Monsieur Petephoie

The eponymous,

Onomatopoeic

Monsieur Petephoie

Repines in silk pajamas

And cashmere robe

On his chaise longue.

He sucks a cachou,

Smokes a cigarillo

And surveys his universe

His febrile hand

Smooths his black

Brilliantined hair

And caresses his

Waxed moustache.

In his netherlands

There is a sibilance

And a susurration

Amidst the silk.

The elegant nostrils

Flare like a thoroughbred’s.

He sniffs a fragrance,

Suggestive of insouciant days,

Recalling plucked partridge,

Well-hung,

A suspicion of poached quail egg,

But Parma violets predominate.

He sighs.

An epiphany of temps perdus.

Cats

Some people have cats thrust upon them.

None of ours were chosen. We were the chosen.

As soon as one departs,

Another, alerted on the feline internet

Of a vacancy in a good home,

Comes to replace.

There is no doubt these are sentient beings

With the power of thought.

Each an individual,

With, if ever such a thing exists,

A Soul.

Bumble huffed and stood in a corner at a hint of cigarette smoke.

Maurice peed in a cot to protest at a party.

Zoltan, alarming, fanged, black head at the night window, but a cry-baby.

Raffish Monty pleasured glamorous twin slipper babes in his penthouse.

Lucy started feral and became a laptop.

Buster, as a kitten, hissed and spat, and protected his siblings

And settled into his comfortable overcoat.

Mimi, a foxy-coloured lemur confident from the start.

Sammy, languorous, luxurious, leopard, craving affection, scourge of magpies.

They all follow us in a howling line whenever we go out.

Monty would have made a fatty, goosey kind of roast.

Buster plump enough for a cassoulet to sustain us through a week.

Less meat on the girls but see them as a brace of quails.

Sammy’s the longest, could be jointed and barbecued.

Trouble is,

Once we’ve eaten them that’s it.

You can’t have your cat and eat it.

II

The ecology here

Has been rent by our cats.

Disemboweled rats,

Wings of birds,

Headless rabbits,

Dead bats,

Litter our grounds.

Doctor Death am I.

I have to kill a shivering shrew

To end its pain

And see its naked tiny liver

Just like mine

In miniature.

Meat

I

Rural life is, like some farmers,

Nasty, brutish and short.

Red in tooth and claw

Is what nature is.

Scattered across

The vasty fields,

Dead lambs and sheep

Are nibbled and gnawed

By crows and worms and silphidae.

These carrion lovers are blameless,

Driven by need

And their nature,

But how did the sheep first come to die?

Not the fox.

Was it disease, exposure lack of feed?

Whatever, the farmers’ unawareness seems a sin,

Unawareness of the sanctity of life.

These sentient beasts are a commodity to skin,

Dismember and freeze. No matter if they die without a knife

There will be more to come on the production line.

Sheep, pigs, geese, ducks, chickens and kine

Are all grist to the EU subsidy mill,

Entries bent to an accountant’s skill.

II

Two rascally lambs frequently escape together

And come through our garden hedge.

No bother.

More problem when the garden is crammed

Like a commuter train, jointed and jammed

With big sheep who trample and chew,

An ovine plague of rams and ewes

With staunch purpose. Shouting and waving a cane,

Like Betsy Trotwood, I chase them away again.

A scruffy crowd gathers

At the far end of the acre every day.

Skinny and horned,

They wheeze, cough and choke.

They sit and stare

And chew the fat and the hay

As if they are down the pub

For a pint and a smoke.

Mary had a little lamb.

Mary, the farmer’s daughter

Loved that little lamb.

I asked her what happened

To the lovely little lamb.

“We ate it.”

III

Gates and boundaries

Are notional in the Barony of Barrymore,

In the County of Cork.

Along the lanes

Cows roam free like the sacred beasts

Of India. Useless to complain.

“Ah, they’re desperate cunts all right”,

Is all the farmer says.

We promise the cows that,

Come what may, we at least,

Will not eat them.

Their soft intelligent eyes

Fix us with a gaze.

“Small comfort to us”, they must think.

IV

In the Black Museum at New Scotland Yard

I saw the very gas oven and hobs

Where Nielsen in total disregard

Of normal culinary thingamabobs

Boiled up his victims’ heads in a stockpot

After ramming the remains of the remains

Of those he had garrotted

Down the inadequate drains.

