by Stephen De Leon
Friday, January 17, 2003
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The kettledrum warmed his cobblestone hands,
fiery embers flickering to a distant land,
fingers of grit, nails since congealed,
hands that suffered his life in the field.
Burned to the bone, by this city, by this town,
his life here a shame, they laughed at this clown,
Ormeau Bridge was his home, his shelter, his calm,
while life around him gave not a damn.
He was not important, ignored, unseen,
a filthy beggar they called him, filthy, unclean,
Old Jack Ferguson, boy what a name,
the Lord of the Belfast City, king of the game.
The days were the same in this city of changes,
vying for fame, for politics, for power rearranges,
the attention they seek, their houses, their cars,
their little clansmen offering tips at the bars.
They would sleep at night in their houses of gold,
while beneath the bridges he slept in the cold,
beneath the stars, sometimes warm, sometimes softly,
dressing in his finest, his old coat aptly,
and sometimes cold, beneath papers, beneath his breath,
so cold at night he wished only for death.
Loneliness was not his world, Jack suffered no pain,
he would wake in the morning and be free again,
free to fly, free to breathe, free for the stars to pity,
unburdened by the world, un-trapped by this city.
Freedom was his life and he pitied their lives,
back to their homes, their prisons, their wives.
Back to their lives they thought they lead,
to their homes, their carpets and their sheltered beds.
Did they see stars when they slept, did they see trees,
did they wisp from flowers like the honey bees,
did they look as Jack when they opened their eyes,
did they see with their heart and listen for lies.
“He must be mad,” and throw him some change,
“He’s just an old wino, he must be deranged,”
“He must have been abused, beaten, a battered child,”
“Something in his head must have driven him wild.”
They all had their reasons, they can’t help themselves,
stacking their thoughts upon neat little shelves,
arranging their conclusions into a tidy little letter,
and finding a way to make themselves feel better.
And Jack would help, he would show them the bottle,
and make them feel superior by testing their mettle.
Age played in a beard wild enough to hide mice,
blonde streaks and grey and a head full of lice,
garnered wisps of scowling coloured locks,
as rusted as old ships in older still docks.
Clothes tattered and torn, duck tape for seams,
a full tailored suit for the beggar with dreams.
But clothes do not make a man so they say,
neither shoes nor a tie would last but a day,
a coat for all weather, with pockets of things,
snippets of a past, trinkets, baubles and rings.
His life in his hands, his name but a reminder,
of his unselfish past and argumentative demeanour.
Jack was not alone, there were others like he,
the tired, the hungry, the destitute it seemed,
the lost souls in life, every city had their share,
the ones who lost their way from God knows where.
Macca was a man whoso life inspired remorse,
a long journey travelled without recourse,
his wife left for another man, another chance,
events since then lead a merry dance.
Through drink, through anger, through many pains,
had brought him to this place, no wife and no bairns,
his hatred of the world had lost him his name,
his loathing inside had brought him this shame.
Maisie was a queen of the world in her head,
lost in the life that she found instead,
mad as a hatter and twice as gifted.
with shoes unmatched and soles she had lifted.
Her world was a haze of dreams and misquotes,
a tangled maze of adventures in boats,
sailing in a dream of a world of perception,
sentences that slipped from a tongue pre-empting.
Mad they would call her, insane, confused,
but who else in had not been so used.
“I will tell you of wonders, of spirits and kings,”
she would shout and whisper and softly sing,
“Of how I became queen of the golden glitter,”
“Princess of the paupers, duchess of litter.”
“A Terrible time, look now, and wonder,”
and watched with intrigue to her mellowing thunder,
“How I danced, and sang and tangoed,” she’d cry,
“My prince is long lost, and now so am I.”
But there was no prince, no songs left unsung,
Her life had finished where rumour had begun.
Mary had the heart that softened the night,
Mary had the warmth and the hidden delight,
Mary had the tears from a life that she missed,
Mary had the soul with a love that she wished.
Life had been unkind, unfair and untrue ,
it treated her unjustly and hurt through and through.
Her smile would warm the cockles of their faith,
she brought hope to their world, colour to their place,
but inside she hurt, the tears she would weep,
stammering in the coldness of the deepest sleep,
a life she had lost, gone now, gone away,
wishing for that moment, a curtain call in this play.
Close they would sleep, sometimes, Jack and she,
he would give her his warmth, his food, his company,
and look into her eyes and deep in her heart,
as she longed for that life and a different start.
He could hear her crying, soft whispering tears,
and wish for her pain and soften those years,
but her love she had lost, her kindness and joy,
cast aside like her marriage, broken like a toy.
She would hold his hand as she slept and remember,
the sunshine of August, the snows of December.
She would dream of her life and her terrible regret,
not a night would go by when she could just forget.
Others came, the homeless and the indignant,
husbands locked, the drunk and the malignant,
families burned from their homes, and even the pious.
Priests with a goal and politicians short-lived devices,
the shocked, the ashamed, the holy virtuous,
they visit for a moment and claim them insidious.
