Between the Sea and the Stars, There are Bright Lights

For Rhona Greene, Ankh Spice and Matthew M C Smith

Darker days catch brighter lights,
Sitting by bay-windows enriched with hope
Falling

Into dreams.
I close my eyes and we ride bikes
Where the sea sways to the beat of the shore,

We are Sandycove and silly,
We slip south; the sand now snow, a soft shuffle
Over waves now carpets of magic, laughing

At the drunkenness of things.
There is more between here and there, stranger
And strength, light and dark, hope

And the hand you’ve held out.

Giddy on gay, we set down
Where the sea’s swept sand into calcite crystals;
Fire flames under water’s edge reflecting
Where we’ll dance and catch fire before,
We too, expire into the sparkle
Of a star.

Everything is a cycle; the sea, the sand,
These shores, this journey, these holds, our hands
Slipping in and out, our eyes that watch this dream turn;

In the end, it is a kiss goodbye
To ignite a new beginning.

From a dune, that holds the knowledge
The day has not yet come to share,
A goat raises his head and we, to him,
Bow.

This is his shore
And we, now welcome guests.

In the space between us, already lined
With a billion steps of all that flamed before,
Rests the weight of all it took
To get here and the hope
Of all we have yet to unearth.

We are strangers that have known each other
Longer than the fires that will burn
Through our own place, our shared space,
Our already written fate.

We supper on tangerines
And the soft swallow of pink rose petals
That were once something else
And drink incorrigibly

Of this bubbling friendship that dances
On our tongues before we take our leave
While not completely parting.

The sea is now the sky
On the ever-forwarding spiral into what will be,
Almost home, we throw kisses down
to the last land before the air sets us down again
to Earth,
An ancient land where a voice whispers words
Into a bough that will bend forever
With blossom.

Darker days
But there is light in the palms
Of hands, hooves, voices rising up from under cloud,
under land, under time, deep,

Lights that build bridges to lives

And in each life
A house with an open door and a fire,
Burning.

We set down, finally
Upon the shore, Sandycove’s caress,
And Joyce whispering of ghosts
Still tending to the tower;

What is written can never truly expire.

Our bikes await,
Round wheels ready for the rest
Of the journey, those cycles

As the waves return to tickle our toes
With a scent we now know
While the snow falls,
Slow and suddenly
So rich.

WHEN THINGS EVENTUALLY GIVE WAY

 

We were waiting for the green man beneath the blue sky,
waiting on an open corner to cross over, do you remember?

A simple day of smiling sunshine, an easy lunch of eating
smiles and we were laughing, were laughing at everything
and nothing- at the osteopath and his cracking observations
and the sunshine in that blue sly and your belly getting bigger.

You were listening to me, looking at me telling some tale,
making it taller, I’m sure, but you didn’t see I was floating-
my feet off the ground on that silly day, on that sunny day
of simplistic observations on easy corners with their moments
and movements when I found myself laughing and my feet
no longer weighted- no longer ground down or in or under.

We were bouncy and breathy and your belly- unbreakable,
so delicately unbreakable beneath the blue sky at a crossing
while eating up those bright smiles and breathing in easy air
under all that yellow laughter and realising that the red man,
when given time, will eventually give way to the green.

 

All words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

FRIENDS FOR A SEASON

 

They were just girls in a stifling city,
each but a slip of the seasons,
baring a hope for what they might see
and running for different reasons.

Jenny was winter and already withered
and looking for comfort from the cold,
she was journey and distance all rolled into one
and the secrets she stored had never been told.

Mary was springtime and fragile under foot
yet thoughts took root in her head,
she was innocence dressed in a short mini skirt,
a fledgling of faith, a seedling to be fed.

Sarah was stuck in a summer since parted
always looking for what she had lost,
as illusive as tides that trickle through time,
she sunk beneath skin now frozen from the cost.

Together they lived and together they fought
for a season on the old river lane,
but when fall came calling all connection unraveled
and the three girls parted with their bags still full of pain.

All words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

I CAME TO THE CITY, PART 14; TWO ROOMS IN THE LAND OF THE FROGS

In days now distant we were back side, one-up,
apartment dwellers whose viewless windows
enabled us to see more through the darkness
than the light that might have deceived us.