After a repast of succulent roast lamb

The overflowing sink drenched my sock

In greasy water. Trying to locate the jam,

I unscrewed the U-bend

And got quite a shock

As slimy lumps of white lamb lard

Slithered down my neck,

Cold and hard.

V

My old alma mater is now mostly car park.

School House,

Rickety death trap in the sixties,

Surprisingly, still shakily stands,

I walk through the empty site my feet treading

What was once the chemistry lab

Where I sweated cold in ignorant panic.

This is a short cut to the park

And Spa Road, past the corner shop

Where we bought ice cream

And idled away summer lunch breaks.

Another rickety old house, boarded up,

No longer in use. A literal death trap.

In a street named for the butcher of the Irish.

Number 25 Cromwell Street.

The local police often dropped in

For a drink and a laugh with Fred,

A good old boy from the forest of Dean,

Or to pleasure themselves with Rosemary.

Or with the waifs?

Like lambs to the slaughter.

Innocent

Sentient beings. Anonymous.

Unencumbered

By family.

Uncomplicated

By friends,

Unhindered

By documents,

Free of identity,

Used for pleasure,

Butchered for convenience,

Forgotten.

VI

The “purveyor of fine meats”

Is “pleased to meet you,

And has meat to please you”.

An ultra-violet insect repeller hums

And gives out a purple glow

Like an undertaker’s neon sign.

A bluebottle settles

With a cyclorrhaphous

Languor on a lamb carcass.

Among dripping cadavers of cows

And smaller pieces of mutilated animals.

The butcher tuts and whistles

Through the gap in his teeth

Turns pages of his news paper

With a hand missing a finger or two

And reads

Of carnage and mayhem in Ireland.

A literal shambles

Of children and pregnant women.

VII

At the beef stall in Badulla market

Huge screeching crows make skidding

Scraping landings on the rusty,

Lacy corrugated iron roof,

Clattering, shrieking, swooping,

Scooping up bloody scraps of offal.

The butchers unload the slaughterhouse

Van using huge bovine ribcages

To carry the other cuts.

People hand over small amounts

Of money

For small amounts

Of unrecognisable body parts. 

No part of a cow is too trivial

To be sold and cooked and eaten.

Hairy matter that cannot be named

Or explained,

Hangs in folds and pleats and sheets

Like curtains in a horror house.

Disembodied ankles and hooves

Are lined up in neat rows

Like shoes outside a hotel room door.

Bad tempered live chickens strut

Proudly

About on strings, necks twitching,

Unaware that they

Are comestible commodities.

A man stands calm like a statue

With a live chicken under each arm.

Feral cats forage among the giblets and plastic bags.

The Tamil Tigers blew up a bus

Full of schoolchildren.

Those who escaped from the bus were shot.

Now the war is over,

The bombs are silent

But a vanload of children

Exploded in meat and blood

Because one driver

In this market economy

Cut his fares.

Bou Gaffer

“A climb to the ridge of Bou Teskaouine

Rewards us with a magnificent view

Of Bou Gaffer and the Eastern Jebel.

We ascend Jebel Bou Gaffer,

An impressive mass of jumbled rock,

Where the Berbers

Made their last stand against the French

In 1933 after prolonged guerrilla resistance.”

Our guide, Ibrahim, old enough for a bus pass

In Lewisham,

In the Jebel Sahro has two wives,

One a twenty-year-old.

He delights

In disappearing,

Materialising high above us,

Leaping over rocks, grimy gandura

Flapping above gristled ankles

And recycled Reeboks.

He clasps stick to shoulder,

Through broken teeth booms,

” Bou Gaffer! Bou Gaffer! “

A cry of defiance against what?

The French? Europeans? Tourists?

The rich? Age? Mortality?

He disappears again from the boulder

Leaving only a manic cackling among the rocks.

When we camp for the night,

The horses and jennets are restless,

Galloping about the field.

The Berbers do not seem to sleep,

Murmuring stories through the night.

Antique mortars, bullets, cartridge cases

Litter the earth. Rusted tobacco tins

And wine bottles labelled ‘1932’.

A monument o the unknown (French) soldier

Has been desecrated.

This is the real world

Of Ouida, Beau Geste and Luck of the Legion.

I lay my head on a cold pillow

And sleep with the spirits

Of legionnaires and Berbers.

In the morning,

My water bottle

Contains a block of ice.

Anosmia

It takes only the one match

For the paper and kindling to catch

And flicker into flame. Soon the peat,

Its underbelly glowing orange with heat,

Assaults my nose with wisps of smoke,

Evocative of atavistic bogs

Preserving dead life. Now the logs

Go on. They blister and crack,

Fragrant resin that takes me back

To pine clad hills of Poros. Trees cupped

To make retsina which cannot be supped

In these cold and sunless northern climes.

