendering of me-

Born earlier though arriving later- same baggage,

Same story; that free-falling flight from home-

From the fields and folk, the gossip and groans

That somehow led you here to this paltry place

That must have rang out, upon first impression,

Like the end of the Earth or, at least, last stop

For long shots and last chances.  Eventually

The first rays of summer found us at home

In this quirky quarter- all cozy and crouched

In Chinatown’s shadow, settled into life, the bar

And each other- blind to what lay in wait for us

Beyond the horizon. How did it happen, then,

In that single summer, in that glorious summer

Where we’d promised to make it the best of times,

That we ended up losing each other? I sat there

On foreign steps, covering them in foolish tears

As passersby watched on with worry and waited

For explanations that I didn’t know myself,

For I knew not, that day, how we’d failed each other.

We’d been no more than oil and water all the time,

We’d foolishly deluded ourselves into thinking us

A more compatible blend. But I admired you then,

In that time, in that interim as spring fell to summer,

I admired you then for all that you were and for all

That you tried to be, for the wounds you revealed to me-

Wounds you could not cure and so I lifted you

And carried you and feared for you and wondered

How to get in and worried, later, how to get away.

But, of course, you heard me too and cared for me,

You carried me and cured me too, for a while,

Within that fickle and finite time we had and shared.

Was the mix we made too explosive from the start,

Were we faithed before we’d begun, did we share

Too much on opposite sides of a sacrifice, in a bond

We made, loved and let break- brother and sister-

For a spell and, once in a while, Mother and son?

I was the adopted boy, adapted to be your brother,

I was given up where you’d given up, the follow-on

You needed to see and you the listener I looked on

As a mother never seen and you cried for all you’d lost

And all that could never have been.  We tried to heal

Together broken hearts- ones we thought we’d left

Back home- but memories came flooding back,

Shadows we hoped the past would file to forgetfulness

But time was not willing so we looked to each other.

It was, for but a precious moment, a way of letting go,

Of moving on. How little, in the middle of it all,

Did we know how soon we’d let go of each other.

For we would never be enough and nothing could cure

The washed over lines the hours neglected to bury.

I was not, to you, the lost child found and you,

Not for me, the shadowed mother returned. Was that

Our downfall; we’d hoped from each other too much

And found not even a whole summer on that street

With its towering temples, viewless windows and lovers

Who came to divert us from what lay uncovered?

Brother and sister; sipping coffees, learning French,

We taught each other a lot but failed to learn to hold on.

Where are you now and do you ever, for a moment,

Wander in your mind down that street to the bar

Were we talked and laughed and cried till dawn

Before heading home together, to lie together,

In our tiny home, gossiping and giggling in separate beds?

I see you sometimes in my mind’s eye- smoke in hand,

As always, and eyes lit up with excitement as we danced

Through that bar- our bar on Saturday nights as we simply

Entertained the audience perhaps just as simply as we

Entertained each other. In my mind we will always be

Dancing like that before closing the bar and finding comfort

In a drink and each other; Brother and sister for almost a summer,

Dancing in the ignorance of what autumn had in store for us.

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