Phillip O’Neil



Downtown’s littered with the demands

of yesterday’s demonstrations,

sundry fountains, coffee cups, pastry shop

wrappers and photo-stated sheets

passed by the jaundiced masks of life’s wearied worn

creased by the years of dictatorship’s heels dug deep

overseeing the overcrowded tin trams

charity hand-outs from a neutral state

fleeting from white nights to black days

dimly seen through two stroked haze.


bodies disabled by a state, contorted

and restructured in lifelong plans

a long tatooed Pierrot tiers of sad cafes

supping gritty coffee and censored thoughts.

and I’ve spent too long here

searching for the heart of the city

for sparks of colour in the flotsam and jetsam

rubbled history.


but I dream in revenge of exotic land agents

beaches, fruit and string bikinis

pyramids and ports, the hubbub of pipe gardens

the brouhaha of bazaars where a loved one

bobs up and down in the crowds

suffused with silk road perfumes

but always waking as the ticket agent opens.


Instead I go to a gallery

exhibiting an oil church

sinking into orange sand,

a poster for Virginia Woolf

canvasses burning holes in walls

in rooms suffocating in high summer

unconditioned heat.


I skirt around burning bronzes

twisting in a bombed out church

paying the fame for assassination

curious students swing around like

drunk moons in orbit

Dante dancing in kelp.




This half way borrowed no-man’s land
of an attic suite
feeling so high, so bitter
in our correspondence
between truths in
this compromise facility,
filled with rags, pets,
and uneaten takeaway foil.
Was it Indian or Italian love we made last night?

I only remember later my jealousy of your dreams
watching your eyelids flicker a future

my own sleepless self
smoked on the balcony of this diced up lighthouse
above the Medusa wrangle of addictive tracks
running like bowels during the night
held by timetable glue.
We all have our departure dates to think hard on
in our temporary tarot house
built with shards of light from
smashed glass
reminders of the latest fight
slamming doors and pirouetting paper
strewn round the rugs like childrens’ drawings
in a Samson blinding day planning our exits
for a day, for a life, still somehow egging
for the child who’ll decorate
your own flat’s doors and fridge
contrary or perhaps aware
of our listened to Walls and Bridges.



Rocked to calm by the old ship’s clock in the library

Grown a little green, a little dank, with disuse.

A dusty schooner sails in a bottle on the desk,

Almanacs and Wisdens under a side-burned Victorian face,

Oil lamps, stuffed owls and an old, carved rack of pipes,

Decanters once filled with sage, distilled advice

And the thinner ticking of a wristwatch left on an armchair

Sporting horsehair – like a gigolo’s arms

By a chess-set left midgame, armies impotent in the gloom

The blacks are carved as Persian so the whites must be Greeks.

Around the theatre of curtains, heavy as rainforests;

Last drawn after a storm years before

A scattering of papers, scores scratched with ink

The last penned thoughts of Henry O’Leary, smeared with his very last drink.


“I am waiting,” wrote O’Leary “with the board soldiers, waiting

On the anaemic web of fingers and the dawn;

The green, sick sight of sun when my senses crack like kindling,

Cogs ill-fitting the gears of light: toothing rusks

Of a pendulous moon-time machine, for last night I dreamt, no dream

Last night I slept and woke. Ah, last night torn to shreds by the captain

Keel hauled through the exacting dark

Clawed back with ribboned hands, around

And around, cut stitched and cut, but

Day breeds an absence of a pregnant night

That disappears into a place it’s never been

With the rattle of bugs and fans of moths, night pilots

In drunken love with the come hither globes

Flick through a memory of something missing now, and there’s

Nothing so pressing as nothing; a migraine glimpse and it’s away

Night shift over, leaves just the ghost of a scent for day.


“Look for clues,” says the detective in the ghost of a dream,

“Look round the room,” he mutters, tapping his pipe, breathless,

“Look for clues to the struggle; something stained,

Fingerprints on a glass. Listen for the echo of the night.”

Lying back he remembers the ship’s cabin rocking

Enough to swing a rusting lamp over the captain.

“The same one that drowned you over the years,”

Ponders the mouth pulling on the churchwarden –

The mate who’s worked every ship on the sea

Led sailors to sirens or planks with a pull rank smirk and smile

Sent to the lockers the great untapped,

Watched riptides send their last globes of breath

Where they dome, gleam, surface and burst

As they head to where no man hears his own verse.

The captain and first mate travelled the seas for the breath of the victims they’d drowned

Peer down into the deep from the slug of a hull – a fresh black clot in the sea.

Steering a path between the two darks, the dead and powerless worlds

That harbour between the first and last rites,

Search for the judas shine in the sea-rock swallowed slipping channel,

The spume and froth of another wrecked passage.