Newspapers without columns looking for a campaign,
merely words they have written and always the same,
today’s newspapers ease the minds of the readers,
are tomorrows blankets and wrapping papers.
But when they are gone, the memories and outcry,
the regulars are still her and here they will stay.
She looked into his eyes, the heart of a lion,
a man once in life she would wished to have chosen,
kindly Jack was to them all, courageous and strong,
the stature of a proud man could do little wrong.
He protected them all with his valour and strength,
from the drunks who called out from the other bank,
from teens who roamed from dusk to dawn,
he shone like a light and flexed his brawn.
She admired him so, she might claim it was love,
had not her fears stolen her from the world above.
She made her feel safe inside, her caring smile,
she remembered a time and she would stay a while.
They remembered Davey Lyons, his head filled with hope,
he did not care for Paisley, nor for their Catholic Pope,
he did not care for politics or any way of life,
he only cared for his friends and the love of a lost wife.
He filled their minds with passion, with friendship and care,
he filled their nights with safety, not a man would dare,
but they filled his pockets with firelighters,
beat this man till he was black and blue,
set petrol and flame to his filthy clothes,
set a spark of fire to fill his nose.
A game they called it for a better word,
and not a tear or a cry was heard, for old Davey Lyons.
In the city above they rioted and raged,
burning cars for politics and anger uncaged,
parades and violence was their bloody call,
Northern Ireland rebuilt was ready to fall.
Knees were broken, a political plot,
another boy killed, another man shot,
guns for their kids, shots over their dead,
the Lagan valley running with bloody red.
Houses at night would burn for a while,
and policemen kept their names on file,
the dead, the injured, too many mothers hurting,
and now the danger was nearly certain.
“Run away with me,” she said, “away to Spain,”
“Where the sea is blue and it never rains’”
“We can pick our food and sleep on a beach,”
“Our minds they can wander and fears never reach.”
“Come away with me, come run and be free,”
“come run with me and you can be we.”
Mary dreamed of the day, asleep on a beach,
where the moon would smile and the sun would reach,
and touch their lives and start their day,
and a life they could have so far away.
“Soon perhaps” he would answer so true ,
‘soon and then to a life anew.’
The thunder called but there was no rain,
lights of red went by and blue again,
Saracens rushing to another battle fought,
an explosion, a war, where peace there ought,
but not here, not now and never perhaps,
Northern Ireland trusted another mishap.
The little dog barked from the darkest shade,
his master wakened from his greenest glade,
“A five hundred pounder at least” his voice aloud,
his skill in knowing he was so proud,
from a life he had, another world he lead,
a time that nestled within his head.
“Ye’se cunts” he shouted with his arm in a sling,
and danger to the family he thought he’d bring.
Three men with him and dragging a son such an age,
fighting all the way for his petty wage,
his girl in tow like a rag-doll bound,
the man barely keeping her feet off the ground.
“Leave her alone, she’s nought got to do,”
“It’s me that ye’se wants, please let her go.”
“Fuck ye, ye fenian, ye Teague loving kid,”
“this is wan of our own” so the shadow said.
“We’ll learn ye our ways if ye live to tell,”
and made her watch this living hell.
“Leave him be, he loves me, that’s all,”
“please don’t hurt him” she shouted her call.
He pulled her hard and held her tight,
and made her watch her boyfriend fight.
First a punch and then a painful kick,
knocked to the ground and made her sick,
kicking hard and close, to the face and ribs,
while his lover cried and faced their jibes.
“Ye cunt,” they shouted, “we’ll kill ye naugh,”
“And rape yer whore, yer fenian loven cow.”
And kicked again and still he fought,
until hope failed him and strength faded to nought.
“Please don’t kill him,” she cried, “Let him go,”
“I’ll do anything you want, just say so.”
“Yer next ye whore, ye have to be learned,”
“Yer lover is dead and ye will be burned,”
“We’ll show what’s what, we’re the law,”
“round here ye will do whatever we say.”
A hand pulled her clothes, another her legs,
she struggled and fought and help she begged.
“Help her Jack, don’t let them hurt this child,”
“Please do something or she will be killed.”
“It’s not our fight, there’s nothing to be done,”
Henry voiced in hiding and hoped they were gone.
“Leave her alone lads. She’s just a young thing,”
came the voice from the dark and halted the song.
“She’s done ye no harm, ye’ve had yer play,”
“leave her in peace, she’s suffered too much today.”
“This is not yer fight” one answered, “don’t make it so.”
“We’ll do what we want and then we will go.”
“She has leaned her less, isn’t that enough?”
“Fuck off. This wee Teague lover, she likes it rough.”
“Let her go home lads,” asked Jack, “she’s of yer kind.”
“We’ll do what we want, and you never mind.”
“She’s too young lads,” said Jack, “is rape what you want?”
“We the fucken UFF right, none will say that we can’t.”
“You seen nothing right, we know where you live,” he said,
They dragged her away kicking and left him for dead.
Her cries they could hear, ever distant, ever quiet,
and evil things pronounced in this dark night.
