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Joe’s Poems

1. Session - by Joe Buckley

From disparate lives, in varying moods, they come
Together in the space, the tools
Of this night's trade slung jaunty from their hands
They settle to the rites of preparation
Arrange the place, and for a time, assume
The mystic status of the bard. Here, loving
Hands release the instruments, the work
Of other hands, from silent velvet spaces,
Expose to light the rich deep grains in lacquered
Maple, cherry, spruce. Here ebony
and ivory and pearl and filigree
Of silver, polished chrome and straining strings
Of steel are seen; are shown, but not for show.
And when the ritual of tuning's done,
Then ordered islands of shared rhythm rise
Unbidden from the shifting sea of talk
And laughter; never the same from week to week.
Here intellect is stilled, the wisdom and
The 'cleachtadh' of the body holds in sway.
For now the focus is within to match
The pulse, to catch the flow, to make the flying
Fingers fall, the foot-beats synchronised,
To make the many players be as one.

This is the goal, this moment of flux,
This hair-raising unison, melding of selves;
This plucking taut steel and caressing the goatskin
This skirling of whistle and downbeat of bow,
This strumming and chording and picking and tapping.
The lift of the fingers and then letting go.

For this concerto, praise is not requested,
Applause not sought; nor words of friendship needed.
This music is the secret language of
A people's soul; an heirloom held, and heeded.

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Sometimes in life a parent needs ongoing medical care.
It is a tough decision for families when the question of a nursing home comes up.

2. Father - by Joe Buckley

My father loved all tunes that spoke
Of love and loss. The wild and lonely places
By the fringes of the bog he loved as well,
And named their names: Barnaboy, The Wood
Of O, Derrygrogan, where once upon
A winter's day among a stand of delicate
Pastel birches, he and I chanced upon
A Christmas tree, all green and lush among
The yellow grasses. Then, on Christmas Eve,
He carved the turnip slices into candle-
Sticks, and all the windows in our musty
House grew warm with mellow Christmas light.

In earlier years, despite the darkest storms
That kindled in his head, my father's heart
Was warm, his arms the harbour walls, his eyes
The harbour lights that drew my sisters into
Calm when tempests raged.
The day he left
For Nursing Home the music stopped for good.
Silent the crumbling shed in which the lathe
Would rust. Silent the pungent wardrobe guarding
Clothes he'd never wear again. Silent
The bedroom air infused with spoor of him.
Silent the empty armchair freed forever
From the burden of his ebbing life.

And I have never found a tune that speaks of all
The things he'd loved and lost on that September day.

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3. Goldfinches - by Joe Buckley

In China, it is said that when a person dies,
The soul, as if unwilling to depart, becomes a fragile butterfly.
For several days it lingers in that place,
Until its time has come to start its last unknowable migration.

The morning after Julie died, I saw five goldfinches, jeweled
in festive colours, playing round the feeder near my window.
Next morning, there were six, chirpy and feisty.
No other birds, just six gold finches, in my dull December garden.

The goldfinches are gone; I haven't seen one since.
Their place is empty, as my heart is.
But then I think that finches don't migrate.
They're scattered on the wind, or gathered
In a woodland place, where Julie's 'dainty lady',
The silver birch, now leafless stands.
I can entice - I will entice them back.

I wait and watch the hanging feeder, and think
What I will say to even one, should it return. I think of Julie
And I ponder on what food will bring her spirit back,
Or whether now it's not too late for me to feed it.

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The seeds of this poem came to me as I sat in the empty classroom at the end of my last English class on the last day of my life as a teacher.

4. Sir's Last Day - by Joe Buckley

He sits in Timmy Kelly's chair that's near the back.
The dust bits settle in the sunlit classroom,
Empty now of over twenty years of boisterous boys.
He sees, as if for the first time, (but really for the last!)
The glossed block walls, the blemished whiteboard.
He eyes the bulging press, mute archive of the years.
Like Heaney's bog, the further in and down one goes,
The closer to the start, that's eight and thirty years before.