And they trawl up the catch, shaking bodies in nets

Notes of a wayward symphony, dissonant chords in their cleft

From the bed of genius lamps, lying with spirits

Of galleons, corsairs, frigates and smacks

The conspiracy of bracketing rocks, plotting sisters astride

The guiding lamps in the hidden plots needing dark as sound needs air

The stolen spark that everywhere tips its hat at the eternal light

Highlights the hackled giant seeking noon in his unhappy night.


The bells outside O’Leary’s toll six in the village square

And a flock of black laced women step onto

The cold grey flagstones of Our Lady Under the Water

Muttering over beads for the loss of their husbands and sons

Their Mariners and Fishermen, Icareans and corsairs

Ingenues or worldly wise, armed to the wings or heels

Racing to the dog-star, kiting in high precept’s face

Listening to the fading sweep of wings, falling

Feathered swipes into the deep where,

Here – racked between the two lights we call dark

The trawlers hunt to snuff the spark that altarboys count out

Padding, guiding passions from bushel bodies, poker hard

In the chapel where boats burn in memory of the crews that ran aground.

Burning iotas of candles neck in the heat for bodies that may never be found.


In the screamed in, faithless moments when shipwrecks

Send curls of smoke that sting the eyes, send tickling fingers to the throat

The memory of a mission fades, grows flat in pictures

A dreadnought’s oil smells of paint, not sea or iron

We prowl deserted streets with lanterns for our manic transports

Dull inmates submitting to the walled in hex

The city and the prison knocked up by the twins

With vigilant guards and their dig in claws and kisses

Till the asylum falls in the lantern’s spread

The light pool of freedom seeps from a shattered head.

Ah! The delirious bullying game, parties turned to tears

A world marshalled by the brute sticks and stones,

The class patsy tied to a tree, the first knife stabs the despised.

Sticks and stones will break his bones and needles stick in his eyes.



And the sailor squints at the totems and taboos through his one good Judas eye

In the condemning cell where he divides his leaking truth

And sorts the coloured rags of childhood and the dressings he wears now.

And in the gangrene of his spirit, watching the sick light of day

Retch in through the portholes in the steady pitch and yaw

He sips from the eye filled glass, reflecting on the bend

Watching the time lapse film of his dance and shivering end.


And the detective broods over his mosaic of clues, tapping his pipe:

Thinking in time with the swing of the lamp

With a flapjack mind flipping thought after thought

Resolving all into an endgame as bishops and knights

Coral at synapses, discuss regicide and compromising queens

Arbiter in the civil war of images bred in the sweat of a night

Switched into a heresy by the uniform scales of day.

This is our practice room for a concert that will or may never be played

Pretenders to the baton beating out a count and in the rock and sway of the boat,

Where the swinging hearts of the pendulum clocks, and the semaphore hands in the watch,

Wave at coils that grind and quake with betrayal of sentries marking time,

And the sailor’s pulse quickens, stops, is no more. And that was his great untapped.

Drowned over the years in the domed sea sucked by the clot of his boat

Railing in the drink that drowned a whole world out.


In the wake the detective draws back the drapes to infinities

And daylight drops in on the captain’s stiff corpse

Nods sagely at the sailor killed by the frame that’s tailored far too well

And diving too deep last night he burst

Not controlling the eternal in his cups but, mindful of his moves

He dived too deep for the genius lamps that dot the bed with the wrecks

Near the cave where the mad conductor beats tattoos on the rocks

Racks up a score with a flock of notes that hang like crows on barbed wire.

Around this field the cruciform Sally excuses the whole race away

It is teatime, always teatime when Gods choose to die

In gardens slowed by gin and the drone of bumbling bees

Oil slick legs, pollen headed notes carrying tunes through the air.

As the twins tease dialectics from the totem-tabooing cross

Wracking the father’s brick of a heart in a day still hungover with loss.


And with the twins about their task in the garden,

We sink to kill our lights and foil the glass ship by denial, not stealth

Then wonder why the night fishermen hunt in their whalers

Barbing eyes and hearts and with crooked fingers

Reel us keenly to the boat bobbing madly in the drink

Tearing the body like bait over shells in the snark hunt for the whole.

Haul up the chaotic scores in steel meshed nets

Cutting into flesh and the clusters of notes rallying into a theme

Calloused hands knocking out a beat as the crew

Sort through the catch, knock into frame, play to an end

Busily into form and birth –    and the night springs a link or a leak

Tossing out tunes from the jelly blessed by dark and clues

As pale light pours in through the crack in the drapes

And things resume their other selves in other shapes.


The aphasic morning, dull as in a new country – excluded by dress, skin and speech

Deafening light knocks sense and teamed laser surgeons, midwives to the day

Cut up what had been whole, hooligans unthreading the net into the drink,

Pouring a symphony down the drain with swift, clean cuts at the staves

Clogging the plug hole with black-eyed beans of notes

The bracketing darks are dismissed with the sun

And our own dark is dressed up in a shift

But still ticks the caged eye of the clock

A recollection of a threatening hull

A lantern burning in the deep.

