He’s here again. We’re in church. He’s a bishop.
He has a long pink forefinger which he
Keeps jabbing too close to my right eye.
He wears crowblack clothes. I’m all diced up

In a new suit myself. Confirmation Day.
He opens his mouth, I can see his lips,
His teeth off-brown, his tongue placid as a
Trout resting on a hot day in the shade

Of an overhanging bank. His face is
So near mine I could swim through his eyes.
What’s peace? he asks.

‘The ha-ha-harmony of the sus-sus-soul
With Gug-Gug-God’ I reply. ‘Beautiful’ smiles the trout,
‘You are now a soldier of Christ. Go out,
Fight for him. God bless you, my son. That is all.’

Brendan Kennelly, Cromwell.

Poem from a Three Year Old

And will the flowers die?

And will the people die?

And every day do you grow old, do I
grow old, no I’m not old, do
flowers grow old?

Old things – do you throw them out?

Do you throw old people out?

And how you know a flower that’s old?

The petals fall, the petals fall from flowers,
and do the petals fall from people too,
every day more petals fall until the
floor where I would like to play I
want to play is covered with old
flowers and people all the same
together lying there with petals fallen
on the dirty floor I want to play
the floor you come and sweep
with the huge broom.

The dirt you sweep, what happens that,
what happens all the dirt you sweep
from flowers and people, what
happens all the dirt? Is all the
dirt what’s left of flowers and
people, all the dirt there in a
heap under the huge broom that
sweeps everything away?

Why you work so hard, why brush
and sweep to make a heap of dirt?
And who will bring new flowers?
And who will bring new people? Who will
bring new flowers to put in water
where no petals fall on to the
floor where I would like to
play? Who will bring new flowers
that will not hang their heads
like tired old people wanting sleep?
Who will bring new flowers that
do not split and shrivel every
day? And if we have new flowers,
will we have new people too to
keep the flowers alive and give
them water?

And will the new young flowers die?

And will the new young people die?

And why?

Brendan Kennelly en Staying alive. Real Poems for Unreal Times.

En palabras del autor: I like to write about children, especially about their talk because they say very wise things and ask very strange and wonderful questions. And also they love to play in the middle of it all frequently. So asking questions and loving to play- I sometimes think that’s what education should be about.

The Sin

Francis Xavier Skinner committed a sin.

It was a big sin, he thought,
A whopper,
An Everest of error,
A mortaller, as the man said,
Thinking of the price he’d have to pay when dead.

Skinner said to himself,
By this sin
I have wounded an innocent God.
I, Francis Xavier Skinner, have offended
The God of love.
That same God
Made everything that has been made.
But I have wounded him.

Skinner, a philosophical chap,
Considered it fit
To congratulate himself
On this extraordinary feat.
I cannot impress my friends, he thought,
But I can wound the God of love.
There’s power for you!

And then he wondered,
What has happened to my sin?
Where has my big sin vanished?
Where have all the sins of the world vanished?
Is there a place where they go to hide?
Where does a fugitive sin reside?
Somewhere in hell perhaps
There’s a sin-hospital
Where all the sins go to recover
From their conflict with God.
Do sins get bored and tired?
Do they play scrabble, ludo, draughts or dominoes?
Do they like to lie on the ground like winos
Outside a church on a Sunday morning
Begging pennies from respectable ladies
Whose souls are wrapped in their coats
Like mackerel in newspaper, their dead eyes
Old coins in the light, yesterday’s news
Garbled in their skin,
Earthquakes shuddering in dandruff?
And then, having rested, do the sins get to their feet,
Amble off into the heart of some poor human
Who’ll commit them all over again, as though for the first time,

Adam how-are-you?
And if one sin hurts God
What does he feel like after a million?
In a pretty bad way, I’d imagine,
Licking his wounds
Stretched on the floor of heaven,
Is there any end to this dammed repetition?
My divine arse is bored
By men who have murdered and lied
And thieves and deceived and whores
Ad nauseam.
I am bored. Therefore, I am.
O for a sin
A sin
That will make my heart leap up to itself
My head spin
Down to You
Until I stand in the morning
Of my first creative excitement
On this dear dung-heap of the world

Thoughtful soul that he wad, Skinner wondered
What did that old excited God
Feel like
After my sin.
That shook him, I bet.
That gave him something to think about.

Did it really,
Did my sin hurt
The maker of the grass and the sea
The giver of my every heartbeat
The sweet creator of light
The image-maker in the dark
The fountain of grace and of truth
The first call of the cock in the morning
The last cry of my frightened mind?
Did my sin really hurt

Now that I think of it
I suspect my creator
May well be amused
By my sin.
Skinner, old son, you’re a laughing-stock,
God smiles on the pleasant morning
Frowns in the storm
And if he ever noticed my sin
He was probably touched by its
Smallness, like a little bitchy insult
In a lost conversation.

I wonder, mused Skinner, is it possible
To be anything other than trivial?
Did I create Hell
To flatter my vanity?
How could any sin of mine
Be worthy of that Hell?
Hell is viciously divine!
Hell has such high standards
Thought it is a low dive
Where all the unsaveable baddies
Get roasted alive.
Is all
My sinning
My own refusal to know
I am small?
Is there a sin
That God respects?
He must have respected Adam,
He threw him out of the garden,
But I won’t imitate Adam.
When a sin is original
Imitation is fatal.
Mortal man is a spit in the wind.
Who cares how mortally he has sinned?

My trouble, said Skinner, is
I’m quite incapable of sin
On a honestly damnable scale.
I’m just another dwarfish vain male,
A puny son-of-a-bitch,
A spiritually juvenile offender.
I’ll pray to my maker
To give me the vision
To commit a significant sin.

Dear God,
Give me the grace
To be a true sinner.

I’ll be grateful forever.

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Francis Xavier Skinner

Guff and muscle, Brendan Kennelly.



The Japanese actor describes the Hiroshima smell.
His eyes are pearls
at the bottom of the sea.

The strangest smell is the smell of hatred in the air
between two people who once were friends.
It’s deeper than the sea and knows no bounds.

When she describes him now, she is describing
the smell of wrong. She banished that,
and hopes to live free and long.

Does she smell herself to see if her mind
will tell her she’s irresistible or unbearable?
Smell yourself and tell the air what you find.

‘There’s one perfume I love. It sets me free.
Let nobody ever ask me to change it.
It’s my smell, the smell I am, and will always be.’

‘Smells me,’ she whispers, ‘I’m like a mackerel
or maybe the salmon of knowledge.
Smell me. You’ll have a story to tell.’


Brendan Kennelly, “Now”.