Poem Of The Month: December 2010

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For December's Poem of the Month I have chosen "Stacey and the Mechanical Bull" by Sarah Clancy. It is taken from her collection with the same name.


1. Stacey

Stacey liked nothing better

after two pints of Australian bitter than

to go three rounds with a mechanical bull

and she could really ride them,

she drove in a pick up across the territory

playing Brooks and Dunne and

singing in her Stetson

‘how long gone are you going to be?’

Google translate has no language button

for country and western

but I’m fairly sure that

translates to ‘what time will you be back’

and I’m sure her mother in the city

often wondered why their girl dreamed

of barrel racing and Wyoming

and how long gone was she going to be?

2. Johnny

Every time I meet Johnny, he’s definitely

written this year’s Eurovision winner

and he’s found a singer who is

going to blow us all away.

Last year he didn’t win it

but he said it was political

the eastern states were tipped

and it didn’t matter, even

if you were Bob Dylan

you wouldn’t have had a look-in.

He’s got an eighties jumper and a tan

that lasts all winter but when I asked him

‘what then Johnny, after you win it?’

he didn’t have an answer

but I guess he doesn’t need one.

3. Colin

Colin is much older than he looks

in fact he’s of a colonial vintage and

never shook it off even though the fashion shifted

towards more egalitarian foreign relations.

When he retired he found an outpost that still had

vague vestiges of the honour of the English

somewhere where he could feel prestigious,

and with regard for long standing tradition

found himself a native woman

of an earlier edition – who to his chagrin

bore him twins as lively as two kittens

and now he’s left there pushing tricycles in the tropics

floundering in his dotage through a vocabulary

of words like ‘enervating’ and ‘soporific’.

Last I saw of him he was wiping his forehead with a

handkerchief and warned me to be cautious of

seeking out the trappings of longevity without due

attention to specifics.

Pity I didn’t have a dictionary with me.

4. Pete

Pete is a career ex-pat, this gives him

all the right excuses, he’s depressive,

true, but if he’s up – he’s flying.

That only ever happens though

when he’s hit upon a new idea

guaranteed to make him rich,

he thinks himself an instant magnate

at least six times a year, but isn’t.

His last venture was selling

‘Pete’s Chips with Curry on Them’ in New Zealand.

Though we did try to dissuade him

he wouldn’t be persuaded and

just said ‘the trouble with you Clancys

is you don’t have enough ambition,

if someone came in with the first ever wheel

you lot would tell them they were raving’.

Anyway poor Pete discovered there was

a bit more to it than he’d thought,

sure any Belfast man should’ve known since birth

that the main ingredients in curried chips

are twenty pints of porter at two in the morning.

Well, sales weren’t exactly flying

let’s just say they didn’t quite take off,

Kiwis being both more health conscious and more

culinarily discerning than the Falls Road lot,

so he took to his bed for a fortnight after

and we had to launch yet another

rescue mission to his flat but when we threw

his curtains back and said ‘rise up man,

you can’t keep your public waiting’

we found torn damp boxes of curry powder

filling up his hall, the stairs and kitchen

and had to call in a refuse service whilst

Pete valiantly resisted saying

‘you fuckers – I had those specially imported’.

5. Meave

Meave is always to be found

hanging round shopping centres,

in flat shoes and trousers with elastic waistbands.

These so she can run her marathons

of price comparison in comfort.

She’s addicted to discount vouchers and free stuff:

if there are two for one or free-trial offers

Meave is right there on the button.

She even gathers those loyalty cards

you get with cups of coffee but

if you go for one with her it’s like listening to

an advertising channel. She’ll tell you where

the cheapest tea towels are

even if you’ve never asked her once and

when socialising she knows which bars have

happy hours and can calculate per minute

how much she’s saving, which as you might imagine

adds greatly to her entertainment.

She used to book her summer holidays in winter

when they were cheaper but recently she just stays put:

abroad she has no loyalty vouchers.

She hasn’t worked full time in years

being afraid she’d lose her benefits

so she’s done courses in everything

from welding to interior decor – whatever

had the subsidy with it – and she’s terminally single

but last time I met her she said she’d heard of

great deals going on a dating web site

you just had to agree to let them use your picture

and you’d get three dates half price –

I hope she’s read the small print though.

6. Bernie and Jim

Bernie and Jim were like shoes and socks

for forty years everywhere they went

they did it together, the conversations of either

always began ‘As I said to Bernie’, or

‘I was only just saying it to Jimmy’ as if,

if they hadn’t said it then it never had happened.

I know they say pets get to look like their owners

but these two just ended up resembling each other.