A round Pinotage is best for wintry times.

The Polish coal belches soot and smoke –

Recalling a hellish furnace, my father heaping coal

At the Bristol Road gas works.

I plunge the corkscrew my Grandfather brought

Back from Wipers, from the war that he thought

Would end them all. I pull the cork and smell

Blackcurrant and tannin and think that all is well.

Placing the wine to soften before the grate,

I move to the kitchen to create

A meal to bring the air of sunny shores

To my night-drenched foggy pores.

Odour of garlic sizzling in oil fills the place.

Chopped onions send tears down my face.

Fresh chilies hit the pan, their spiky fumes

Stab my nostrils. Adding to the mix, I fill the rooms

With aromas of balsamic, basil, cheese,

Mushrooms and olives. Serving these

On pasta doused in walnut oil,

I go to the fire

And switch on the TV. Soldiers wading through mire

Of wrenched limbs and blood. Setting the food aside I stare.

My kitten, smelling like attar of roses, climbs on the chair.

Another rerun of The World at War. As I watch, tears

Spring again. My father, dead these thirty years,

Shown to me in his frail humanity as never before

Among those grey ghosts on the Normandy shore.

My father left his sense of smell on the Norman strand,

On 10th July 1944. A shattered, bodiless hand

Was the last scent his nose remembered.

Did he leave part of himself with the dismembered?

He won no medal for being there. British forces fought

For five weeks to win that piece of sand. They bought

It at a price of thousands dead. My Irish father did not fight;

Showed no wounds but did he get off light?

The Pioneer Corps was the stuff of jokes.

A motley collection of ineffectual blokes

Dredged into the army by war’s hunger for bodies.

Clerks and light labourers, intellectuals and incapables.

Too short or too tall. Weak in the head, too modest,

Or bright to be an officer.

Unfit to fight. Fit to clean stables.

Cleaning up after the proper soldiers.

Tidying the war.

What litter now on that Normandy shore?

Do tourists relax on this beach manured with blood

And bone of boys and men?

The smells are good,

Calvados and Normandy cider.

The pork and tripes 

A la Caen drip greasily from the tourists lips.

Before the war, my father mixed sand and cement,

Digging foundations. At 28 he was keening a lament,

Laying in pits rotting pieces of other young men.

This was what it was to be a Pioneer then.

At 28, I knew days of quiet desperation

In my lowly work in bullshit jobs

I dreaded the exasperation

Of elders who coped. I felt the shame

Of being inept at low aims but all the same

Had no talent to escape. In younger days

I fought with Da over his guarded ways.

Mocked him and workmates, old at heart,

For rejecting what then seemed so smart

And time proved so tawdry. Their jibes trite

And envious. The “University of Life” was right.

What did they care about Marcuse and Lacan?

A boy got a better schooling in the charnel of Caen.

At 28 my father walked with the dead, breathing the fetor

Of putrefaction. Mangled boys liquefied into the sand.

Did his brain tell his senses it would be better

To block this horror. Be blind, or cease to hear?

Might he have lost feeling in his hand?

Was he lucky then that he could not smell his beer?

After the war he got another spade

From the Southwestern Gas Board. I was afraid

When he showed me the works.

Men stripped to the waist.

The Irish as black as the Jamaicans,

A dying Empire’s godforsaken-

Straining with shovels, their bodies bast-

Ed like meat. A scene from a Dore or Fuseli

Illustration of hell,

Men dwarfed by the furnaces they stoked,

Coughing in the fumes of coal and coke.

Did the gas board employ a man who

Could not smell

As a perverse joke?

My father was a chauvinist for gas. The stove at home

And even the fridge was powered by Mr Therm.

Mantles, if he could have had his way,

Would have been better than light bulbs any day.

With unsmiling face, he once told me

That gas board boffins had perfected a gas TV.

Even in the vegetarian precinct of my home

I sometimes wake to the smell of roasting lamb.

Is it a vestigial memory like an amputee’s twinge

In his missing foot? Do the blind have a memory of orange?

Did my Dad nurse in his head old smells good or rank?

Or was there just an absence, an olfactory blank?

I could have asked him but that was the last thing

I thought of. We steered away from talk of last things.

I recall we talked of football as I shaved his shrunken neck

Gently brushed and blew the hairs from his withered back.