Tambourine Therese tapped her tunes of truths
not yet tasted, sweet tumble leaves freshly fallen
from the trees in the apple orchard with the pink
ladies and golden greens begging to be bitten into,
we were innocence eased into a micro mini
of voluptuous velvet and the brown eyed boy
already broken on blue, we were scavengers
seeking the scent of salvation on the shiny streets,
saving up to buy into beginnings we could cut
cords on, we were lyrics yet to be licked
looking to Mitchell as muse; we were wild
in the old days and covering Carey and cases
of whoever might come calling on the Casio
in our little corner as we careered through
the no longer muddy marshland in search
of suggestions to rise in us seductions, thirsty
for tattoos to plot paths along our pale pinkness
so we could track our trajectory. Gone
from the garden we were growing into city,
held up at first in a hotel, hostages of homelessness
were we sang songs in the ignorance of our sorrow,
sweet birds of youth busy building nests
in the confines of concrete, blind to the battery,
we were born for the bloom but forging
that famed forever on a friendship
that failed us like the lie of a lead balloon.

In days now distanced from all that was once dream,
I have found form as lonely painter on a canvas
of winding words, the connoisseur of cutting cords,
often curt and callous, in the challenge to manage
the malice, trying to be fateful only to the fate
that awaits but caught at times, by cords
that cannot be cut, whose curious concerns
come a calling from cold corners I’d considered
closed. I hear you on the wind sometimes
still tapping those tunes I thought I’d forgotten,
as veins rethread the trajectories already taken
through my skin, no more so pink, no more
so fresh. Fruit fades but we find ourselves
reformed into fractures of what once was,
fragments unfinished, like filigree too fine
to unfold, like a dance as yet undone, a song
we had still to sing in this city I’ve now returned to
while moving on, slipping forward through shadows
now past, still building nests, still seeing better
in the darkness and touched, in that half-light,
by the purity of your sprite, once so fair, one so rare.
We fell so fast to finished and yet, as she sings
of the songs like tattoos, I’m reminded
of that one flight up that can never be diminished.

All words and photo collage by Damien B. Donnelly

Audio version available on Soundcloud:

PICTURES OF SAN FRAN; AFTER ARMISTEAD

A tour of San Francisco in search of the shadows of Tales of the City, the epic Armistead Maupin series of novels, begun as a regular feature in 1974 in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper and following the lives of a group of family, friends and foes, career go-getters and castaways spanning over 40 decades of trials and tribulations, change and controversies:

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Where it all beings, with Mary Ann’s arrival at the Buena Vista Cafe

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The Stairway to the fictional 23 Barbary Lane, home to Mrs Magrigal and her tenants

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Macondray Lane, the real Barbary Lane

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The iconic Powell Hyde cable car Michael Tolliver rode in dressed as Pan

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Supposedly the inspiration for 23 Barbary lane, Maupin lived close by

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Maupin lived in the red rooftop house and took inspiration from his rooftop views 

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Where Mary Ann Singleton and Brain Hawkins live in unhappy matrimony

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The Transamerica Pyramid which Mrs. Madrigal believed to be a beacon from Atlantis  

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The City seen from above with the bay on the distance 

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Where Norman Neal Williams meets is fate

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The legion of Honor where Mary Ann confronts Norman

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Alamo Park where Edger and Anna have lunch and a homemade ‘brownie’

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Below the Golden Gate Bridge

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The twists of Lombard Street

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The Hosts with the Mosts, Susie and Trey, in Delores Park on the door step of the Castro, Michael Tolliver’s playing ground

All Photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

PARIS PAST; YEARS GO BY

 

Years go by
and I’m still here, remembering.
Years flying by feeling like minutes in my mind;
a decade lost in the passing,
like I’ve fallen forward through a gap in time.
Years in between
and yet that first morning still so fresh,
waking up into a home I’d gate crashed;
the Irish abroad; Jeannie,
with the flaming red hair and welcoming hug,
a son in the shadows of another country
and a daughter to fall in love with were I straight.