There was plenty of affection between them

but none for outsiders; at the hint of an external assault

they’d retaliate as quick as two adders and

when they joint chorused their criticisms of others,

you could see it was a major ingredient

in the lifespan of their marriage.

They were obsessed with their garden

and I don’t mean growing flowers,

they painted fences and windowsills in primary colours

had gnomes and ploughs, wagon wheels

and all sorts of rubble and at Christmas

they decked the whole lot out in lights

like Walt Disney’s worst nightmare

I’d say you could see it from sputnik

but being entirely devoid of any sense

of good humour they let out their old guard dog

to prowl the perimeter – keep out the damn children,

when I went in to visit – and God knows what made me

I made the mistake of saying ‘ah sure

the kids probably just like it – they won’t do any harm,’

Bernie fixed the net curtains as Jimmy responded;

‘we’re not like those people you’d see

who are always drawing attention – as I said to Bernie’

but last time I passed there wasn’t a light to be seen,

just the dog, flaking paint and Jimmy

left saying nothing to anyone.

7. Dan

Dan, though convinced he was

destined for mysteriously better things

worked for a while, as an assembly man in a factory

he was the bitterest guy you could meet

and though drolly funny with it,

that got tired pretty quick on the night shift,

never renowned for its appreciation of sardonic wit.

He was tormented by hierarchy in the workplace

and his position on it,

but when the other workers turned on him saying

‘Jesus, man do you think any one of us here,

dreamed of this?’ He went straight to human resources

and claiming bullying vanished from the scene

allegedly having managed to stash

a decent payoff in his pocket.

No one saw him for an age

but when he surfaced later he’d got

a community warden’s power wielding walk

and cap and he took every opportunity

to display magnanimity to his former colleagues

saying ‘you’ve been parked five minutes over mind

but seeing as how its yourself that’s in it,

and I’m such a decent man,

just this once then I’ll let you off,

but don’t let me catch you doing it again’.

And it’s ironic that though he was always the most

deserving candidate for ‘would you ever fuck off man’

now the only guy in town that you can’t swear at

is Dan.

8. Seamus

Seamus is a taxidermist and not a good one either,

but his drawers are full of plastic eyes

that he sticks on dead foxes late at night,

his whole house is full of wonky animals –

they never look quite right, his wife left him

and of course the joke was that he’d had her stuffed

but I’m inclined to think she couldn’t suffer

his dead zoo’s eyeballing all day long

and Seamus can explain for hours how

globalisation is sounding death knells for his craft,

he blames Ikea and people’s fickle fashion tastes

for the fact that he can’t sell the cursed things

that took him hours to make

but he says – just like leg warmers –

one day they’ll come back and when they do

he’ll be at the forefront waiting

with his family of cadavers.

9. Cormac

Cormac is so very unremarkable

he’s hard to describe

if he was featured on Crimeline

they’d have to say

‘seeking one entirely ordinary decent guy’.

He’s been passed over for every promotion

on the job – it’s not that he’s not good enough –

they just forget he’s there.

He’s clean – you could say that for him,

and as neat as if his mother dressed him but

the only thing of note about the bloke

is his addiction to romance;

this man has spent his adult life

yearning for a soul mate

but there’s so little to him

he seldom even makes it past the first date.

He did have one short change of fortune, back

when migrants started coming here

the language gap was actually a help to him

in searching for his one and only;

he’d his best luck with the most different

though it still only took a week or so,

till the fresh-in Polish saw that

there was nothing to him anyhow

poor Christy man of straw.

His best stretch was with a Chinese girl

because she didn’t speak a word,

but learning from the television

it wasn’t long before she’d heard

more passion from the shopkeeper on Coronation street.

The last time I met him he asked me sadly

where it is he’s going wrong

but you know, I couldn’t put my finger on it.

10. Michelle

Michelle works down the bookies

and I don’t mean in some nice suburb

where people put fivers on Tiger Woods

or a an annual tenner on the ‘National’.

She’s smart as some young Einstein

albeit not that gifted with customer service

if you worked there though, you’d have to credit

how at five foot nothing she could send her neighbours home

telling them – ‘that’s your rent money you Muppet

I’m not going to let you spend it’.

She reads classics and tabloids every day at work

making no distinction and can figure out trading

calculating long lists of figures without once using

a pencil, and though she sounds about ninety

she’s still in her twenties;

I’m telling you, the woman is two pints at lunch time,

a drink before dinner and often one in between

if some punter gets generous on the back of winner.

She’d said once that the high point

in her day was watching a dead cert sure thing

go a long way in a long time, she’d say ‘losers my pleasure –

if it wasn’t for bad luck you lot wouldn’t have any’.

I once asked her why she didn’t move,

get a new job away from the gamblers

and she said ‘you know, they make me lower

my standards, not a day passes when they don’t

make me feel better about living

and I’ll give you Sevens that’s

more satisfaction than most people get from their jobs’.

