This one was originally published in, of all places, the Ulster Tatler (which was also the first place I ever had a poem published for money). It’s another grab bag of odds and ends, stray fragments of astronomy and popular culture, old jokes, autobiographical references. Moscow Joe makes another appearance (the italicised phrases in the third section quote from one of his assemblages) and Romper Room was a local children’s television programme of the 60s and early 70s.
This time the centre of gravity – which for once is the apt cliche – is the memory of Mairtin Crawford, whose fascination with the city and with space exploration draws the various elements into what I hope is a stable orbit…
Belfast from Space
You might, as the man said, imagine a lobster
with its tail flexed along the Lagan
and a pincer stretched on both shores of the Lough,
or again, picture a shower of Neolithic
lads and lasses stranded on a sandbar, bickering
about whose fault, whose stupid fault, it is
that they are so far out on a withered limb
they might as well be on the moon
or whatever they call that moon-face in the sky.
In this satellite photo of Belfast from space
I can see the street you lived on, and my own street.
It’s the ultimate out of body experience,
unless you count acid or amanita,
or Romper Room’s Miss Helen reading out the names
of all the kids she claimed to see
through the spiral galaxy of her magic mirror –
though her Martin was always a different Martin –
psychedelia on black and white TV.
Nostalgia. Google Earth. Shamanic journeys.
I can’t come with you, but I wish you luck.
I’m a pop artist, not a visionary.
The older I get, the more I stay at home.
Or as Moscow Joe McKinley would have had it,
I’m crap to know. I’m an oul show-off
in summer, but in long dark winter
(the night a wreath of stars) a pathetic geek…
I walk beach often. I’m a young fun.
Armagh’s stargazers saw through cloud
To the transit of Venus, a beauty spot
On the thermonuclear breast
Of the sun. By such a tiny blemish
Whole worlds, like ours perhaps, are known.
Plugged into life support, the deep coma
Of suspended animation, who knows
How long you’d take to get there?
As far as you’re concerned, no time at all.
I can see your house from here, as Christ
said in one of the worst jokes about
the crucifixion. And driving
the M1’s lobster-tail to meet my girl,
the City Cemetery where you’re buried
is at my shoulder like a navigator.
How often did we steer home
By the stars, half-cut, on auto-pilot?
Once too often, or one time too few?