Live Encounters Poetry & Writing, Volume Two, December 2020.
Born in Cork in 1967, Peter O’Neill is the author of five collections of poetry, a volume of translation The Enemy – Transversions from Charles Baudelaire ( Lapwing, 2015), and a work of fictional prose More Micks than Dicks, a hybrid Beckettian novella in 3 genres ( Famous Seamus, 2017). With a background in philosophy and comparative literature, BA & MA respectively (DCU ), O’Neill is currently working on a number of writing projects in connection with Baudelaire in preparation for the 200th anniversary of the poet’s birth; he will be hosting a series of discussions and readings on the 8th April next spring for the Alliance Francaise de Dublin when his sixth collection of poetry Henry Street Arcade, a bilingual work translated into French by the poet Yan Kouton, will also be launched as part of the festivities.
Not the sun before you shining down,
This great orb on fire, kilometres long.
Not your face from out of the body of the heavens ,
A rain of fire invisible through the great blue.
Yet, somehow still erupting from your youth,
You then but a sign or symbol of the contagion
That spreads out inside me, cancerous
Like the ultra-violate rays taken in too much
Abundance. So, like the careful bather that I am,
I step off the terrace out of the behemoth’s
Fiery gaze to step into the cooler interior
Where the sound of a classical guitar is playing.
There, the notes strike a chord in the deep wood.
Membranophones offer counter stroke, and it’s good.
You have become like wind, air…mythologised.
A creature dreamed up, inhabiting now
Only the past, that carnival of imagery
And ghost wonder flickering sometimes in the head
Like the stills from some old favourite film
Where you are an actor playing your part.
Your role being Youth. Your body in the form
Of an odalisque, though the roles reversed.
I being the slave, seduced by the shock
Of your sex, the rupture with the ordinary.
Our bodies join like Plato’s perfect forms.
Their smooth entry into certain knowledge.
Hanging onto the boughs of your legs.
Hypnotised by the branches of your smile.
The old wooden instrument sonorous and gentle,
Your voice singing with its melancholy.
Rinascimento. Oh, and there was Italy with
The vison of you angelic worthy of Leonardo.
But your voice kept singing deep in the night.
High when the voice had to take off like a bird
In flight. And low, almost masculine, when not. Hands
Studied, pressing on the strings, eyes registering
The events around with great whites opening.
And the lips, their playful seductions,
Opening then to give voice, the tone modulating.
Slightly American, the accent, and cheerful.
Always cheerful and young. Vexed then,
You get annoyed, and whoosh you are gone.
“Hey, what are you doing man?”
The goofy collegian enquires.
“Push over!” She sits beside you.
Eyes beside you, looking at you.
Maybe smiling. “What’s UP?”
She continues goofing, perhaps poking you.
Or sipping a little bit of wine from her glass.
Her actions bold, self- assured.
Moving with all of the bodily wisdom of Youth,
Sure in its attraction. Magnetically compliant.
The way her pants envelope her limbs.
The way her boots uphold her feet.
The way her lips unfold you.
And how your breath together flowers.
This demon hovers, her voice in your ear.
The images fall in a kaleidoscope of film,
All taken more than twenty years ago.
There in the apartments in Dean’s Hall.
The cathedral beside you with the golden
Angel blowing forever Jericho, and the scent
Of burnt hops blown up from Beamish the brewery.
Cork in the mid- nineties, quiet and sunny.
Where you had your bedsit on the hill.
Wellington Road. It’s still there. The old
Victorian terrace of houses where you let her in.
Taking photographs, which you still keep.
The black and whites of the Demon, tongue out
Laughing in your face, or head thrown back welcoming the sun.
© Peter O’Neill