A Covid Lament

Unstoppable sirens spook our lives,

helicopters hunt from scowling skies,

police checks query and advise.

Reporters intone death updates

officials admonish and quote R rates –

Who will deliver us from this slave state?

Don’t dare question higher authority,

don’t defend the agnostic minority,

overlords get free-pass priority.

Deterred all hugs and tender touch,

Vaccines and science promise too much,

at straws in wind we vainly clutch.

None admit creating outbreak,

nations shaken by evil earthquake –

God embraces each horrible heartbreak.


Photos: upsplash.com


Null Set *

Ronald Hemmings-600 AW

Ronald – ride your trike

and smile; short will be your life:

sickness comes, then strife.


Five photos that’s all

I have: character shortfall;

clueless, all in all.



Slender throat hard crushed,

strangled until terror shushed;

brutal breach of trust.


Did my grandfather regret

that dreadful deed when he met

his maker – null set.


* “null set” (also called the empty set) 

– the set that does not contain anything

Pop Pickers and Pirates



The cogged radio knob was grasped & turned,

a green lotus light bloomed, energy slowly unlocked:

this moment holy, on rough cord carpet kneeled

a pubescent “pop picker” in audio adoration,

short trousered knees were tattooed by Tintawn,

heart and soul in hostage to Motown melodies,

thrilled at the illicit discovery of pirate stations….



Radio sets in the sixties were powered by a series of triodes, vacuum tubes and valves.  Valves mysteriously glowed, like a toy town scene, creating considerable heat that warmed the top of the wooden frame.Such metal and glass parts could be peeked at through die-cut holes in the cardboard backing.

Turn the radio’s left toothed knob, hear it’s decisive click. Your eye would be drawn to the lotus-like bloom on an emerald eye. It was like an imitation brooch, oddly-placed in the gold fabric that decoratively covering the grille. Behind this latticed fabric boomed the round, drum-skin tight, black speaker surface, an inverted cardboard bosom.

That jewelled eye “blossomed”, indicating that the valves were slowly warming up. Press down hard on one of the three analogue square buttons, directly below the screen. Then the abstract hum turned into broadcast. Medium Wave, Long Wave, Short Wave. Turn the toothed knob on the right.

Two grooved wheels turn a looped taut string within the hidden chassis. This crude system propelled the station guide marker, stiffly moving past an array of radio stations Your eye follows the station indicator stick, moving behind the glass screen imprinted with names and numbers. Third; Light; West; Hilversum; Paris; Luxembourg; Brussels; even Athlone. Like terrestial tides, a rhythmic reception hissing came and went. Sometimes the broadcast crystal clear, sometimes slowly morphing into distorted temporary gargle. Then back to full reception levels.

Press your ear to the golden fabric; close your eyes; imagine presenters talking into large microphones, in faraway studios. See them through the large studio window of broadcasting booths. A prominent red light warns of live radio.


Pirate programmes were transmitted from swaying small boats, anchored in international waters, bobbing up and down on stormy waves. It was a music mission, lead by gung-ho pirates, playing music without official permission.

On Sunday afternoons my brothers and I waited impatiently for the iconic theme tune of Alan Freeman’s ‘Pick of the Pops’, preceded by the rhythmic cymbal beat, echoing tom toms, upbeat trumpets and tubular bells. It was Harry Roberts rhumba tune called ‘Quite beside the point’. Then Freedman’s cheerful Australian voice: “Greetings pop pickers!” Then on came the surfing sounds of the Beach Boys ‘California Girls’, Rolling Stones rebel rock ‘I Can’t get no Satisfaction’ and the hippy Kinks ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’.

One day this eight year old asked for the pocket-money price of that Kinks single. Any song that mentioned fashion in the title was a good choice for the son of rag trade parents. That innocent boy didn’t realise that the subversive lyrics were more than a mere dig at the trendy Carnaby Street scenes in London:


They seek him here, they seek him there

His clothes are loud, but never square

It will make or break him so he’s got to buy the best

‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion


At boarding school I took to wandering around school grounds, portable transistor radio permanently pressed to ears. My school report summed it up well: “In his free time (Louis) leads a very aimless existence. He and his transistor spend far too much time hanging around his classroom. By now he should be developing more positive enthusiasms…”

NSW report 1971

In the early 80s I had been ill for a period and frequently found myself going to bed even earlier than much younger kids. Too weak to read books, I listened to the radio instead. The station of choice was Sunshine Radio, a pirate station. It soon unwittingly brought metaphorical “sunshine” into my life.

The top ten music was an enjoyable distraction. On-the-hour, news was read by some sweet dulcet-toned young woman. What was it about her accent that sounded familiar? After listening for a few evenings, I eventually realised that woman was my Second Year boarding school girlfriend. I had dated Allanah (tr. “darling”) for a few wonderful summer weeks.

I hadn’t heard her voice for years but recently had seen her. She was walking carefree down Dawson Street. She was the successful Trinity College student (and pirate news broadcaster). Too shy to shout out her name, or dodge traffic, running across the busy city street to ecstatically greet her. Had I known that would be my last ever opportunity, I might have plucked up the courage.