He eases down his guard at last and memories seep back.
He wonders could he gather from the silent air the echoes
Of the words, the well-turned phrases, apt allusions
That down the years had kept them rapt, or tame at least -
Words dull or tarnished, words polished and new -
Words, the rich coinage in the commerce of the classroom.

He listens, but only hears the voices of the boys:
Sir, why do we have to do this?
Sir, this poem is wrecking me head.
Sir, Murphy was doing it too. How come he doesn't have detention?
Sir, I already have detention tomorrow.
Sir, my journal is lost.
Sir, my journal isn't lost. I just can't find it.
Sir, my journal is under me Mum's bed.
Sir, Dempsey threw my journal in the cistern.
Sir, I forgot to take my tablets.
Sir, there's a picture drawn on the seat of my chair. (Between my legs)
Sir, does Mr. Wilson fancy Miss Murphy?
(And from the back:) Does Mr. Clancy fancy Mr. Breen?
(McCabe, which part of 'No' do you not understand?) The 'O', sir.
(Moran, is it alright if I continue?) No, Sir… Well, alright, Sir.
Sir, Scully called me a heterosexual and I called him one back.
Sir, I lost my bus fare. I'll pay you back tomorrow.
Sir, I didn't think she'd hear it, sir. It's not fair. An' anyway, she hates me.
Oh yeah! Sir, I think I have it now!
Sir, will you miss us?

The class card reads:
'Sir, thanks for the memories and the laughs.'
'Sir, enjoy yourself in the old folks home!'
'Sir, thanks for all the years of English.'
'Sir, I'll miss you - with all my heart and soul, you big hippie!'
'Goodbye, old man. See you in the pub!'

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In 1977 Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune were all on one side of the sun, an event that happens once in 175 years, so the Americans sent two space probes, Voyager 1 and 2, to visit them. It took Voyager 2 twelve years to reach Neptune, It sent back huge amounts of information about these giant planets. Then it headed out into deep space. It is still moving away from us into that vast emptiness. In a million years time, it will probably still be flying. It is never coming back.

5. Space Probe - by Joe Buckley

Lost in insubstantial darkness,
The space probe journeys, journeys on.
No light reflects from polished metal
Pocked by pristine particles unseen.
No ear can hear its lonely music
Wafting through this vast and silent void;
Distanced by light years from its origins
Its home of heat and fields of green,
And hands of flesh and blood, and hearts
That have, unlike itself, a million years before,
Found journey's end.

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6.Spring - by Joe Buckley

Lacy shadows pattern the red brick.
Rush grasses dance on the west wind.
The fritter of bird-song filters
Through the bare branches of March.
The sun steals up on the equator.
By my bird table a plump robin sleeps.
Fat worms stir in the thawing soil,
And daffodil spears thrust for air
Spring is holding her breath.

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7. May Blues - by Joe Buckley

Out beyond the blue, they say, it’s black as cloudless night,
And a billion, billion stars shine clear without a blink;
But I can’t see them, for the morning air is blue,
Except where fluffy clouds, rising from heaven’s brink,
Drift heedless past my May-time cherry blossom.
I can’t imagine red or yellow being so easy on the eye;
A sea reflecting orange skies would surely not be cool,
And I doubt if singing the ‘pinks’ would make me cry
The point is that we’re here, we should be glad
There was an aberration, a kink in the design,
If design there is, as Frost would say.
No other world can know such heavenly skies in May.

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8. Rowan Tree - by Joe Buckley

Being rooted, I had few choices. My freedom was to love
The sun and the wind, the soft April rain and the caress
Of the bee. I was not lonely. The robin
Nestled in my leaves. I was generous. My red berries
Fed the hungry blackbird in the season of want.
I was patient. I suffered the nipping frosts of winter
Till mild April sun warmed the kind soil. I was not plagued
By expectations, by jealousy or greed or lack of love.
I simply expected to be let be, to hold my head erect, proud
In its flaming green hair of summer, bejewelled with red
Clusters in autumn. I had what I needed.
But not now. Not after last night when you,
In your pre-flowering cankered youth, caught my spine
And twisted until it splintered and flopped.
I am mutilated. Unlike you, I will be discarded and replaced.
I have suffered from the violence of your age.
Upon whom can I vent my rage?

