STACEY AND THE MECHANICAL BULL
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?
Every time I meet Johnny, he’s definitely
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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’.
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.
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.