Poetry & Music -
2nd May 2017
with Mike Parsons David Kessel, Abe Gibson,
and Roger Hoddle.
floor spots come early...
Powis Road (off Bruce Road) E3 3HJ see map
Bow Road or Bromley by Bow Tube/Bow Church DLR
3-Bees Cafe 4 - 8: bring a bottle/cans
Austerity Door Policy - give what you can afford
BY MIKE PARSONS
for my father, Karl Rankl and Leon Morahan
“Little Heart, you don't know how much feeling I have for you. You are like my child and my little wife, and my good angel, and my greatest friend, all in one! I don't believe there has been a woman in Ireland loved the way I love you for a thousand years.”
J.M. Synge to Molly , 4th December 1907
“Death smiles calmly on Deirdre's dreams.”
The Night Of The Birth
The weather had turned, the hour was late
When the hunting party reached Felimid's gate.
The son of Dall, the teller of tales,
Would give them shelter against the gale,
Blowing up in the North.
Soon the night had drawn in and the lamp was lit,
The meal was finished, the dishes cleared,
A cup was passed around the fire,
First to Conor, protector of peace in the land,
Who had pride of place, on Felimid's right,
Then around the wide circle
Where the nobles of Ulster,
with Cathabad the Druid, sat silent.
But there was none of the usual revelry.
Felemid was quiet, singing none of the tales
He had learned from his father
Hymned none of the heroes whose memory he guarded
Ignored how the nation emerged from it's darkness,
Remembered no lover who was suffering alone.
Tonight he was silent.
His wife's chair was empty.
In a room off the hall,
She groaned in her labour
And hoped for a son.
Her absence a presence more powerful, more telling,
Than all the rich company gathered that night.
And over that silence, the power of life,
Told a story more poignant than ever a man
Had set down.
Many thought of their lives,
And pondered their fate
In that hour.
Silhouettes 'gainst the gloom of the night,
Whose dark air was filled with the quiver of sparks,
As new logs were thrown on the dwindling fire,
And catching, flared up, throwing light on the faces,
Of that most powerful circle.
Disturbed in his thoughts, the king looked to his host,
Who was sunk with his waiting, his brow deeply knit
As he prayed and he watched, through that longest of nights,
Ignoring the glances that tried to fathom his mood.
Conor rose from his chair, called for tale fit to cheer,
This auspicious occasion, this magical night,
But Fel was engrossed and all urging ignored,
His child would be born soon; a boy or a girl,
A boy he could raise as a son and an heir,
But of all this he was silent.
His harp lay untouched, he, the favourite of all,
So used to revealing the depths of his thought,
Sharing all of the tales of this land that they knew,
Of the countries he'd travelled,the people he'd met,
Of all that he'd learned; a treasure so vast,
But tonight he was silent.
Felimid governed the heart with a far surer hand,
Than his sovereign, for he held the key to them all,
Yet his own heart, now troubled, no fellow could fathom,
Or ease as he waited his child to be born.
So Felimid said nothing. He knew of the chances,
That birth brought, how some lived and others would die,
He knew of its weaving,
He knew of its ending,
But of its beginning, he had no reply.
The women were absent, were busy with water,
They were calming his wife and were mopping her brow,
So alone were the men, with the fire burning brightly,
Useless, while history waited its hour.
Again with a shout, Conor raised up his voice,
To cheer his companions, now sinking in gloom,
Called again for a tale in this dark, endless night;
Should they not all be happy to welcome the babe?
The many strong rivers that usually flowed
Seemed all dry now and barren in Felimid's mind,
As he listened and worried and waited the cry,
That would tell of the birth,
That would speak of their child,
But hard pressed, he did search for a suitable choice,
And taking his harp, he cleared his voice...
He strummed a sad strain that reached all of their hearts,
Slow his voice came from nowhere to tell of life's cares,
Of its hardships, its troubles and how they endured,
In this land that they loved, with the women they served.
He told them the tales that they loved and they knew,
Tales that ran in the river, that lived in the rock,
That the birds knew, the fox knew, the hare knew so well,
That were older than mountains, were deeper than lakes,
That the rain sang, wind whispered and even the earth,
When it wanted, would give to the hearer, but Birth
Was his theme and he woke them to sense something missing.