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9. At Corte Station - by Joe Buckley

Resting on a bench at Corte’s quiet station,
Hip aching from the Citadelle’s high ascent,
I saw, across the level tracks, a boy and mother.
She sauntered; he, a four-year-old, contented
In her presence, skipped along the path. He wore
A red and yellow top, red pants; his socks
Were red and blue, his runners tiny. She was just
His mother. Was she wearing jeans, a frock?
I can’t remember. There was something in his being
Though, that caught my eye, his unalloyed
Pleasure in the movement, his joy in effortlessly
Skipping, his love of living life, this boy.
And I visualised the cartilage behind his kneecap,
Its pure white elasticity, the dense
White calcium of his forming bones, his teeth untarnished
White, his beating unstrained heart, the tense
Smooth velvet of his olive skin, the limpid crystal
Clearness of the lenses in his eyes.
His lithe elastic muscles, ligaments and tendons,
His organs all in balance, synchronised.

And, of a sudden, I was choked with bitter sadness.
For seventy years have passed since I was four.
And time has weathered down this tenement of flesh,
And I can’t tell what years are still in store.
But resting my old body in that quiet station,
Still knowing well that living begets pain,
I whispered to whatever power rules creation,
‘Please, Mother! Please let me begin again!’

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10. April 2021 - by Joe Buckley

So we have come to this - this destined moment,
Plucked from the aeons of time since the first primordial blast -
This intolerable moment, crafted from the fragments
Of our collisions and the gravity of our fusings down the years.
You tented all in white upon the bed; me masked and looking in.
Are we to have no proper speech to signify
Arrival in this place of pain, to honour
Our singular connection, forged and tempered
By long toiling in the everydays of life.


Your voice is hushed; my words are clumsy tools.
Now should be my time to read your eyes – these eyes that mutely
Watch me through the veil; eyes that have grown more kind
Despite the pressing angst of life; eyes that have learnt
To see both wood and trees. I should have
Paid more heed, have learnt the language of the eyes.
I should have learned to read the soundless lips.
Worlds turn, winds moan, rains plash from sullen skies!
I reach to touch your straining fingertips.

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11. Final Days

Deep in the labyrinthine tunnels of Azovstal, a man prepares
For final days. His few possessions – save for basic nourishment
And killing implements of war – he keeps beneath his armoured vest,
Close to his heart. Now and then, in lulls between the missile blasts,
He sneaks long glances at his tattered pictures (he’s saving battery
For final words, when heat and thunder of exploding death will be
His near companions) and ruminates again – all dreams of life put by -
On with what ease apocalypse can fall out of the azure sky.

Of course he wants to live; he’d like his old life to return – the classroom -
Smiling kids, the buzz of nourishing the seeds he’d sown,
Their possibility of blooming into what they should become.
But history and madness have trapped him in an iron cage and closed
The apertures of choice. Escape? He shakes his head. Too late for answers now;
The die is cast, the Rubicon already crossed; if death is destined,
Better die a hero facing forward to that final blast of heat
Than risk inglorious ending in a shattered Mariupol street.

Not for him to hold in forced affection those he claims as his,
Or signal, if they will not love him, let them die; not for him
A thwarted tyrant’s disaffection, whose dreams of bouquets and ovation
Foundered in the deadly lanes of Boryspil, Ducha and Ispin.
He did not choose this war, this hell on earth, but he’s resolved to meet
The dimming light and will stand brave. The little hope he harbours
And speaks only to the pictures at his breast, is this, a terse refrain:
If there is justice in the Will of Fate, the Ides of March will come again.