Unable to forget
those heated floors boards,
the note of good morning in the kitchen,
the crispy toast from a packet,
the tiled green bathroom, separate toilet
and back to the bathroom to wash hands.
The plant filled balcony,
those frosted glass doors which echoed
through the apartment as you opened them,
so mundane and ordinary
and yet so much more a part of me now
than those trivial things ever where then,
long before they became a memory to cling to,
to cherish.

I hold on to so much more now
than I ever thought possible or considered important;
the feel, the taste, the smell,
like those disgruntled old madams
who threw water from their balconies every morning,
clocked in sombre shades of black
and scowling at passers-by like me
for the demise of their youth
and their looks.

I can recall,
as if it were yesterday,
those precious summer mornings that soon followed,
the air filling with the fragrance of freshly baked croissants
as boulangeries opened their bell-ringing doors
to delighted strains of bonjour and ca’va.
Years, reaped upon years
but I still smell it as fresh now
as the day was new.

I can hear those familiar sounds of kids,
singing out in ignorant celebrations of their youth
but always hidden from view behind high walls of stone.
Paris; the city for artists,
Intellects and the amourouse,
where children are heard but rarely seen.
No tantrums in stores, no snotty noses in bistros,
no changing of nappies in sight.
Our Lady of Magic was fully grown, fully developed,
no question of who She was or where She was going.
This City was born dressed in Chanel attire
with precious pearls to match,
born a proud, free speaking, free thinking,
pompous, confident adult, without question.
Her raison d’etre;
Herself entirely.

And there I stood
in the middle of it all
trying to find my own trend
and set a route amid multitude of pathways I longed to explore,
get lost in, fall in love in
and find adventure in.

Time slips away
but it somehow leaves a part of me still there,
somewhere, wandering through covered passageways
packed with marionette cheaters and tiny trinket stores
watched over by age old glass ceilings,
discovering underground chambers of sewers and tombs,
lost generations of the past,
slipping unnoticed through graveyards of forgotten faces
and heralded names decorated with weeping women,
stone eyed Madonna’s and cast-iron wings, never to fly,
remembering those I’d never known
and wondering who’d remember me,
sitting by Seurat to make connections in his colours
and wondering what Mr. Wilde
would make of us now.

Years gone by
and I still go back there;
left side, art style, boho chic,
where Oscar last laughed
and Sartre sighed
and I remember who I was,
laugh at who I’ve become
and wonder why I’ve fled so far
from the city that never changes
whilst I never stop.

Saturday afternoons, after lazy lie-in’s
rising through the cobbled hills
of once moulin covered Montmartre
with Abi’s and Vincent’s and Yasmine’s and Shaun’s,
where artists ghosts,
intoxicated by the green fairy’s potent mix
and the ruffling of high kicking can-can skirts
would swept through air
that you had only to touch to feel a part of,
while tourists flocked to pick up
as many copies and replicas as they could carry
without so much as breathing in
all that surrounded them for free.
I was a free man in Paris too, my dear Joni,
and have wandered down that Champs Elysees
in search of those I once knew and cared for
and loved and lost.

Years outrun years
but I can still close my eyes
and feel the sun on my skin
as we filled Victor’s fine square with resounding laughter
that soared around the fountains
and columns and palaces fit for queens.
14th of July ’98, Champ du mars,
Three tenors, fireworks, Mary and me
and a thousand others.
We were the luckiest in the world.

I can see myself at 23,
cast bright in the lamp lights
that I sailed past on the back of a motorbike
tearing through world of Hemingway
on the slumbering market street of Rue Mouffetard
before the bank side approached
and Notre Dame lay reflected in the sleeping waters.
My arms wrapped tight around my leather clad driver
with Spanish blood and gallic looks,
willing to show me it all.

The years may continue to build on years,
time will continue to tick-tock away,
but there are lifetimes in moments
which years can do nothing to suppress
or erase if the heart wills
not to forget.

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All Words and, almost all, photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

 

RIVERSIDE

 

You were my friends, you were my childhood, our beds by the riverside, 
on the north side of the south, far from the troubles, far from the loyalists
and the loss, loyal to what, I ask?