Then the door opened wide
And women with lamps
Brought a babe in a bundle out into the hall;
“It's a girl!” they rejoiced, giving Felimid his child,
“ A fair maid for Erin!” all cried with one voice,
And with tears in his eyes, Felimid cradled the child,
Astonished, so small was the life that he held.
He was tired of the rabble, he was tired of the noise,
He was eager for silence and to be with his wife,
So he left them, returning the child to its mother,
Conor laughed, “Let our druid, consulting the sky,
Tell her fortune, her blessings, her fate as its writ
In his books and the stars and what future he sees
For the child.”
So with effort, tall Cathabad rose and went out to the fields,
Where he peered, to have sight of the stars and the moon.
Noting all, he consulted his charts and his books
And did read all the omens the dark night had flung
'Cross the sky, then he gravely returned.
Awake now, alight now with full cause for mirth,
The Red Branch sang loudly, the ale flowed quite free,
'Til the druid returned with a look that was grim,
And again did a silence fall over the room,
As the man deply troubled and fearful began,
To tell all that he's learned.
“True, this child will grow up to be lovely and fair;
With sparkling eyes and golden hair
Many for her love will strive,
Great Kings will woo, Ulster will war
And many a hero be slain.
Deirdre the troubler is her name
and evil the fate that befalls her.”
A cry went up around the hall;
“Our heroes slain for this young child,
You must be wrong!” but the druid was firm;
“To cheat the fates you must kill the child!”
Conor stood, quieting all, with a voice that was shocked;
“We can't fight the fates and accursed it is,
To take the life of an innocent babe,
You saw how she smiled, you saw how she laughed,
So if death is your wish, kill yourselves.
For with shame of you all,
I will take the young child,
I will raise her myself and will guard her with care,
If I last and she live, I will make her my Queen,
While I breathe, I'll protect her so no man will dare
To harm her.”
The Noblemen of Ulster bowed;
“Right is your judgement, sovereign Lord.
We have sworn our lives to see justice done,
We are with you.”
So again the party started up, again the ale flowed free.
Felimid sat happy with wife and child
Conor relaxed and dreamt of his bride
But Cathabad glowered at the fire in the grate,
His judgement they'd mocked, his faith they had wronged
He had time and would wait.
THE CONICAL MOUND
To protect the child and cheat the curse,
King Conor made plans and appointed the nurse who had weaned him
And taught all he needed to know
As he grew to be man and king.
Lavarcham, this nurse, had a temper as quick
As a swift
And as mild as a lamb.
She could nourish with warmth
Or frighten grown men
As she pleased.
Conor led three sworn men to a mountain far off,
Where in secret they dug out a mound.
They lined it and filled it with all that was needed
To make a small company happy within.
He left Deirdre and Nurse with a man to chop wood
And with food for a year, (he'd send more)
Giving strictest instructions to keep folk away,
So that no-one would know of the child.
No-one guessed, none suspected
That deep in the forest, hid under the mountain,
Grew a maid who was lovely and fair to behold,
The crown of her people for beauty and grace,
As lithe and as fair and as strong as a sapling.
For fourteen long summers and winters she grew,
As straight and as true as the tall moorland rushes,
The daughter of Felimid, jewel of her race.
No eye, bar the maid's and the woodman's she knew,
But happy and carefree, she played and she learnt;
All the herbs and the flowers of the woodland around,
All the birds she could recognise, name by their sound,
All the stars too she watched in their voyage overhead
And the hid things of nature, she read like a book,
For her teachers were wise and inspired with their love.
And Deirdre grew.
Then one day in the heart of a deep winter frost,
She watched while her woodman killed a young calf.
She was grieved by the death but her eyes were ablaze
When a raven, jet black, came to drink the red blood
As it stained the fresh snow.
“When I find a husband,” cried the girl with delight,
“May his hair be as black as that bird sitting there,
His cheeks be as red as the blood running down
And his body pure white like the snow on the ground.”
“Such a one, lass, is Naise,” the woodman replied,
“Can you not go and fetch him?” the young girl did plead,
“For I've never known sorrow before, never cried
Never wanted for anything nature provides
But I know I will waste and I know I will die,
If I don't see this man you describe.”