Here the pen snakes off

Body of red wine,

Small ink head

O’Leary, sailor,





…cos I’m borderline

and some times you ring me at the wrong time.


Live and love with me

get your own place but not too close to here.

I’m foreign I need to know

come to bed with me

like my ex who managed it every night

why can’t you be as loving as him?

He went to the gym

caress me eat me like you used to

‘Please please me oh yeah like I please you’

is playing.

I’ve got a migraine. Why can’t you feel the pain?

The rain falls against the window

you promised to mend

like an end to my own flawed cunt can’t

send me complete away from you.


I’m tired of you and your games

come play with me again

I’ll be your goddess Godiva

strip myself down before you

but hold your horses

I’m not ready for that in this flat

I call a bogus home

‘Love me two times I’m going away’

from your plastic ideals

go with that bitch you ogled the another night

that prolongs my fight

night after night with you accomplice

give me what I want and need

beyond the taste of your salty seed

I’m all at sea

fuck me sweet but hard.


Don’t leave me with this barbed wire strife

strafing guns even when I go over the top

be bop jazz me don’t let me alone

why do you stay silent while I grieve

believe me it’s a bee hive inside my art

that isn’t pullulating with my core

I want to be free of you angelheart

but touch me three times before I go

before you go with that lazy tale

away to a bitch that takes your shit

cos I’m no more going to be your bit

on the sidewalk of your dreaming desire

to be something higher than my stupid soul on fire

take your books and gifts you gave

whenever you decided to misbehave

or gave me in charity moments

to secure my praise.


I hate you but just don’t leave me alone

because without you by me

I’m cold as marble though tough as a rock

I don’t need the shock of your goodbye

and I’ll hunt you down however far you

fly away.


I’ll bang on your door after

you’ve followed me to the station

just to be sure I’ve gone

when you know I’ll be just a little smile the next day

and we’ll make love like in the early days –

your Jewish looks your pretty curls

I’ll be again your little girl

I’ll come with you in unison

have you ever thought what might become

in a year or many

with a child snug inside my belly

so I have a replica of you.


I hate you, don’t leave me and forget your black dogs

I flush them down toilets with my menstrual blood

if you don’t believe me just listen to what I say

I ain’t never ever going to go away

go have a drink I see your empty glass

a small reminder of our past

I translate names for you my exiled lonely boy

cos I know you think of me as a boy or toy

but how many times have I told you

I’m the only real woman you will ever meet

all the others may seem sweet but you’ll fuck them

wearing my face as a mask. If only we could make it last

now go back to your books and think of romantic loves

never the blocked kitchen sink

I may not be whole but here I am

ready to stand beside my man I think.


I love you but stay away from this temptress

so far away with a litany of failed affairs

I wouldn’t mind if you didn’t care

perhaps as you say I’m cracked inside

but that’s something I never tried to hide

my outbursts and throwing statues at you

were nothing but my imagined infidelities

so let me in ‘cause I forgot my keys

I will bang all night till you give relief

I am what I am and those are double.


Don’t hate me for loving you,

you’re one of a kind

blinker my eyes or leave me blind.


I hate you don’t leave me

but don’t let me be

I’m one of our couple

so constant in trouble

I’m a model, don’t you see that?

and soon I’ll grow old

just don’t leave me out in the cold.


I hate you don’t leave me

I’ll take therapy

there’s still a chant within me

I’ll rain inside until you’re hard

and then I’ll leave

make you pleasure yourself

till you believe

I’m the only one

to conceive

and when that happens

you’ll think

pleasure and hell have something shared

and your spit and semen

well fuck me until it happens

leave love on our dirty laundry

but I’ll get you in the end

so fend off your desire, for now.


There are people some friends some not

who see our stupid Gordian knot

so do your Alexander thing

and cut me through without a blink

I don’t think that you’ll cut me through

that easy though

as I’ve grown up with more knots inside

I have you like a twin brother

not so hard to reconcile.


I’ve watched you in mirrors and naked

we are les enfants terrribles

it can never work

without a smirk on both our faces

I want a divorce and you inside me

penning your bloody signature with my own

I know I don’t own you

and sure as hell you don’t me

just come over for one more unprotected swing

I love you don’t hate me for saying these things.


  Philip O’Neil, born in the UK worked as a journalist and editor philipfor a number of newspapers and magazines for 20 years. He has worked in the UK, Belgium, Czech Republic, The Balkans and the US and also has had his photographs published in over a dozen publications. Meanwhile he published two collections of poetry ‘Riera’ and French polishing (Alexander Press) He currently lives in Prague writing a follow up to his novel “Mental Shrapnel’.