Michael O’Sullivan

The dissolution of beauty

There was a time when beauty

Ignited senses in creative ways

Then arousal replaced beauty,

Its short thrills scuppering engagement,

The suspended sentence of sleaze

Rounded up all my potential,

Impounded my versatility,

Until the shortest way through

Was the longest way home

And the long dark night of the soul

Seemed worthwhile for the shudder

In the loins before the leadean beauty

That hoisted the dark streets on

The residential freshly-mowed lawn

And the three-bed detachment,

Squatting down low to my optic

Fibres in spotlighted isolation.

Beauty is so deceiving

It barely acknowledges itself

Before it is upturned

Made to revolve around itself

Until it becomes a

Digital assistant,

The image and likeness

Of my tired, vacant eyes.



Working with my father

I wasted the day again

But realized it too late

About midnight

After reading Carver

Then I revived and wanted

To work on something.

I tried remembering the thought I had,

The one about working with my father

That morning,

Leaving his house in St Lukes together early

To carry the saw up to the skip of junk,

I wanted to saw the two old timber doors in half

And the old guttering.

The saw cut through the wet wood like

A knife through bread

My father looked on

Over my right shoulder

The morning was breaking

-Ah don’t be doing that

-Surely you don’t have to do that

But I was already half way through the door

And I was enjoying watching the teeth tear through,

The door from an old shed the previous owner

Had put up in the sixties or seventies,

Coated in tar with two pieces of wood

In a big X on its back for extra support.

I wondered what he’d make of me

Destroying the door he’d built one summer day in the sixties,

A man with a family.

I have no family,

Was this why I enjoyed the destruction?

I worked from both sides until only an inch was left uncut.

I turned the door over,

Leaned it against the concrete garden border

And came down on it with my foot.

It cracked in two.

My father ahead of me,


Carrying these half-doors down the hill to the skip,

-Thanks so much for the help Dad,

-Don’t be thanking me at all,

-I find this work relaxing

Later that night I thanked him again

His sigh

-Ah, this morning.



I wanted Cork

I wanted Cork to be my Wessex or Lake District,

My Cheapside or Yoknapatawpha country

But I couldn’t stop leaving

Long enough for to discover it

Behind my inflections,

Assertions, associations,

That loaded it with

Solid anger and desperate bewilderment

For leaving me behind,

Emotions too rigid for its

Shape-changing, meandering

Opinions and intonations,

Its steely-jawed, skinny-necked,

Self-inflated, irrational logic.


I was like the son living too long

With his mother

Rising her only to have her complain

So, they could come together later

Over an apology.

But Cork accepted no apology,

Only ever deflected it back,

Its muddy banks and seventeen bridges

Knowing well what Heraclitus

Meant when he wrote about running waters.



I keep building homes

I keep building homes

Only to have the homes

Fall down around me.


There are so many kinds of filth here,

So many I can’t tell the dirt from the filth,

The filth from the grubs, the grubs from the worms.

When I feel, something detaches from the side of a finger

Through a muddy kitchen glove

I’m thinking it’s of its own volition.


So many kinds of filth and decay

I had never thought so much was undone.

Stubborn paint scrapings, rotten wood splinters,

Passive mud, ruthless concrete chips,

Drenched deciduous leaves,

Woodlice, dead woodlice, old matted cobweb,

Chrysalis crypts, cocoon shells,

Spider skeletons, scurrying centipedes, evicted ants,

Migrant dust, scattered dust, skin-like saturated plastic,

Old rusted pipe, treacherous broken broom handles

Laced with woodlice crusts and cobweb,

Fungus scraped off a damp gable wall,

Old nails entrenched in masonry,

Stolid moss, cuttings from a dead tree,

Shards from a plastic watering can

Left out too many decades

in the undergrowth.


It’s a struggle to collect it all

Into the black bag for the baby skip

So, they can take it to the dump

Pack it down

Treat it

And break it down some more.


Dumping the remains of one man’s labour

A generation ago

On a day, he worked

To clear a space of junk

And build something new.

Michael O’Sullivan is a writer, critic and teacher based in Hong Kong. His poems have appeared in Asiancha, Desde Hong Kong: poets in conversation with Octavio Paz, and Quixotica: Poems East of la Mancha. He also writes stories, essays and creative criticism. His recent books include Academic barbarism, universities and inequality and Weakness: a literary and philosophical history.