LITANY by Billy Collins



You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and–somehow–the wine.



 Nights when we were young

We raced the wind;

Banshees in our wake

Dracula lying in wait.


We had left him oozing blood

From the stake wedged in his heart

In the Rainbow Cinema.

But with vampires you could never tell


Hair slicked back, stiff with Brylcreem,

Newly perched on our Raleigh three-speeds

(with dynamo)

We explored the world,

Our winkle-pickers pointing the way.


Now available on Amazon as part of THE WATERFORD COLLECTION

16-03-2014 11;15;14



JOHNJO @ Central Arts Waterford review:
A View from the Green Room.
Pat McEvoy.
Arts Correspondent. Waterford News & Star
Johnjo McGrath enters singing ballad of The Rocks of Bawn and you just know that there is a story to be told. It was a favourite of his father who barely knew the words, or the notes, if the truth be told. A small landholder of twenty acres on the Comeraghs of which only five were arable, he carried ancient grudges around like boulders. Clearing land that was full of furze, rock and limestone, he cursed his circumstances and drank a lot of whiskey to dull the pain.
He references Crotty the highwayman and understands the shared experience of disenfranchisement. He curses the Curraghmores and their acres of lawns that would have fed the bellies of half-fed cattle. Not that he had too many of those. It’s the sense of privilege and entitlement about the Curraghmores that gets to him. It eats away at him and he sees no shame in stealing the odd sheep of theirs and selling it on to slaughter. He feels dispossessed and evicted from his land and blames it on the greed of the Anglo-Irish who never had enough.
A selfish father with a grievance, he drank all he had and when he drowned himself, Johnjo had to sell the bullock to meet the funeral expenses. With only £2-10 the mother mortgages the land and moves into the town. A knife-incident leaving a man badly wounded, forces him to flee and it’s the boat in wartime for Johnjo.
Grim times. Working on the lump, with an array of identities to avoid detection, it’s a grim and lonely existence. Kavanagh’s lines of the women who love only young men ring in the ear of the aging man who moves between damp and over-crowded doss-houses while building the motorways. The gangers are always the same. Elephant John is a tough task-master who can really dish it out. And it’s always Paddy. Never Johnjo. Still no matter when you’re on the lump. The names tumble our like tourist dishcloths…Tom Dooley…Roy Rogers…Gene Autry…Donald F****in’ Duck.
But a life without children. And a wife. Before he knows it, he’s fifty. It’s been an empty existence claims Johnjo but odd facts begin to pop out from the coiled spring of resentment. Sexual ambiguities surface. He prefers the company of men. Their smell. Their friendship. A band of building brothers. It’s a world of sexual compromise and secrets hidden from even himself.
He hates Bannagher, the jumped-up Irish boss who also owns the pub in Cricklewood where the wages are paid. He only pays by cheque and charges 5% on cashing cheques for subbies who he knows can never have a bank account. When a trench collapses killing Johnjo’s only friend Kennedy because of poor scaffolding, Johnjo settles accounts with Bannagher in the old time-honoured way of blood-payment.
Eamon Culloty is excellent as the spiteful-regretful-sexually-ambivalent Johnjo. In what was once a best suit, he brings the whole range of despised Paddy to the stage. It’s a performance that’s always highly charged and directed with great sympathy by James Power. The emptiness of a wasted life is what remains with you after the performance. There’s nothing simple about a performance that seems to constantly search for answers and, perhaps, other ways to have gone about his business. His father’s son, he doesn’t get his sense of dispossession from the ground. He doesn’t blame the father and scoffs at Larkin’s line: they f**k you up, your mum and dad’. ‘No’ Johnjo declares ‘I f**ked them up’.
Tom O’Brien’s writing always seems to drive Johnjo on to a conclusion based on the navvies’ experience. His wisdom is bought at a price that no one should really have to pay. O’Brien lays Paddy’s experiences in post-war Britain bare…lodgings in damp rooms crammed with other Paddies trying to get by. Weekends trying to dull the pain of existence through drink and then looking for a sub on Monday to get through the week.
Great to see Waterford playwright Tom O’Brien’s work on a Waterford stage. Let’s see more of it.






Driverless cars

Headless chickens

Oops! mind that blind…

Oh, what the Dickens!

The lingua franca

In Google we trust,

In God if we must.

Look, no hands!

It’s not a boast

It’s a statement of fact,

I don’t drive, it’s all an act.

The phone on my table

Speaks in eighteen different languages if tasked

And can answer questions –

Sometimes before they are asked!

Now they have sent ten thousand

Helium balloons into the stratosphere

Seeking all the disconnected;

Wi-Fi for all – and soon

They could – in theory – I guess

Set up shop nowadays on the moon

This is their ‘toothbrush’ test;

“Focus on the user and all else follows”

Culture and success go hand in hand;

If you don’t believe your own slogan

You’re already in no-man’s land.




September is the loveliest month.
The sky is on permanent fire
The trees painted many colours
Burnished, it seems, with pure desire
In the park, ducks glide silently by
And the always busy seagulls
Resemble sea-planes
Coming in to land from on high
Whilst near the dozing oak tree
The squirrels nutmeg each other
Each acorn hoarded
For the soon-to-come cold weather.
Your arm in mine
We stroll down the park
Heading towards the sunset
Home before dark.



Which begs the question,

Who does it belong to

If not me, him, her or you?

It must belong to somebody;

Though come to think of it

It was here long before

Humans ever set a foot upon it

Perhaps Tyrannasaurus Rex

Can lay claim to it,

But I doubt it.

From the fogbound coastline of Newfoundland

To the deserts of North Africa

From the rainforests of Queensland

A mere half a billion years ago

The first legs walked upon this land,

But whose were they?





That Ireland is a country of love not greed.


If you take away the hands that feed

The wanker bankers who make

More money than

They can ever need,

Whilst pauperizing those

That trusted them –

On that the country is agreed.

And  so were forced to turn to shyster politicians

In their darkest hour of need.





Decibelisation was old
When Dresden’s china charred the ashes
When the war to end all wars
Turned Flanders fields to mushy poppies
When Cromwell’s convoys rattled on
The cobbled streets of old Kilkenny
And still, today, those echoes throb
When walking down some quiet lane, I hear,
The rumbles of some distant noisy mob.




The cigarette smoke hangs like tear gas
In the mean little honky-tonk
But nobody really gives a shit because Jerry is in town.
He arrives without fanfare and seats himself down
Gimme my money and show me the piano
And don’t try and act the hound,                                                                                                                                  
This is rockabilly, baby
Forget about Elvis and Johnny
Jerry has just kicked the door down.

Jerry can conjure a thousand songs
And play each one seven different ways
He can make your high heel sneakers
Dance the legs off every other cat in the place
I ain’t no phoney, I ain’t no teddy bear
And I don’t talk baloney ,as I say to my bass player
I ain’t no goody-goody, but I was born to be on the stage
It was all I ever dreamed of, from the very earliest age.

Jerry plays it slow and mournful or hard and fast
He once told Chuck Berry he could kiss his ass
And across the arc of bad-boy rockers
Who have come and gone
Jerry is the only one still rocking on
Sure, there were some bad times that caused his
Rocket ship to sputter
Like the year he crashed a dozen Cadillac’s
And was heard to utter
You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain
Too much love drives a man insane
You broke my will, oh what a thrill
Goodness gracious great balls of fire