I see us all now from the far side, from another side, you were always on my side, 
even when I wasn’t, sharing treats by the fireside on rainy days after sturdy stews
when even then we were off and running, dreaming in daylight of distance,
of diversions, of dignity, a ship called dignity to sail along our river,
so the deacons in blue sang, taking us away from all that was so simple,
so special, so sincere, our little lives by the riverside on the drives
and the crescents and the groves.

We drowned only our fears in that barely brook by the riverside,
by the Northside, childhood hang ups; being ginger, being tall, being gay, 
being small, I remember it all today, flowing in from yesterday,
bobbing along on the bottom of a beautiful steady stream
of memories, madness, moments, mothers.

I remember you all from here, from the other side of the river, on the far side
of the world, from the far side of growing, accepting, they call it, understanding,
surrendering but not forgetting, never forgetting, the pampering and the parties,
the new years with old friends, Dave’s guitars, John’s fireworks
and everyone’s songs; should old acquaintances be forgot, as if they could.

I see you all there still, even those who are no longer here, for me
you will always be there, be smiling, be eternal; barking, bold, brilliant, beloved,
you can never be missing if you’ve always been loved, and the others;
who blossomed, who grew, who married, who flew, some have children now,
grown from being children into children baring children.

We were friends, once, in the endless summers under tents with no pretence,
singing songs on the radio, singing through our little lives, a family of friends
who kicked our cans, as you said, played chasing, played games, played house,
mowed lawns, walked dogs, swapped toys and clothes, care bares and fancy paper,
next to the power station, ‘I love you to the power station and back again’,
wasn’t that what was said, when the power station was the end of the world.

All those fine families and faithful friends carried on now,
like the flow of the water, carried away from that riverside,
carried away to life on the other side, following along the course
but never once forgetting the source.

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All Words by Damien B. Donnelly. Photographs from back at the Riverside.

The Irish Rose of Paris

You fancied yourself as a writer, I think,

So many tales fell, so breathlessly, from your memory.

I am sure it was upon a sweeping staircase

Where we first met, long before foreign men tempted

And twisted us with foreign tales and foreign lips.

You, with your cascading curl’s,

The color of chestnuts in autumn,

And long belted coats- always off and running,

Oblivious to the inmates that surrounded us.

You perfected aloof while I, too shy to say no,

Was dragged to the dorm’s salle-a-manger

By the tedious herd, to partake and party

Until I could peter out unnoticed on hand and knee

To avoid what seemed like another Irish wake.

Later, after introductions, we chain smoked

Life stories in the TV room; those early days

When your smoking choked even me and I wanted

So much to be everything that you effortlessly were.

You were my wild eyed Catherine,

Moving faster than time allowed the rest of us,

While I, your Edgar, looked on in awe and tried to keep up

As Paris turned into our very own Moors.

We prided and congratulated ourselves on our ability

To acclimatize with our newly loved surroundings

Unlike our neighbors; only content with Irish jokes

And Irish bars while in the heart of a city that offered

\So much more than the dung-filled,

Mud-trodden fields which they so missed.

You were my breath of air; my mystery and adventure.

Once, I even questioned whether we could fall in love

And I believe we did- though in no conventional sense.

I was your confident in the College

And your beloved friend as we carved ourselves,

As much as we were allowed by the citizens

And bureaucracy, into our city of light.

Do you remember that wet, dull and far too normal day

In autumn and our train ride through town?

You sang me the love song from Irish shores

And I reveled in how it never seemed to end.

I watched you as you swam through that life

Barely needing to rise for air.

You are mother now

And still forever the rambling teller of tales

While I, still a traveler on this unending road,

Am ever grateful at how seamlessly our paths still cross.

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Compatible Blends

We found each other,

For a while

As we searched separately

For a new life

Amid the ashes of a life already lived

With bruised edges,

Fractured hearts

And losses to great to forget.

We stopped for each other,

All but briefly

And, in delighted ignorance,

Planned out a future

As inseparable

As water from land

And sky from sea

But proved to be less

Penetrable

Than we knew.

We shadowed each other,

At the start,

Sailing in separate shifts

On Chevelaret’s Street

In district 13

With Celtic music,

And pints of the black stuff

While a riotous racket of Turkish overtones

And Irish stupidity,

Parading as management,

Carved comedy into

Every inch of our jobs.