I still have no answer.

11. Allesandro

Allesandro comes from a still-communist country

and extols its merits whilst drinking petrol station coffee

he’s doing a doctorate on some dead Georgian poet

whose name now escapes me,

but anyway he’s sallow, melancholic

and an out and out romantic,

obviously not from the east but from

somewhere hot-blooded, his bedsit though,

if you saw it, is straight out of Soviet Russia.

He says that the problem with translating Neruda

is that ‘el ambiente se pierde’ and it all gets a bit saccharine,

when I asked him ‘what’s that mean?’ Turned out

we don’t share enough words to translate it,

but he gives gifts of books from second-hand shops

at any slight provocation, after the smallest connections

I mean, he once gave a hardback second edition of Lorca

to his pizza deliverer who didn’t know what to think

and after some consideration decided, cold-bloodedly

not to think anything.

12. Tommy

Tommy is a dealing man whose job is to lean on gates

of midlands farms on midweek afternoons,

ferreting information out about who is selling what.

It’s widely rumoured that years ago he lost all his toes

in some catastrophe or other and to be fair,

his boots do have a small upturn at the front and

he wears a long wax jacket belted at the waist

that makes him look less like John Wayne than

he probably expects, actually more like

a dressing gowned inmate – escaped,

he tells anyone who’ll listen that he once

loved a girl with eyes like stars,

and even though she loved him back

she married someone else,

and though I think he took a shine to me

he’s always made it clear

that I have very ordinary eyes.

13. Marion

In another era Marion would have

been a conscientious objector

as it is she just rubs her hands together

all day in the office over a plug-in heater,

she’s always ready for a chat being pretty warm and kind,

despite the fact that when she’s at her desk

her face takes on a sinister bluish hue from

her computer, which she only uses anyway

to research why you can’t do

whatever you’re suggesting,

she gets a lot of job satisfaction;

in fact you could say she’s obsessed

with putting impediments in the way of plans

and her manager knows she does it but

can’t quite put a finger on what rule she’s breaking,

Marion says that she’s only saving us

from, problems, later

and I’m always tempted to say Marion,

‘It might never happen’

but when you get your way with her

misfortune always does follow,

exactly as if she’d planned it, damn it,

She met a man once – and I’d say once only

well he left her with a baby whose picture is

blue tacked on the wall beside her desk

and after every small success at thwarting

she shares a contented smile with it

and rewards herself with just one

square of her omnipresent bar of chocolate.

14. Linda

Linda whom I met in England

was double barrelled in more ways than one;

she had a pair of breasts like headlights,

seriously, even though in daylight

she was much too polite to flaunt them

they were the first thing you’d notice,

she was a master of hounds or was that mistress?

Well anyway she was both in jodhpurs

and she drank in country pubs on winter evenings

and when she’d had even one gin and tonic

her gentle demeanour shifted,

and you knew the night wasn’t near ended

until Linda took her top off – yep, stripped it,

then continued drinking bare breasted,

now I’m not being cruel to say it but

she did this so often the men became accustomed

and took very little notice,

particularly as the years past and

made the famous headlamps dip,

and actually the last night I saw her do it

a gentleman who in times before had

had often thrown the dog a bone

was telling her ‘Linda, dear, it’s not that I don’t like

them but its winter and

I’m afraid you’ll catch your death of cold’.

15. Martin

Martin is the type of man that never

forgets a wrong, from a lifetime’s taxi driving

he once knew every street in town,

last year he had a stroke,

now it wasn’t too severe

but it left him with just dull inklings

about who he did and didn’t like

trying to track down house addresses

nearly drove him spare

so he signed up down at welfare

for a state sponsored computer course

where he learned to compile all his lost directions

into ‘Martin’s easily-updatable-user-friendly guide’,

now its become his full time occupation,

and is all he ever mentions.

He improves it every day by driving

round the new estates, counting houses one by one.

He says if it wasn’t for satellite navigation

or the building boom going bust

that he’d have had himself a goldmine

he just got the timing wrong.

When last I met him, he was at the funeral

of the old woman in number eight,

he said he didn’t know her very well

but he felt he’d like to commiserate;

whatever others said about her, at least she’d had

the good sense to put a number on her gate.

16. Beatrice

Beatrice breeds Jack Russells for show.

To hear her you’d think she’d shagged them all

herself and put the angles of the tails and snouts

exactly where she wanted.

She also bred six children

who could have all done with braces and

she’s married to a doctor but spends more time with the vet.

She’s got a sweatshirt, with velvet puppies

on the front – even if I was looking

I wouldn’t know where you’d buy that stuff.