But who was I in her eyes? An academic failure, on an endless cycle of dead-end jobs. I had accomplished little in my life up to that point. Some months later, however, I wrote a lyrical poem about her, recalling our good times. It was slyly titled ‘We were the Pirates then’. It combined to our loose eroticism with the freewheeling spirit of pirate radio stations in the 80s.

Some time after I had finished writing that poem in her honour, I visited some old scholars from that boarding school. After reading my homage of Allanah to those alumni, a curious silence quickly fell among that small gathering. I was puzzled. I thought the poem cheerful. Perhaps it could even be put to a pop tune. To critical-minded college students it might even be possibly considered… good??


Irish name and Asian-like eyes brown,

classmate boarder at co-ed Newtown,

shiny gold-blond hair, smiley freckled face

she beckoned me on, yet kept me in place.


Allanah read Asterix in the Irish Times,

she exuded charm, engaged in wilful crimes:

that “darling” thief stole my treasured transistor,

I caught the culprit, I couldn’t resist her.


Premature lovers, promiscuous teens,

contours mapped out under jumpers green:

oh amorous apples, swoon of soft skin,

ignoring biblical command, indulging in sin.


On the hour, Allanah read the news,

I whisper: “I remember you.”

My ears weren’t playing tricks:

Venerated name, darling prefix.


What I was told next shocked me. While I had been writing my “pirate” poem about her, Allanah lay in a Dublin hospital dying of cervical cancer. She was the first contemporary of mine to have died. After hearing that news I added in a concluding verse, to reflect this sad conclusion of our friendship.



Gone that girl reading Sunshine’s news,

gone the romance, gone the pirates too:

dead and buried at twenty-five, cancer

killed that darling dreamer & ballet dancer…

pupil in a hurry 2 copy

Athanasius’ Third Arrest, 356 A.D.

athanasius the great

Holy Coptic chants solemnly resonate,

somnambulant Eastern liturgical drone:

heaven’s hope echoing off stone church walls.

Cassocks, candelabras and kiot*, gold-tinted.

Altar and icons by incense clouded,

praying priests half-hidden by holy haze,

God’s grace spice-suffusing the sanctuary.


At midnight mass, Caesar’s dark legions came

smashed the sacred, bolted doors,

slashed with indiscriminate swords,

pagan fury spat with blood-drunk blasphemies;

sacrilege in St. Theonas’ sanctuary,

dozing pigeons scatter in frenzied flight.


Virgin Christians stripped by sadistic soldiers,

raped, vainly shielding votive bodies

with mere tatters of white garments;

men murdered, javelin pierced, intestines

spill from sliced stomachs, slithering like snakes,

screams intermingle with the recited Psalm:

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.

His love endures forever…


Failed arrest of the antagonist, Athanasius:

dogmatic theologian, belligerent Egyptian,

iconoclast, midget bodied bishop –

escape managed amid murderous affray.


Fifteen years of desert exile followed,

then that triumphal procession to Alexandria,

seated on an ass, the beast of burden.

Thousands hosanna-proclaim,

palm-branches uplifted in an arc

welcoming their holy hero,

imitating another man’s entry:

Christ, compelled to complete salvation story.


‘Jesus is God!’ –  his divisive doctrine declared,

life and death statement, spoken and sung,

crucible-crafted by prophetic priest, Athanasius,

biblically patented from antiquity to eternity…


Athanasius – Christian theologian, Church Father, chief defender of Trinitarianism (against Arianism). Noted Egyptian leader of the fourth century.

*Kiot –  a special wooden box with a hinged, framed glass door in the front, usually a case for an icon.

Horse Show Scenes

Poem and photos based on experiences of the Royal Dublin Society Annual Horse Show

Processed with VSCO with ka1 preset

Wafting smell of wax-polished leather,

boxed-in royalty, equines stand tethered;

sweet scent drifts from dark passage stalls,

echoing announcements over speaker calls.

Processed with VSCO with a1 preset

Girls command horses, fifteen hands high,

tight jodhpurs, high boots makes this male sigh:

blond-hair, blush cheeks, so snug their jackets;

wild-eyed horses rear-up, hear that whinny racket!

Processed with VSCO with al3 preset

Processed with VSCO with al3 preset

Pony club teens, reckless their riding

driving their colts on, close to colliding,

passing game baton, daring their mounts:

adrenaline overdose, every second counts.

Processed with VSCO with l1 preset

Clock tower toll, Big Ben counterfeit

bowler-hatted judges, pompous as their weight

clear rounds cause clapping from horsey crowds,

jockeys widely smile, proprietors stand proud.

Processed with VSCO with ka1 preset

Hand lifted hats arresting equine attention,

hooves tamp turf, horseshit spoils pretension,

impatient tails wave, picture perfect snap,

small talk exchanged, tweed jackets and caps.


