Philip O’Neil worked as a journalist for 18 years in the UK, France, Belgium, Romania, the US and the former Yugoslavia. He was managing editor for Transition in The Czech Republic and assistant editor for the multi-award winning Institute for War and Peace Reporting based in London. Currently living in Prague he has published his poetry in ‘Wilderness House Literary Journal’, ‘Suisun Valley Review’, ‘Asian Signature Review, ‘Miracle Magazine’, ‘DM du Jour’ and more pending publication. He also was a monthly contributor of short stories for The Prague Review.
Here’s the nightclub of contradiction,
whiskies and wallets by the roulette spin
under a two-legged knot
of a pretzelling major
lap dancing for tuition and sprees.
‘Dance for me
Why won’t you dance for me?’
These are the hard-graft hours
of the banishing
in our nightclub of the soul,
the lock-in in this odd inn
you stepped in unawares
tickled by fat bouncers’ fingers
‘breaking or starting up a fight’.
Liked then loved, craved then addicted,
a revolutionary and his bloody flag
you also want to leave
but it’s never quite the right time.
‘Dance for me,
please dance for me!’
Remember the daily diary entries
hallmarked with apoplexy and mild conceit
too numb armed at drowning the pickaxe of a past?
Your baby-stare through fish-eyes
delicate for contacts,
watching the stomach of a brain
churned by sour fairies
in the velvet room’s mirrorball
above the stink of last night’s discotheque,
the butt ‘n’ spirited end
of a long and cheap night out ...
my sexless, hexed, anorexic dancers split
over broken brandy glasses
blood and ash tables
dead clients face down
in an inherited rot.
‘Dance with me,
Won’t you please dance with me?’
One generation separates
me from the camps
with a third-degree blessing
So I’m OK feeling haunted prey,
pay dubious pilgrimage
to these railway sidings,
atone myself down tonight
of all nights. Why tonight?
cattle trucks, still red-brown
though someone’s untangled
the barbed wire windows.
It’s a mean feat hearing
in this snowed-in,fog-shrouded depot
a kind of kaddesh: goods trains
grinding along ice-tracks
with people and coal -
crying metal on cold metal,
just a yard away from history, spewing
barrowed away by gypsies
singing of another lost tribe nearly lost,
still being lost or moved on,
squatting the yard
with blackened ragwort and mullien
still pushing through the oil stones:
‘Nothing here exists without
a stain or memory,’
or some other fur-lined quote.
Nothing exists anywhere
without a stain or memory, no?
Maybe this yard is just a yard,
the floodlights just beams
not searching lights
falling on pig-iron
not a human chattel to be seen
with daubed suitcases destined
for that wholesale jumble
of holocaust over the border,
tannoy’s broadcasting the humdrum
no longer directing an ill-starred traffic
whose fate was barked away
on these platform memorials
looking more like aircraft carriers
sinking into heavy fog
mixed with my yellow exhalations
or exaltations, one or other
History shunted down,
available and avoidable for all
if you want or need
To drum up superficial knocks
And care-cold or heartfelt
Or bargained surprises.
The night cargo:
sight of trucks,
touch of wire,
smell of oil and rust,
the bitter taste:
These five witnesses are memory,
Not a syndrome.
OVER THE TOP
Swinging through the door on tin crutches
about to apologise for the absenteeism of the limb
that lost out to a landmine, he spoke only to empty rooms,
rooms echoing with your absence; echoes of you, of your belongings.
He gathered your photographs, bled loyally
over the cracked glass; a bloody kiss come-back
he sprayed you with perfume, dog-notes for a bitch on heat,
then danced naked with you in the room.
He sat with his private pulses driving through his body:
Roman candles, epiphanies,
an electric clouburst jamboree
bursting every second like a beserk shaman:
hopscotching bait on your landmine.
Had you ever stepped on him, as you wrote in your last letter
you "Would embrace him with a bouquet of brilliant orchids and
lock him to my bower with silk rainbow ties... forever."
Tut tut! Even for accepted hypocrisies this was over the top.
But how long can this be contained?
His footbag of rusted needles and razors
feeding the rictus grin of self-inflicted pain
though every measured glance or thought is of you.
He dances with your wraith
smelling your painting
He's the amputee
the flippered Brueghel beggar
the stink from unwashed chops to chaps
he's the sick splash from the night before.
In truth you were his landmine
and when he danced on you
he didn't dare move.
THE FOUNTAIN OF TEARS
The hike leads us to a spring in an olive grove
buzzing trees dry as the chafing cicadas
tiny castanets in the gnarls and branches offering
no shade on the old road cracked as a map.
Yet, still, somehow they step out
from no possible hiding-place,
men of leather, torn uniforms and gun metal,
sick, souless eyes with the cataracts of death
spewing keen barbs into every vessel
hooks and claws in every valve
like a hundred fly-fishing accidents
flicking blinding hooks into eyes
We’re whitebait ripped by sharks
that know the common flesh but tear
just the same.
My words want to barter
for the filaments of angels
mindgame a way out
in this place of dead roads
begging and pleading the gangster goons
crying mercy against the gloves
cocking rusting guns.
Lined up by a trench
we wait for the captain (who hangs
scalps where others wear medals)
to step from the old man body of the tree
all stubble, tobacco and spit.
The Fountain of Tears
where men lie stacked playing cards,
food for the groves, siesta country
where peasants dose as civil bullets fly
the poet sent to an unmarked grave
by the fathers of children
who’ll build theatres for his words.