You were night and I the day

As we passed each other without

Sensing a connection

And yet I was already aware-

Intrigued by the mysterious air

You’d arrived on.

I had sat in the corner of the bar

And watched you being interviewed.

You polished off a glass of Guinness

On that unaccustomedly sun-lit day

In spring

Like it was the first drink ever

On a Friday evening

With not an ounce of fear or uncertainty

As Niall questioned you

With roaming eyes

That longed for more salacious information

Than you were willing to provide.

Your age was not to be a factor

Nor your flight from home

That had somehow lead you here,

To this place,

That must have rung out-

With first impression-

Like it was the end of the earth

Or the final stop for last chances.

You had shadowed the steps

I had made months earlier.

Were you as shocked as I

When you climbed down the metro’s stairs

And saw that lifeless street stretching out before you

With the Guinness sign in the distance

Like a beacon to call you home?

A dishevelled man-

Washed over in alcohol

And lost out in life

And two dead rats along the side walk

Had been my greeting

To this quarter

Lurking anonymously

Behind the chaos of Chinatown

And it sank into me-

As the train raced away,

That this was the one place were they would say

Yes

And my empty wallet would be

The one thing about me that

Could not say

No.

But somehow we made it home

And as the sun grew stronger

We looked at each other more closely

And made connections-

Blind to what lay beyond the glare

Of those rays that hypnotised us.

So how did it happen

In that summer-

That glorious summer where we had

Promised each other to make it be the one

That shone the brightest in our memories-

That we ended up

Losing each other?

I sat on someone’s porch steps

Covering them in bitter tears

While two blonde boys watched on

And waited for explanations that I could not know,

For I was still unable then to see

How much we had failed each other.

Had we been no more

And no less

Than oil and water

All that time-

Fooled somehow into thinking us a more

Compatible blend?

But I had seen you and fell for you-

For all that you were

And tried to be

And all that you covered up-

Wounds naked only to me

And wounds that you could not cure

And so I lifted you

And carried you

And feared for you,

And wondered how to get in

And worried how to get away-

I knew the danger signs that lit up

In your eyes

And when to speak

And when to say nothing

But- at the same time-

You carried me

And cared for me

And cured me too.

I was the adopted boy who became

Your adopted brother.

Once, I had been given up

Where you had given up.

I was the follow on that you needed to see

And you- the listener

I needed to confide in,

To say I forgive,

I’m ok,

I have survived.

To your face

I said thank you to a mother never seen

And in my eyes

You cried for all that you had lost

And could never have the chance to be.

Maybe the mix was too explosive

And we shared too much from opposite sides

Of an unused coin

In that bond

We made

And loved

And let break-

Brother and Sister

And sometimes

Mother and Son.

We began to heal together-

Broken hearts that we thought we’d left

Back home,

Memories that came flooding back

Like children we’d forgotten

And left behind-

A part of ourselves that we’d ignored-

Hoping the past would let it slide to

Forgetfulness

But we found that not to be true

And in each other we found-

For all but a precious moment-

A way of letting go

And moving on.

How little,

In that middle of it all,

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

For, in truth,

It was never enough

And nothing could cure the washed over lines

That lay buried in the memory.

I could not become the lost child

And you were not the shadowed mother for me.

Maybe that was our downfall-

We hoped for too much from each other

And found not even a whole summer

On that street with its temples,

Viewless windows,

Benoits who cried in our laps,

Cards games you thought me

And Lovers who came our way

To divert us more from what lay

Too deep to remove.

Brother and Sister-

Sipping coffees and cokes

And teaching each other French-

We taught each other a lot

But never managed

To teach each other

To hold on.

Where are you now and do you ever

Wander in your mind

Back down that street

And into that bar

Were we talked

And laughed

And cried the night away

Until the morning found us

And we set off home

Together

And lay together

In one room,

In separate single beds

And spoke till one of us fell asleep.

I see you sometimes,

In my minds eye

With fag in hand, as always,

And eyes lit up as we danced through that bar

Which became our bar

On a Saturday night

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 cigarette,

A drink

And each other-

Brother and sister

For almost a summer,

Dancing in the ignorance

Of what autumn

Would have in store for us.

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