Instead of bonny babies, Beatrice dreams of Crufts

and she pins up rosettes in her kitchen

where other people put pictures of their offspring.

17. Stephen

Stephen doesn’t look his age even though

he’s showing all the symptoms,

he’s thin and his glasses add a bookish dimension.

His hook nose is always in some lengthy treatise

he quotes everyone and everything he’s ever read

mistaking that for conversation.

He’s constantly underlining things –

I warn you, never lend him books –

or they’ll be subjected to his pencil.

Most of his sentences start with ‘did you know?’

or as ‘Heidigger once wrote…’.

This man never reads fiction,

but he mistakes everything else

for the truth, just because it’s been printed.

As you’d expect that often leaves him with

conversations – one says yes and one says no –

Eskimos definitely have one hundred words for snow

until someone publishes that they don’t,

and Stephen considers himself intellectual

for repeating but if you ask him

‘Steve man, what do you think?’ of anything…

he can’t get his head around it

but he’ll probably answer anyway with a misquote

or maybe I should say misnomer;

saying ‘did you know,

an unexamined life is not worth living?’

But sure where’s the harm?

at least it keeps him busy.

18. Kevin

Kevin was always stringy,

and he fancies himself something rotten,

in his fifties he got a belly that made him

look as if he’d swallowed something whole

and every time you meet him he’ll tell you

how in ‘75 he was interviewed for Mensa

which always makes me want to ask him

‘but Kevin man, what have you been at since then?’

although I’ve never had the heart to.

And recently he took up salsa dancing, saying

it suits his natural inbuilt rhythm

and his melancholy soul

and he told me that he knows how hard it is

for his dance partners not to become attached

after sharing something so emotional

but that I should know he’s always

very careful not to lead them on.

I did say then ‘Kevin man

what makes you think they’re asking?’

but he combed his thin hair over and

didn’t seem to understand.

19. Joe

Joe, who was a night watchman

always talked of Thailand

where you could have any girl you wanted

for the price of a pound of butter,

but I bet he didn’t

and otherwise he hardly spoke at all

but burdened his Ford Cortina

with twenty-eight stone weight

and clothes he bought mail order so they’d fit him.

He went home every morning

saying people who work at night are different

then spent the days connecting on ham radio

with all the right equipment

and hobby person’s phrases;

‘Burke here in Ireland… over….’

I asked him what they talked about

but he said ‘that’s really not the point’,

and when he died of heart disease

he left his sets abandoned in their shed

beside several pairs of trousers

that would take a lot of filling

and not much else that anyone would notice

but hey Joe,

I did.

20. Sarah

Sarah is close to middle age and

still refusing to grow up,

– the peter pan of something

but she couldn’t tell you what –

she’s always fluctuating between ideas above,

below but never on her station

and she has a thing for girlish women

with deep voices, but is at her best with men and

Jesus if you get her going on politics or world affairs

she’ll rant on and on until you want to yell;

‘woman lay off my bleeding ears’!

It’s not easy to figure out what she stands for

she’s finds it easier to be opposed

and she aches for all humanity but most days

couldn’t name one person that she likes.

Lately she’s got mellower though

I suppose it’s part of getting older.

She’s taken to poetry – god help us –

and when I last asked her ‘what’s the answer so?’

A thing I often do for sport,

she answered very whimsically with

something that baffled me saying

‘ah there’s life in the cracks though’.

£10 (Sterling)

Sarah is 37 and from Salthill in Galway. She has travelled

widely and worked in so many different jobs that her CV

reads like Walter Mitty’s diary. Her poetry has been

published in Revival Poetry Journal, The WOW Anthology

2010 and the Stony Thursday Book 2010.

An extract from the Stacey and the Mechanical Bull

sequence of poems was shortlisted for the Listowel Writer’s

Week Collection of Poetry Competition 2010. She was

shortlisted for the Wow awards 2010, the Over the Edge

New Writer of the Year Award, and the Patrick Kavanagh prize 2010, but didn’t win any of them.

In Stacey and the Mechanical Bull we have the rise of the Irish

heroine, again. Modern without being swathed in romantic

fiction. Here we have a Medbh, a Granuaile. Women of The

Midnight Court come to mind rather than Yeats’s euphemistic

romances: Kavanagh’s realism is also remembered. Clancy

continues the tradition of dynamic feminism in Irish politics

and literature in a different way. She’s the one doing the writing

rather than being the subject-object of male writers.

Richard Montgomery

Copyright © Sarah Clancy 2010

Copyright Cover Image © Tadgh McGrath 2010

All rights reserved

The author has asserted her/his right under Section 77

of the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988

to be identified as the author of this work.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.

A catalogue record for this book is available from

the British Library.