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Topping out

Feathered hats, two, inseperable. Cock's-
comb red, berryblue, oilgreen, fawnbrown, matched,
and from twin eggs under the same hen hatched.
Untouched for decades in the round box.

Plucked from gaudy parakeets or dandy
pheasants, from coverlet and dappled breast-
down mounting to an iridescent crest,
an eyestop of colour, outrageous, randy.

As vain as Polynesian witches
peacock-proud, spying themselves reflected
in mirrors. Defiant. Dedicated.
Cocking askance, watching as each one twitches
curls into place, preening the other.
Buying hats — my mother and grandmother.


Bannister's negs

You were then unknown to me.

I saw you as a boy climbing the servant's stair
to the stifling darkroom, teaching your blind
fingertips to draw out the cut plate
by its edges, groping for dishes in the dusty air,
numbering the seconds as your mind
awakened each image from its latent state.

They are beautiful, your negatives.
Mater, and Pater, the Colonel, smoking
a fag, grey eyes distant as he remembers.
You seize that moment when your relatives
turn up like Gerald and Ivy swinging,
swinging through hot Edwardian summers.

A century dormant, they lay snug
in slotted boxes; long-locked diaries. Less
caring hands had jumbled the fifty clues
to your identity but I caught the 'bug'
of curiosity (sheer nosiness)
and with persistence, I could not lose.

So, now I know you. Know at least the sequence
of tragedies and joys and through your eyes
see what you saw; the friendships and the places.
A resonance: a touching piquancy.
What's left of you is that which time defies —
The likeness in your children's, children's faces.


Are you there?
A shout at my door.
It is Mrs Barker from number 7,
Galway born and bred.
Will you feed my hens tonight? she asks
forsaking her pinny for a best coat and hat.
I'm away to the town. The Father needs me.

At dusk I pick up the bowl of slops
from her back step and go down the path
to the high wire cage where she pens her birds.
It is a place I avoid if I can
for the wretchedness and stink
behind the wire
puts me in mind of Belsen or Dachau.

Six bedraggled hens and a cockerel run for their meal,
feathers ragged and feet clagged with mud.
The few square yards of ground is scratched raw
into a black mess of earth, feathers and hen-shit.

The wonder is that in their little shed
I find a clutch of spotless eggs.


Ron Stenberg. Life drawing in red conte.

Naked or Nude

We peer over the shoulders of Rembrandt
Raphael and Da Vinci as you draw.
Your blackened fingers caress draughted skin,
crumble soft charcoal, Conte—red, sanguine,
electrify a burnt match to beguile
succulent limbs out of flat white planes.
Quietly you talk of sinews, muscles, bones,
conceive space occupied, forms dissected
light interrupted and light reflected.
We stumbling blind cannot grasp what you see.
Our eyes are on her self, her warm allure,
indifferent to our gaze, while you search
beyond nakedness, beyond nudity
to catch the anatomy of being.








Tivoli girl

or Pride of the Pennycooks

If you wanted some kicks in 1956
you went to the Tiv. The Tivoli that was.
Top of not-so-Bonnybank Road.
If you wanted to see Bridget Bardot in
nothing but her nickers or Jean Moreau
running like a man, in a 'tash,
you went to the Tiv.

The Royalty, The Ritz, The Broadway
and the Tivoli. My dad's cinemas.
Saturday mornings I climbed
into his shiny black Velox
and inspected them all.
Weekend run-throughs checking
for breaks needing spliced
and sound levels.

Close my eyes. Sniff the air.
Can you smell it? Smell it!
Between the folding seats?
Detol mixed with last night's smoke;
Calmic authentic auditorium powder.


'Open the emergency exits, Pam.
Let the fresh air in for God's sake.
It stinks in here. That second reel's late!
Wee Joey's screwed up again.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1 'Run it'
and outside in the listening street
a conversation of giants begins.



Open minded as a critic, I watched them all.
Westerns, thrillers, romances, comedies, epics,
Hammer Horrors, the short features,
the newsreels—'cock-a doodle dooo.'
the cartoons, Pearl and Dean.

You wouldn't see me. But I'd been there
sitting by the projectors
in my pinned-up pigtails
sucking on my Kia-Ora.
I might have worn my yellow dress
with the smocked bodice. White socks
and sandals.You couldn't have missed me.

Look, here's my scrapbook.
I had no time for pink pouting angels
or pussies in bows.
Cigarette cards of the stars, me.
Rita Hayworth in Miss Sadie Thomson.
Jane Russel busting out of her kit.
Marylin Monroe 'poopoobeedoo'ing.
And as I close the covers,
Rock Hudson kisses Cary Grant.
Shhhh. You didn't hear it from me.

I giggled at Chaplin and Tati,
Bugs bunny and Sylvester.
Cried buckets for Bambi.
Glowed ecstatic when Scarlet O'Hara
got hers.

Dad, oh Dad.
There you are in your tux and bow-tie
standing by the door. Every inch The Boss.
You were good to me.
Run it all again.


In her winter time
when Sunday suns impaled
on the black bridge
we might sit by the fire.
Mother dozed; her weaver's
hands gossiped in her lap,
whispered syllables re-knotted
ravelled conversations.

Shadow traversed the floral wall
like a curtain drawn horizontally
calling curfew on her bisque plaque;
her beloved, figured, terra cotta.
Firelight dimmed and blinds came down
along the fringes of Fife.