Bored horses peek over barred half-doors,

wordless eyes surmise, large primal teeth gnaw;

dark cobbled corridors, strawed dung splatter,

hooves angrily stamp amid the clip-clop clatter…

Processed with VSCO with c5 preset

This is Where I first Believed

south hill


Architecture in Victorian style,

gallant hymns, strained smiles:

few assembled believers,

old-fashioned and ever eager;

Sabbath spirit static,

prayer sincere, pragmatic.


Scripture texts in Gothic script,

pilgrim people gripped

by heavenly hope proposed,

platform preacher posed

queries: idols and curses

refuted by bible verses.


Lone brethren, battle besieged:

message mocked, unbelieved

by secular modern minds –

“How can they be so blind?”

Truth’s tiger timid and caged,

hearts not minds engaged…


This is where I first believed,

bent stubborn knee, received

release after sinner’s prayer,

hope replaced despair:

Christ died for our misdeeds,

pity those not fully freed…

In many ways, bikes are better…


Backstory to poem: a cycling friend related an aggressive driver / peaceful cyclist encounter. It took place as a cycling family pedalled to school one morning.

When unsafe actions by careless car driver were challenged by father cyclist, the driver uttered the ridiculous rebuttal: “Why don’t you grow up and get a car!”

That mindless mentality deserved an qual put-down in poetic form.


Let’s swap our seated places,

quit honking horns and pulling faces,

let’s all extend some kinder graces.

Lets both not break red lights,

let’s not trump wrongs, or start fights;

let’s hope there’s never any last rites.

Let’s properly apply brakes and gears,

let’s all admit our faults and fears,

let’s both yield, then signal: “cheers”.

Four wheels good but two wheels best,

left-turning traffic makes me stressed

(make biking mandatory for any test).

We cyclists have no windows, or roof,

we sit tall in saddles but not aloof:

helmeted skulls aren’t shatterproof.

The passionate pedaller’s a go-getter,

we don’t condemn the carburettor –

but in many ways, bikes are better…

Lawrence Coster: The Apostle of Printing (c. 1420)

Screenshot 2019-05-09 at 19.30.13Screenshot 2019-05-09 at 19.30.13

With willow wood you wooed your beau,

setting her heart and mind aglow:

solitary-seated by canals you etched,

then slowly the sharp blade sketched

lovers initials intertwined, sharp incisions

on branch birthed blessings: Eden’s vision.


This lover’s present then parchment-wrapped,

carved cyphers secretly sang, summoned sap:

overnight it oozed from peeled willow wood,

catechist-craftsman created an imprint good;

then came Gutenberg-bible, God’s story told,

later breaking papal spiritual stranglehold….


Laurens Janszoon Coster (c. 1370, Haarlem, the Netherlands – c. 1440), or Laurens Jansz Koster, is the name of a purported inventor of a printing press from Haarlem. He allegedly invented printing simultaneously with Johannes Gutenberg and is regarded by some in the Netherlands as having invented printing first. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurens_Janszoon_Coster

Hope Drunk Hearts




artist: Mahmoud Qoqyan




Those ancient prophecies proven true:

palms nail-pinioned, skin flayed through,

ankles anchored on cruel cruciform,

king mock-crowned with braided thorns.


Sadistic suffering, lone dreadful death,

no respirator for last few breaths,

dark night of soul, sun’s eerie eclipse,

not scared he stared into dark abyss.


Evil Easter, bloody slaughter scene,

most men fled, women stayed keen;

briefly buried in short-loan vault,

his father forgave all those at fault.


Rejected forgiver, spurned his love,

pathos proffered, not boxing glove;

cynic and sceptic he refuses to rout,

daylight atheists don’t need to doubt.


His broken body lit faith’s feeble fuse,

even paper-thin faith he won’t refuse;

His blood offered holds healing power:

don’t be coward,  no need to cower.


Hope-drunk hearts brim with gratitude:

God’s mercy deep, lavish in latitude;

three days pass, his kingdom comes:

blow brass loud, strike hard the drum!


Screenshot 2019-03-14 at 17.02.17

Easter Springtide – Vitali Linitsky (dissident Orthodox painter under Soviet rule)




Shaftesbury, the Poor Man’s Earl


You shrewdly observed the pathetic poor

that begged, brawled and slyly swindled;

compelled by command to unlock doors:

jubilee justice and anger slowly kindled.


Children slept under weaving looms,

tugged wagons in deep coal caverns,

choked in chimney stack soot and fumes;

parents wages wasted in gin taverns.


Your proxy mother was mindful maid

who whispered nightly maternal prayers;

your despotic father’s petty rules obeyed

until inherited title named you heir.


With statesmen you sat in House of Lords

giving many mill children hopeful starts;

on dull committees struck common chord

softened hard parliamentarian hearts.


Paternal debt damaged your family estate,

sullied that seat, tarnished proud crest:

you sold off paintings and silver plate

to ensure justice for tenants, late-blessed.


Much energy expended after many years

on penniless workers freed from slavery;

your state funeral caused farewell tears:

even critics saluted such biblical bravery…