“Ye could have got us killed, you know what they’re like,”
“they’d kill ye in a moment without a fight.”
“He had to do something,” hushed Mary, “leave him alone,”
“we are safe naugh is all that mattes, they have all gone.”
“That’s not the point” he shouted, “what gives you the right,”
“And all for one kid would he make us all fight.”
“And if not for him, then when should we stand,”
“to let them die” Jack answered, “I would not be a man.”
She held him close, tended his wounds, softly in her arms,
Wrapped his cuts in a linen skirt and sheltered him from harm.
It was as though he were her long lost child,
the eyes of a memory she once held,
and tended with love and generous heart,
the hurt that tore him apart.
“Those wounds need care that I cannot give,”
“to a hospital or you may never survive.”
But he refused their offer for a reason he cared,
and slept silently beneath the stars.
She cried as she wrapped him in arms that held too tight,
and became a mother for one last night.
“Sweetie” she said from the darkness of her world,
“My wife is a nag” was his answer heard,
“Never a rest and I work all the hours,”
“I bring her everything, I bring her flowers.”
“I do know, sweetie, I truly understand,”
“You are the greatest” he said, wandering his hand.
“If I had my way, I would have chosen you,”
“instead of that woman, that terrible shrew.”
“You are beautiful fer yer age, you care so much,”
and dared with his hands to encourage his touch.
Their silhouettes changed, their passions in the moon,
A brief wrestled moment and came too soon.
“You are the best,” she told him, “that was so great,”
“best you be going now, it’s getting quite late.”
“I love you,” he said, but his words could not bring,
that lovers sometimes whisper when promising something.
“I don’t do this often, I hope you realise,”
she offered him in answer to cover her disguise.
“It gets lonely sometimes, in the darkness, at home,”
“the bills get so much and expensive alone.”
“I’ll give you some money, a little to help,”
“would twenty be enough to cover yerself.”
“Forty would be better, the bills are all due,”
“the rent man is chasing me and I don’t know what to do.”
For sympathy she cried and gained his favour,
Kissed him again and calmed at his waver,
“You are a kind man Dennis, try one more time,”
“for your marriage, your wife, your peace of mind.”
“I’ll give her a go, that’s all I can promise,”
and settled his affairs without guilt’s remiss.
She smiled her last smile as he flitted away,
back through the darkness into another day.
“Come see me soon, I miss you my friend,”
and other words she whispered, just words to lend,
to a client, to a man who needed her care,
for a husband who needed love to be there.
When he was gone she smiled and smoked her fag,
Puffing on a cigarette with a much needed drag,
And tidied herself of the reminder of him,
Dousing the smell with the favour of gin.
Time on her own, she needed her space,
Long was the story of her fall from grace,
The fall into a profession she did not deny,
A story she could tell to make a man cry.
She had beauty about her, stunning good looks,
Knowledge she gained from a thousand books,
The body of a woman any man would desire,
And passion about her to light any fire.
She could kiss with lips that granted a need,
And sexual favour that bolstered a greed.
But she was a woman too, making a life,
Passing the opportunity to be such a wife,
As men would expect of a woman her age,
In a chapter of her life this was just a page.
She had chosen her way from anger and things,
Who knew how she got here, what life did bring,
Sometimes circumstances dictate the life we lead,
But a mother and children, was it her goal to breed,
And be like the others, to live out her days,
Apologising to a husband for her errant ways,
And nag like the wife of the man she absolved,
The play of marriage she was once involved.
“Tis a cold night Brenda, warm yerself by the fire,”
“You have a way about ye that a man would admire,”
“Rest a while and tell a poor man once again,”
“What brings ye round her with yer little friend.”
“He’s just a married man, a client, a John,”
“He’s not sure in life of where to belong,”
“He will tell me his troubles for half an hour or so,”
“Sometimes he will talk till he has to go.”
“He wants to be loves, for someone to understand,”
“And you know me Jack, I’ll do what I can.”
“Sometimes they want love, just sex or a hand,”
“It’s just a job love, he’s not a bad man.”
She gave him a cigarette, a pipe of peace,
A man who understood and how to be nice,
He cared for her too, cared for them all,
He never judged her life or joined in their call,
To rid this city of scum, or prostitutes and vice,
which politicians called ‘this seeding vile lice’.
But what did they know of their life, of her profession,
And what of their wives and their private confession,
They all had their faults, from Kincora to Stalker,
To dare to condemn this adoring street walker,
Who made such a living helping such boys,
Feel better about their world and sharing such joys.
Jack knew of her life, her marriage and the kids,
The need to survive when things her world the skids,
A husband that strayed with his secretary so young,
Or a colleague, an assistant before love had begun.
Her beauty, her kindness her love discarded,
Leaving her kids and alimony they parted,
And took with him her dignity, her tact,
calling an end to a marriage like the scene of an act.
And off to his life claiming love was but a word,
And to her new woman and rarely was heard,
An apology, an excuse but ‘Sorry bout that’
‘you can keep the kids, I’ll keep the cat.’
“What of religion?” Jack asked to keep her warm,