Tie me down to the target on the ground.
I watched you assemble it all afternoon,
and you did it well. First a perfect circle
of dried oxblood, then a smaller circle of
crushed, blanched almonds, then pulverised
wolfsbane – a ring of the perfect blue –
and next your secret mixture of buttercup
and turmeric. And finally, in the middle, an
orb of the most scented, brightest paprika.
I approved it all loudly, and I’m hard to please.
If I stretch out ﬂat, I’ll ﬁt in the red centre.
Fasten my wrists and ankles to the iron pegs
with leather thongs, and please tie a green
blindfold over my eyes. I don’t want to see
the two-seater glider home in on me, until
it gets so close that the woman at the back
stands up with her bow, pulls the taut string
to her shoulder, and zings an arrow into my heart.
I know she won’t miss. Now what about a blast
of jazz? I’m sure you have a wine I’d enjoy.
I was boiling a beetroot when the doorbell rang.
‘Who the hell is this?’, I muttered, marching
to the door. When I opened it the sun was so
bright I only saw silhouettes, but that was enough
for looming over everything was a big black cross.
There were two men, one with the face of a goat,
the other a huge fellow with a fag in his mouth
and sweat on his face from carrying the cross.
The ﬁrst man grinned, shaking his bag of nails
and patting the hammer in his belt. ‘We’ve come
to carry out your crucifixion.’ Seeing my reaction
he laughed, ‘Don’t worry it’s all been paid for.’
The other man had set the cross down, and was
checking out the lawn for the best location.
‘Can I ask who’s paid for it?’ I stuttered. ‘Surely
there’s been a huge mistake.’ A laugh ensued.
‘No mistake, sir. It was your good self exactly
who ordered the happening. See here,’ he said,
shoving a signed order form into my face. It was
my name all right, but it was a forgery. I pointed
this out, to no avail, so I shouted that was enough.
‘Kindly leave this premises immediately, and ask
your giant clown not to forget his cross.’ I slammed
the door, then wheeled an armchair up against it,
and sat in this, after getting my biggest sharp knife.
I had my mobile primed to call the police, but I
thought I heard the two lumbering down the path,
and a look through the spyhole confirmed this.
I went back to the kitchen to check my beetroot.
It had nearly boiled dry and the water was red.
Shadow of the Owl
The loudspeaker hidden in the thornbush
is pouring out Sinatra, while a sharp light
comes on above my head, and a flurry of wings
arrives from behind me, and the shadow
of the owl covers me, then recedes into night.
I am sitting here on a log, in the wee small
hours of the morning (thanks Frank), reminiscing
about my student days in the Black Forest,
that ghost in the tower, and the pile of bottles
we left behind us following the farewell party.
I can still smell the marijuana, and the wine
I’m now drinking is superior, but I couldn’t
ﬂing myself around in a punk-dance like then.
I hear an uhu, and another, before the owl’s
wings drop their poncho of shadow again.
What does the creature want from me tonight?
I thought he’d done with me, done his worst.
Sinatra is embarking on a song called ‘Ill Wind’.
I empty the bottle and ﬂing it into the dark,
enjoying the smash against the rock. I go in.
Golly, a nice man wants to put a tube
into my stomach, and his colleagues
are pleading with me to simply let him.
One woman sat by my bed holding
the harmless little tube, as if the sight
of it would make me say Yes, stick it in.
Instead, I continued to be noncompliant. You might as well be holding a noose,
is what I said. The woman smiled and left.
I lay there and closed my eyes, imagining
all the nourishment that would go through
the tube, reversing my super weight loss.
I would now grow fat as a sumo wrestler,
or as the beer drinker I once was, back when
my illnesses lived in hypochondria county.
I could whizz up boeuf bourguignon to
baby food, or even thinner, and pump it in.
I could learn to forget what food tastes like.
They claim I could even still eat, with the tube
sticking out of me, but how could I revel in
a Wiener Schnitzel with that encumbrance?
No, that would be like eating on the train
to the black camp, this one with no skeletal
survivors liberated by a victorious militia.
I want to stay off that train as long as I can,
despite all the exhortations to board now.
I want to be myself till the last minute.
11 Foreword by Mary Noonan
31 The Albatross
32 The Director
33 The Target
34 The Assassins
35 The Ancient Crane
36 The Exit
38 The Chess Match
39 The Angel
40 The Glider
41 Sweet Song
43 Shadow of the Owl
44 The New Lighthouse
45 The Portrait Painter
46 The Gallows
48 An Invitation to Dinner
50 The Drawer
52 The Tube
53 The Sick Bed
54 Plum Saké
60 The Rain
61 The Juggler
65 The Log Cabin
66 Returning to a Borrowed House
67 The Ice Cream Van
68 The Hedgehog
70 Pizza à Sète
72 The Sleeping Woman
73 Taxi à Sète
74 Three Heads
76 Translating Paul Valéry
78 The Port
80 What a True Fan Has to Do
81 The Lamppost, Plaza Mayor, Chinchón
82 Monsieur Lapin
84 The Snow
85 The Grinners
86 The Bathroom Devils
87 The Heron
89 The Danube Book
90 The Descent into Limbo
93 The Mountebank
97 Tree Trunks
98 Coloured Hair in the Garage
99 The Builder’s Singing
100 Hook Head
103 Mouse Sandwich
‘In Sweeney’s universe everything has multiple and perplexing meanings – his ‘alternative realism’ permits the everyday to co-exist with the fantastic in equally poignant and hilarious ways.’ – Pippa Little, Magma [onMy Life as a Painter]
‘Sweeney… carries us with him on strange, riddling trajectories in his inimitable, pleasingly conversational manner.’ – Michael Glover, The Tablet [onMy Life as a Painter]
‘There’s an exuberance about the fantastical imagery of Cork-based Matthew Sweeney that gives his work the kind of popular accessibility you don’t often find in a poet so accomplished and experienced. Despite the fact that My Life as Painter is his 12th collection, he remains not only committed to taking his art to its highest form, but to ensuring his words still touch his readers.’ – Cork Evening Echo
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