Between fear of the King and love of the girl
The woodman was torn but his orders were plain.
He regretted his words but perhaps she'd forget,
All he said was “I'll see”, but did nothing.
But forgot him she couldn't, forgot him, not she,
By the thought of this man she'd been smitten.
So she dreamed 'til the spring put its blanket of frost
In its cupboard of green, til the land woke again,
'Til the trees stretched their fingertips into the air
But for none of this beauty did Deirdre care,
She longed only for Naise.
Naise, with cheeks as red as blood,
With hair as black as raven,
With skin as white as winter snow,
Was all that she could think of.
Refusing to eat, she pined away as if her heart would break
'Til fearing she'd sicken, the woodman took horse,
To fetch Naise, a risk he must take.
Those who judge or condemn, would they rather serve King,
Than give Deirdre the man that she dreamed of?
For a King holds no sway over subtler parts
Nor commands the heart of a lover.
Two days later, with Naise, the woodman returned
To the mound on the edge of the forest,
Naise's brothers behind them, eager to know
This young girl that King Conor kept hidden.
And though Deirdre had never seen any man else,
She was sure that her life was for Naise,
Her cheeks blushed like fire when his look met with hers
And her heart nearly burst when she kissed him.
Quite at once all her joy and her health and her youth,
Returned like a flood through her body.
They danced and they laughed by the light of the moon,
And even Lavarcham was singing.
All the beasts and the birds that were friends to the girl
Peered out curiously into the clearing,
And were glad to see Deirdre happy again,
Enjoying herself with her loved one.
They danced all that night and then all the next day,
They laughed and they joked and they sang,
For Naise had fallen in love with the girl,
From the moment he'd taken her hand.
They talked and they feasted, exchanging their thoughts,
While Lavarcham explained the whole story,
How King Conor intended to marry the girl,
When she'd come to an age for such “glory”!
While I live, he'll not have her,” Bold Naise replied,
“We'll escape to the safety of Scotland.”
So they rode through the night to a port on the coast
Where they boarded a boat the next morning.
King Conor was angry, but what could he do”
He'd been cheated. He wanted revenge.
Those long years of waiting were now all in vain
With Deirdre out of his clutches.
So long he had wasted in waiting and dreams
He had hoped for a bride, he had hoped for a queen,
He had hoped for the pleasures the young girl would bring,
To the gloom and the grey of the palace.
No more was he “Conor, the wise and the strong!”
No more was he praised through the land,
For the man now grew weary as all of his plans
Had been thwarted by Naise his cousin.
His anger was black and his anger was dark,
He roared and he raged and he ranted,
He sent for advisers, who nothing could do,
Then he sent for the Chief of the Druids.
When Cathabad arrived, saw the King in his grief,
He was quiet but inwardly smiling,
For he'd known all along that the fate of this girl
Would bring all those who loved her to ruin.
“Send a messenger swift, bid them all to return,
Say they're safe and they're freely forgiven,
“Tell them Erin will miss them.” was Cathabad's advice
“And when they return, you can kill them.”
So the messengers went out but they weary returned
With their letters of parchment unopened,
They brought Conor back nothing except for the news
That Deirde and Naise had married.
More fierce grew his anger, more deeply ingrained
Grew his lust both for girl and for vengeance
And while months turned to years, his intention remained
To lure the lovers back into his clutches.
Soon the heart of the King grew quite poisoned with hate
And his wish for revenge more insistent,
Whilst the lovers lived happy and free in a land,
Not their own, out of reach, but not distant.
Conor studied and searched using all of the lies
He could think of, but none they believed,
Til the druid suggested, “Send Fergus to plead,
They'll believe what he says without question.”
For Fergus was captain of all Ireland's brave,
As noble a man as had ever lived.
He would surely convince it was safe to return,
If he journeyd to Scotland to fetch them.
Of the plot that he wove they had little idea,
As he travelled to win and persuade,
The three sons of Usnach were flattered and pleased
That this man should have journeyed to see them.
For too long they had stayed from the land of their birth,
And although they were happy and blessed,
Every man felt a thirst which he failed to define,
That had grown since the day they had left.
