Padraig Rooney

Padraig Rooney

Padraig Rooney has published one novel and three collections of poetry, the last The Fever Wards (Salt, 2010). He is the 2012 winner of the Listowel Single Poem Award. Padraig Rooney lives in Switzerland.

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It must have been summer 1974, hitching back from N. Africa with V., when we pulled into the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele because the Spartacus guide taking up weight in our rucksacks said it was cruisy, YC (Young Crowd) and AYOR (At Your Own Risk). Seventeen going on eighteen, unwashed, flighty, wandering round the loopy paths of the park in the centre of the square, we watched anything that moved in the shrubbery, any rough trade or homeless angel that might have come to earth on the benches, folded its wings among the dust devils and strummed its cock, dressed left in the tight, high-waisted, pleated pants the boys wore then in the summer heat, adjusting themselves furtively in that unabashed Latin way we had come to know. Spartacus a vade mecum in hand, scuffed big-eyelet shoes with two-tone laces, collapsed – prolapsed – Catholicism on the move down from the islands into the clemency of the south, when at the far end of the piazza, at the corner of via Conte Verde, we saw a table of toughs milling under the awning around sticky drinks, making the big flocking noises, the creaks, of settling flamingos in front of Pasolini, with his trademark foursquare smoky glasses, the lean rapacious face like a medieval saint’s, leather jacket with metal buckles clinking: Pasolini for sure. The smell of foccacia in the late afternoon heat, discarded leaves and skins from the morning market all round the square, bruised peppers quietly rotting as though all you could do was pile detail on decaying detail and watch the fruits of the earth tumble in the sun like falling angels.


The scene that awaited us on landing at the hard
is indescribable, but I shall endeavour to render it.
No sooner quit of the hold we were manacled anew.
Cornelius threw up the bad biscuit of the crossing.
Five minutes brought us to the dromedary bazaar
where we were exposed like foundlings, spat upon
and laughed at. Woad-tattooed women, fantastically
jewelled, made rude ululations with their tongues.
Pending sale, we were led to the houri quarter
where men walk canted at the hip since childhood,
awry from abuse, their minds opium-addled, riddled
with sin and marasmus. These he-strumpets, boys
kept for ungodly purposes, laid claim to our parts,
which they lifted and weighed like fruit in a market.
We were confined to a bathhouse anent the temple,
unshackled, and our wounds tended with unctions.
A smell of camel dung lingered. They fed us patties
of unleavened bread and a mess of inedible pottage.
Women came to gaze at our nakedness in the steam.
They handled us immodestly, but left us to the men.
(Their rivers are male, and one river in particular,
the patriarch of rivers, floods continuously the land.)
Their parts are like pommels on Mameluke saddles,
ludicrous and greasy from use. Cornelius passed out.
I prayed in Low Latin and thought of the seminary
scriptorium, the margent of the page, our good ink.
My eye accustomed to a labyrinthine angularity,
their characteristic form in architecture and design,
deviously weaving like our own psalters and scriptures.
Off in the ingles I heard fornication and cockroaches.
I too passed out, came to with a poke and a cuff,
my bum sore and weeping their foul ejaculations.
Having pleasured, they made ablutions, prostrated
in prayer: idolatrous droning penetrated the baths.
I knew this was only the beginning of our journey.
The women returned with ointments and laughter.
That was years ago in this wilderness of sand
and more sand. Cornelius was sold to the Nubians.
There have been many sleepless nights since then.



A museum in Arles
kept Van Gogh’s ear
pickled in formalin
for one hundred years –

furry and shrunk
like a shiitake mushroom
in an Egyptian tomb.
Who have we to thank

for this artistic relic
and how did it get here?
Is it authentic?
How many other ears

in private collections
both here and abroad
masquerade as bona fide
proof of self-mutilation?

Viewing’s by appointment
from the German curator
who doubles as taxidermist,
guide and janitor.

The only other visitors
are a deaf nun
and a postulant
from a silent order

minding their own business.
It’s off-season in Arles,
cold as a gravedigger’s ass
when the mistral blows.

Listen! the ear seems to say,
I too was a contender
in that blue yonder.
I too had my day

in the sun, my hot flushes,
peeling in the heat,
used as a prop for brushes
and suffering assault.

It wasn’t easy listening
to mindless drivel
about art and life, hanging
out in bars and hovels

till all hours, picking their noses,
their ears, with matchsticks,
paintbrushes, chopsticks.
It wasn’t all roses.

(Are those two nuns gone?
Now don’t get me wrong
but it’s like blood from a stone
to get talk out of them.)

Now all I hear are worms
worrying their souls
in the stuffed owls
when the weather warms

and antlers plotting
revolution, the overthrow
of His Majesty the King.
Shows how much they know!

And unruly classes
of small boys annually
peer in at me quizzically
through thick-lens glasses,

chewing their pencils
and going Ugh! Gross!
(then they whistle
and cloud up the glass.)

It’s not easy being an ear
in an out-of-the-way museum.
Especially detached, like I am.
There’s not much to hear

and not much going on.
But thank you for listening,
as we say, to my song.
And do drop in again.


All day squinting
at right angles
and spirit levels

I see the seawall
of the cimetière marin
almost keeling over

its freight of graves
slipsliding out
of true, misaligned

every which way
with old accretions
of stone and dead

tumbling seawards
groundwater and bones
bedrock and topsoil

so thin the dead
lie in airy tombs
nothing grows on

but plastic flowers
under dusty domes
and spiky weeds

in purchased cracks
of hewn stone
where sea people

rest at land’s end
among the lizards
gobbing salt air

and this august poet
full of gas and words
swells the wall

canting like him
bleaching leaching
the dry salvages

at spirit level
above the blue
offing forever.

Poetry in this post: © Padraig Rooney
Published with the permission of Padraig Rooney