For Tony Martin
On this, his first visit, my artist cousin uncurls
a map of Greater Belfast, brings with him
a baggage of colours transported from Manhattan
to his studio in pollution-conscious Portland.
They’d smear blood red across this city’s
northern quarter, plumes of smoky-black
igniting in nightfall messaged bottles,
flame-green flak jackets and scowl
of riot shields overlapping in pale washes.
2. THE FIRST TEMPTING
Looking down from Napoleon’s Nose I tempt
you to paint a troubled scene. No need
to finger the terraced rows below, we’ll
delve in archives at the Linen Hall,
uncover skinny lads in scruffy clothes
posed before a smoking burnt-out van
with hands and scarves to mask their faces. Perhaps
you’d add a cudgel to the smallest nipper’s hand
and paint the eyes less harshly; big and watery
and sad. Some sap green and ochre, some soft blue
and yellow to smooth the hard edges of the canvas.
3. THE SECOND TEMPTING
Or might I tempt you tonight from the tallest
rooftop to look north: two bridges straddle
passive Lagan’s mauve and blues. The quayside
lights submerge as apparitions, or tiptoe
as angels swayed by the genteel plash of water.
Distant, unpeopled, the city sparkles with clusters
of mellow suns and stars, and arcs of red
and yellow half-moons.
the sky is stroked with salmon pink and muted
turquoise releases a genie of dispersing blue
into misty-eyed, chocolate-coated hills.
I offer you these options, assured that either
way you’ll make a killing, back in the USA.
I make you think about the spin-offs: posters,
postcards, the tea towel images …
looking down you won’t be bound within
these hills and lough and sky. Your eye decodes,
your hand will sift the pieces of an elaborate
jigsaw, etch in black and white the keys
of distant terracing, that slots in perpendiculars,
horizontals as if to form the facade of a Roman temple.
The scene bleeds its reds to the north of the slate-
grey, curvaceous Lagan.
5. THE JOURNEY
We balloon down across the city.
I flick through a tourist guide, ‘What to See’,
veer towards Stormont’s Portland stone;
hover over the hum of coaches. Its flock,
unleashed, click Sam or Mary-Bet before
the mile long steep incline.
you throw out ballast. We rise above the uniform
rows of lime trees, dip for you to pluck
a bunch of broom, alone, in open fields
beyond the Ice Bowl.
As we soar
above Langholm, Stornoway and Selkirk’s high-
rise flats, you put the broom in an endangered
living window, with tieback shimmering
curtains as parenthesis. It burns with an iridescent
onwards we view the Lagan from Annadale.
At ground level, road and railings and river
are understated, bland. Only the people
looking downward, introspective, draw
on blue and brown and yellow, as perpendicular
trees and lighting pull the eye to the skyline.
The treetops are delicate as dandelion clocks: a breath
might feather their leaves to the distant liquid
horizon, where sycamores red-tongue the sky.
IV SHAFTSBURY SQUARE
You simplify the colours:
all lines swirl, a flood
as black & red rockets.
intersect in a splash
of vermilion: white
slicks, a fluid screen.
It could be any back street
near the Hammer or Lower
Ormeau. A wall is daubed
with conflicting flags,
graffiti. In front you extract
the features of an old man;
glasses, not quite fitting,
corrosive teeth, face
etched with fault-lines,
wide, hospitable smile.
At his feet the pigeons pour
over pockmarks. Several
congeal in a many-
headed mass. One
with wings outstretched
rises into clear
Poets Exposed: Ray Givans
Charmain Porter talks to some of Northern Ireland’s finest poets. From the age of 19 until he was 24 Ray Givans wrote poetry but then he stopped to concentrate on teaching. He talks about how a poem written by George Best inspired him to start writing poetry again.
Copyright © Ray Givans 2004
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.
Preview Ray Givans' Collection: Going Home
Published by Lapwing Publications
A mother, exhausted
on a bed of straw.
Her baby is pale, delicate.
The nurses in Mater and Ulster
uniforms crouch between
the snorting donkeys, look
at the mother’s broad
smile. Two windows,
partially open, are rapped
by symmetrical branches
of a tree rocks that rocks
backwards and forwards.