Deirdre and Naise, still deeply in love
Found the land that they lived in was foreign,
They would welcome the chance to return if they could
For the weight of their exile was heavy.
They had seved Scotland well, with the best of their strength,
With the best of the men who had joined them,
But as hearts had grown dry, so their dreams became bare,
As each was a true child of Erin.
From Conor they'd only expected the worst,
Saw how treachery lurked in his actions,
But with Fergus there pledging their lives with his word,
Thought the King by his nobles persuaded.
After long hours of talk they agreed to return,
Though Scotland was sorry to lose them,
For they'd fought long and hard in a land not their own,
For a Laird and a cause they believed in.
Could they now rest their swords,
Let their wounds heal in peace
And return to their fields and their firesides
Bringing tales of their exile for honour and love,
To brighten the long winter evenings?
They had Fergus's assurance that all would be well,
That their safety was sure by his honour,
So they took to their ships and with noble farewell,
They departed from Scotland for ever.
As they sailed back to Ireland, poor Deirdre wept,
She suspected that trouble was brewing,
So she sange her farewell with a sorrowful voice,
For a land where her love had found welcome.
Through all the long years since they left Erin's Isle,
Her love had continued to grow,
Many blessings had showered and enriched both their lives,
As she grew from a girl to a woman.
And Naise himself, had proved just and true
To his wife and to all who had known them.
In spite of the troubles they'd had to endure,
They'd found joy and fulfilment together.
Deirdre knew in her heart, she would never return
To this land that had given her safety,
So she swore to remember her happiest hours
And sang sadly her “farewell to Alba.”
To banquets and feasting, they duly returned,
And were welcomed by all as they travelled
Through a land they had dreamed of for many a year,
Which now opened its bosom to greet them.
They travelled 'cross Ireland 'til they came to the town,
Where King Conor dwelt deep in his castle,
Fergus went to report they had all arrived safe
While the others retired to an inn.
It was while they were resting that treachery struck,
For an ambush lay carefully concealed
Deirdre woke and was taken by seven strong men;
It was only one prisoner they wanted.
Though surprised, all fought boldly and long,
But by far, by their host were outnumbered.
Firstly Ainle, then Adan, then Naise were slain
though a few men escaped and ran cursing the name
Fergus wept when he saw all the carnage and blood
For the fate of those men did weigh heavy;
He had given his word that none would be harmed
That all was forgot and forgiven.
With the few that survived, he escaped to the north,
To the safety of Connaught and Maeve,
He'd no longer serve Conor, a name now despised,
He felt cheated and used and swore to avenge
Those who'd died.
Every night without ceasing for sixteen long years,
Men rode over the border for vengeance,
Every woman was frightened for husband and child
As they came from the North on their missions.
With three thousand horsemen
Fergus burned and he plundered
He raped and he looted with fury
And raised a dark testimony through all of the land
To the treacherous murder of Naise.
As this fear took its grip, Conor tried to persuade
To a marriage the girl he'd imprisoned.
Did he think she would willingly give of herself
To the man who had murdered her husband?
Every day he would visit with offers of love,
She had no other choice but to see him,
He would seize her and shake her, would beg and implore,
But for all her refusals, he loved her the more.
He had bards to compose for her, all kinds of food prepared,
Threatened, cajoled and entreated,
Gave her jewels and rich gowns
But none she'd receive
From his despaerate burning to win her.
She would never consent to this treacherous man,
It was love she had stolen away for,
And for love they had stayed in a land not their own,
Now deep in this fortress, she would always remain
For love cannot murder and love cannot cheat,
It was greed that inspired the King.
It was lust that inflamed and devoured his soul,
And envy that dwelt in his brain.
Though she wasn't allowed to stir from her cell,
In her heart she could travel, in sleep she'd return
To those long days with Naise when they'd walked and been free,
In the safety and beauty of Scotland.
But in spite of these moments she stole from the fates
She couldn't erase and she couldn't forgive
And a pain in her breast grew and deepened each day
Like an arrowhead deep in a wound.
Every night she would cry herself sadly to sleep,
'Til her pillow was wet for the dead and the slain,
For a curse she had brought to the land of her birth,
A curse she had brought to Erin.