England and Germany.

England another feeble defeat then.

In July 1944 Germany lost sixty thousand men.

A smug and rubicund curate summoned to the ward,

God’s bully boy on earth, a gombeen man for the Lord,

Did not talk of last things. He proudly wore his Pioneer pin,

His badge of abstinence, an outward sign of one thing

At least he would say ‘no’ to. His soutane reeked of roast pork.

He exhaled stale cigar smoke and platitudes when he talked,

As if to a child failing at his catechism. My father, in better years,

Would resent and resist and command respect from this Pioneer.

The priest, rotund and pompous in the complacency of his ignorance,

His hands soft and pudgy, hands that had never known the chance

To grip the haft of a spade. The only digging this Pioneer had done

Would be in the drawers of an altar boy after compline.

A life of comfortable poverty, cosseted by mother

And presbytery housekeeper, one after another,

Masochistic matrons of the parish, widows bowled over

By his sermons on brimstone and his lust for their Pavlova.

His smells were Clonakilty pudding, colcannon, bacon fried

Crisp, exorcising incense and the stale dried

Dampness of the shiny Sunday suits of the massed

Peasantry, pious and deferential to the last.

This petty priest became the cynosure of my rage

Against God for taking my father at such a young age.

Did Caen teach my father the flimsiness of the flesh?

On that beach did he learn how fine the mesh

That binds muscle to bone, how temporary the breath?

I know he lived with the tinnitus of anxiety till death.

I know not to damn God for the evil of men

But the inexorable force of the evil visited then

On little men who had no voice or power to halt

It was more and less than human. No fault

Could make him complicit in the malignant force

That swept common people away with the cause

Instigated by ideologies and systems of terror.

If I blamed God for his death was that an error?

How else to assign blame for the malignant cells

That shrank his sturdy body, subverted his will,

Snuffed out his flame. He was ever a chronic worrier.

Did the rogue cells start their march amidst those warriors

Slain on the beach? Can God then claim this excuse?

The evil of men brought the horror that let the rogue cells loose.

Cowardly to give to the priest and God the blame.

Why not admit that some of the onus is mine to claim?

Thirty years on he still comes to me in dreams

So quick and vivid and intense that it seems

He will be there to talk to me tomorrow. If only then,

When I had the chance, had I shown

What I felt, it might have brought him ease

And halted the march of the evil disease.

Now I live in the land of his birth.

I walk the hills and till the earth.

No need of Pioneers to bury the dead

Sheep fallen in the boreen, its head

Gnawed. Stripped to the bones the carcass

Feeds families of flies and crows.

From the village to home, I can find my way blind.

The turning off the main road, the scent is watercress

From the Owenacurra gushing clean over rocks behind

The furze. Then the wind susurrating in the trees

Stops, and it is right turn at the cross-roads. The black-

Berries’ smell guides me along to Mrs Fitz’s house

Where odour of dog precedes the licks and barks

Of Susie. The haw has a fragrance of anise

Or fennel and further along I wander

Past a peppery perfume. I know I have reached home

When I am greeted by chives, lovage and coriander

And earthy exhalation of freshly turned loam.

My father’s sister remarks how much

Like him I have become. The mutation is such

That I grow into his looks 

I walk his walk, retell his jokes,

Looking into the mirror I feel scared.

Soon I will be older than my father if I am spared.

Peaches

The peach tree was near death

When we first made our home

Beneath Namunukala.

The bark of the bough

Was cadaver grey,

Mottled with white.

The only life was

In the parasite

Adding unsought leaves.

On Poya days, the full moon

Miracle arouses the aroma

Of Queen of the Night

Epiphyllum oxypetalum.

On Vesak poya,

The night sky was bright as midday

And clotted with stars.

The peach tree was alive with lights.

Fireflies clustered among the leaves

And branches, echoing the stars,

Infused life from the heavens.

Light linked the forces

Of the cosmos with the latent

Life on the earth.

Now the tree is fecund with fruit.

The fauna are in a frenzy.


Mynahs and black robins

Tussle for food

With minivets, tolerant

In the knowledge

That there is enough for all.

But hooligan monkeys

Evolved from humans,

Bored

With a diet of jak, want it all

And throw their weight around,

Frightening the birds

Until themselves are seen off,

If only for awhile,

By the howling dogs.

Pelting their turds,

The monkeys retreat to re-form

And fight another day.

Some peaches lie on the ground,

Worms and flies burrowing

Into the rotting fuzz.