Mark Roberts: Three Poems

Biographical Note              Contemporary Irish Poetry Index

Leaving Roscommon – Strokestown Park
The Conscription Vote – 1916/17
Cities that are not Dublin

P .

Leaving Roscommon – Strokestown Park 
(Gorta Mór)

We drive out of the grounds of Strokestown Park,
the chill in our bones a reminder of a history
that follows us down these short country roads.

A land that tugs at memory. My grandfather’s
stories of why the English can’t be trusted:
grain exported while his grandparents starved,
his mother hung by her hair from a roof beam.

These things are hard to forget,
even across generations.

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P .

The Conscription Vote – 1916/17

History lies here, buried deep. Two bodies
laid neatly, face down. The male, head facing
the old road, the female on top of him, her head
resting on his feet – a better fit in the narrow grave.
A layer of stones to stop wild dogs searching for food.
Almost 100 years now, local victims of an imperial war.
Old Jack told everyone that his son had “eloped off” with that
“Paddy” girl. Better that way, he didn’t have to see their bastard
children or write his son out of his will. But there were rumours of
ghostly songs drifting down the hill above the farmhouse on moonless
nights. But life went on. Years later Jack went to his grave without a Catholic
………………………………………………………………………………in the family.

.

Australian voters were asked in October 1916, and again in December 1917, to vote on the issue of conscription. Irish Australians played a leading role in the defeat of both votes.

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P .

Cities that are not Dublin

I have a plan for reading Ulysses – actually more than reading it, finishing it. Today i am going to Neilsen Park alone with a picnic lunch. I will start reading next to the harbour, easing my way into the sections I have already read. Then tomorrow night I am travelling to Melbourne by train and plan to sit up all night and read.

I make good progress, sitting against an old Morton Bay Fig Tree, reading familiar pages, looking up occasionally at a city which is not Dublin.

**

This train is called the Spirit of Progress. It has dark brown leather seats, and the blue Vicrail carriages look out of place at Central Station. There is a little reading light above each seat that can stay on all night.

I read for hours and sleep briefly in the early morning. I am thick into Joyce when i sit up at the bench in the restaurant car and eat breakfast. My coffee splashes into the saucer as the train emerges into the morning.

**

Central …………………………Dublin Connolly

Strathfield ……………….. ……Tara Street

Moss Vale …………………. ….Dublin Pearse

Golburn……………………     .. Lansdowne Road

Yass Junction…………. . ….. ..Sandymount

Junee……………………..         Sydney Parade

Wagga Wagga………… ..  ….. Blackrock

The Rock………………. …….  Dun Laoghaire Mallin

Albury…………………… .        Sandycove & Glasthule

Wangaratta……………………  Bray Daly

Benella……………………   ..   Kilcoole

Spencer Street…………….    . Street Gorey

**

I am staying in Marie and Andy’s flat in Fitzroy Street, just above Leo’s Spaghetti Bar. They have gone away for the weekend and I have the flat to myself.

The flat has a curved balcony & large windows overlooking the street. Andy’s drum kit is in the corner and three of Marie’s paintings are hanging on the wall. The largest is of a crumbled tube of toothpaste.

You can’t see the bay but you can smell it when the wind blows in the right direction.

**

You can see the tram-stop from the balcony. It is twilight and I watch people getting on and off the trams. The sun has disappeared over the city and it feels like I’m watching a European film.

I see a man get off the tram. He is wearing a suit and a hat and looks very different to everyone else in the street. His suit seems to be cut from a heavy material and he is wearing heavy lace up boots. I watch him cross the street. He checks his watch and then enters the old Sportsman’s Bar.

I go into the kitchen and put the kettle on to make a cup of tea. Russian Caravan. I take it back to my vantage point just as he leaves the bar.

He is now with a another man, shorter and stockier and wearing a similar style of clothes. They walk down Fitzroy Street toward the bay. They stop and stand discussing something on the footpath outside the aqua coloured block of flats for almost five minutes. Then the second man hails a cab. The man in the hat walks back to the tram-stop and catches a tram back to the city.

I think of what has just taken place. I imagine a story. A meeting in the bar. A drug deal or organising a small scale robbery or perhaps just a drink with a friend and a discussion about football. I think of how that twenty minutes in the bar fits into the man’s schedule and begin to imagine what he has done today. Was he at work? Where in Melbourne he has travelled? Does he have a family? Who he has meet and what will he do now?

**

On my last night in Melbourne I go to a party. It is in High Street Armadale & Marie gives me a lift in her old Mazda. The party is in a flat at the back of a laundromat which is still open when we arrive.

A strobe light is is cutting the party to fragments and slinging them, three a second through cracks in the door. Hip Melbourne boys are wearing pointed black shoes & the girls all seem to be dressed in orange and green. I start talking to the only woman dressed in jeans. She works at the local community radio station and lives round the corner. When she learns that i am catching the train back to Sydney in the morning she gives me a crunched up ball of foil. Harsh crumbs for the trip she tells me.

As we leave the party, walking past the now closed laundromat, I see the streetlights reflected in pools of water along Commercial Road. A couple is having an argument at a tram-stop. He is yelling that he loves her. She is yelling at him to fuck off. They are holding hands.

**

O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

**

Sunset leaving Goulburn. Sydney just over an hour away. I swallow the last crumbs of the hash, & wash it down with a swig of vodka. I want to be ready for the lights of Sydney’s outer suburbs.

‘Cities that are not Dublin’ was runner up in the 2013 joanne burns Award for Prose Poems/Microfiction. It appeared in Writing to the Edge, Spineless Wonders 2014.

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