Her dreams became filled with the ghosts of the dead,
Though she bade them depart, they defied her.
With stealth, through her walls they would steal and surround,
Intent to destroy and defile her.
She would scream and awake, when she dreamed how the man
She had loved had been brutally murdered
And the scene of his death served to torture her brain,
“Til she feared both to sleep or remember.
Her eyes ringed with dark as her soul lost its light,
And her beauty grew deeper and darker,
As if she could see all the secrets of Hell,
As she glided etherial over the stones of her prison.
No doctor alive could revive or restore,
No herb, brew or potion could cure her,
For she'd lost and was missing the one that she loved,
That she'd sworn to serve faithful forever.
Without reason for living, her soul seemed to fade
And no friend or companion could lift it.
All who saw her were moved as she withered away
Like a bird in a cage with no hope of release.
She drew all the curtains to shut out the sun.
For its joy seemed to hurt and torment her,
All music was empty, all song was in vain,
It was only the storm that could move her.
“Do not try to cheer me, my living is done.”
She would say when receiving a visit,
“My life is all darkness that never will lift,
For I have lost Naise, the sun.”
“I have no need for laughter or talk or companions
I have only one song left to sing;
How my love for Naise, never will end.
When my last breath fades, then my heart will mend.”
Though he realised he'd never convince or persuade,
Conor blindly continued to woo her,
“Let me leave,” she would beg, “to wander the earth
And to cry on the grave of my lover.”
“Let me lean on the oak with the sun in my hair,
With the wind and the rain as my friends,
For I have no more wish for the ways of the world,
And would leave the sight of man.”
Conor came to his senses and realised he'd lost,
He never would win, now he counted the cost,
Of the men that were slain, of the Kingdom at war,
And how short was the time he had left.
Eogin, his neighbour, had many a time
Through the years of imprisonment Deirdre endured,
Said "Send her to me, I've a way with a maid,
I will raise her sad spirits, put a smile on her face.”
Though refusing 'til now, Conor wanted quite rid
Of this ghost of a woman who haunted his tower,
And reluctant, agreed and prepared for the day,
When she'd leave him.
With a band of his warriors guarding the way,
They prepared to embark from the castle,
When the sky opened up with torrential rain,
He would stall but the party was ready.
With the rain came relief, like a pressure released,
She had shed all her tears and was empty of grief,
And stood proud in the chariot, braving the rain,
'Til her hair and her cheeks and her lips were all wet,
And her long dress clung tight to her body.
So long had she stayed in the gloom of the tower,
With the curtains all drawn 'gainst the light,
That her cheeks had grown pale, but now colour returned,
As they travelled towards the night.
She raised her eyes heavenwards, into the wind,
On a day that was turning to darkness,
Though the rain blurred her vision, she was glad to be gone
From the prison she had left far behind her.
And she cried out to Naise she'd never forget,
That she loved and remembered him still.
High up on the skyline, one lone ray of light,
Lit a stag on the brow of the hill.
In that radiant shaft, like a vision it stood,
'Midst the swirl of the clouds and the rain,
It had heard her cry out and it wanted to see
Who this girl was, so sad and in pain.
Deirdre's heart reached out to it's quivering form.
It had strength, it had grace, it had beauty.
Since the day Naise died, she had loved none til now,
And her brain filled with utter confusion.
For the joy of this love, of the beast standing proud,
Brought her pain as she thought of her husband.
Her love was for him and her heart his alone,
She had nothing to share with another.
She was finished with life, what ever the form,
Though the stag seemed to call and to beckon,
Was that a cross between his horns?
Hardening her heart, she turned sadly away,
though something had stirred in a heart grown tired
Could this be love, when love had gone
When everything had vanished, fled
killed by treachery, treason and lies?
Was this love returned, she asked herself?
A peace on offer, a peace at last?
Mercy reached out to her with a welcoming hand
to take her away, to bring her home.
He looked at her as if to change
the night to day, change death to life
with the hope of a miracle,
and a transformation that would endure.
A tenderness, for one once free
a freedom and a hope thought gone.
Now a joy returned
With Him, always loved, and now alive.
Illustrations by Sergio Navarro