Thought he had land.
Lost it.
Went away to find

Found a bottled fright to haunt him
Shook it off and achieved solitude.

Put a prayer-gap between himself and grief
Until it mugged him on the street

Late morning Saturday
After Mass near Holloway.


Thoughts about the death of a cousin of mine, and others like him. I am exercised by the dignity of the man, chasing away his demons, falling and rising, in life and in death


Over there

Missing presumed wastrel.
Absent from the daily inspection.
Overseas with his sister.
Adjudged a loser.
Shocked no-one dying young.

A surprising condemnation
Of an uneventful life
A verdict built
On the sure foundation
Of ignorance.

'How could he have been happy
So far from home and folk?
How could he have been any good
And we not know of it?'


Inspired by the discovery that a cousin of mine who was said to have died a young alcoholic on the streets of New York in fact lived a fairly uneventful life until he died undramatically in middle age.


Send no more snaps

'Send no more snaps of yeerselves,
We know what ye look like.
Send us pictures of Lincoln,
Dollar bills!'

The long- awaited letter from home
Proved justification of the weary choice
To take the boat and leave them
To their grasping.

Snatch away
At our absence.


The quote is a paraphrase of a letter written from Ireland to an emigrant in the U.S.A. For me it expresses something of sadness of the emigrant finding exploitation instead of encouragement, even from those who are his family 'at home'.



Communal confession
Bright seventies idea, abandoned by the eighties
Disapproved as loosening the bond
Twixt priest and penitent.
Sad news for the stadia of shy tongue-tied
Preferring forgiveness in a crowd.

Communal confession nineteen-thirties style:
Fr O'Neill vexed on his horse,
Champing to escape his flock of pious children
Their keen veniality
Pricking the patience of his mount,
Drawing pardon from exasperation:
   'Ah sure, ye're fine'
   Now mind me way!'

He blessed and the Red Sea parted

Leaving grace in Cappataggle

For gravy in Loughrea.


My mother often refers to this episode, the prodigality of the priest's pardon giving her great amusement. I contrast this with the more recent hesitation of the Catholic Church to encourage general (communal) absolution.


Burying Johnny

Died Holloway
Buried Aughrim.

Hard for me
To lead his Vigil Mass
Farewell to London.

Hard but proud,
There before street-filled pews
Each stumbling shuffler a daughter or brother.

Thinking back to mother's second glances
At daylong drinkers
By the Clapham Common tube.
Had Johnny popped up south?
  'Woman, behold your cousin'.

See the strength too
Of the escapees,
Wary victims of daylight nightmare
Daily ambushed by former slavery
Johnny, exile and escapee,
We'll bury you in Aughrim.
London town
Couldn't hold you down.


Words related to the Requiem Mass for my cousin Johnny celebrated in London before his body returned to Ireland for burial. The congregation included many street people such as he had been for many years. During those years his cousins thought they saw him in every wanderer they passed on the street.


A night at the movies

Chasing that hen for the last of the dozen
Escaping on her brother's bike
Blumpclunking to the shop with sixpence credit
    A penny for jam
    A penny for a loaf
    And four pence for McFadden's Magic Lantern!

Kitty and Katty are there,
Local lads too, throwing turf-scraws at the screen
When reels are changed.
An evening long-remembered
Buster Keaton a bit part in memory's epic.

Buster played second-string to the loaf
Torn to shreds as they shrieked their way home,
Small-handed Katty in and out the jar
Smearing jam on sawn-off slices,
All hands washed at the bridge
So's not to be too savage.

Haagen-Dasz at the multiplex
(Not so tasty)


The memory of 'an evening out' of a country girl in the West of Ireland in the 1940s.


Hogs in Iowa

On windy Temple Hill
Rest Michael, Martin and many brothers
Immigrants whose driving energies
Rest in peace.

Letters home measured
Profit in pigs
Success in sows
Happiness in hogs

Their frequent litters
God's abiding blessing.

In Cascade where they lived
Now dwell descendants
The progeny of hardy types long past

There by the well
No porch but a pen
No tables but a trough
No humans now but hogs

Close to home
Their ancestry assured,
Over family roots.


On 'pilgrimage' to Michael and Martin Kenny's homesteads in Iowa, USA, I was struck by the ubiquity of hogs. Hogs are mentioned in their letters of the Kenny emigrants as a sign of their burgeoning wealth. Immigration posters in Ellis Island promise abundance in the New World in the form of porcine property. Ironically, the only residents of the site of Martin Kenny's first homestead are now hogs. The ancient hand-powered water pump alone recalls the humans. The hogs have taken over?


St Augustine's festival day

Shaken by emotion
Stirred by a medley
(Holy oldies sweet,
How come you taste so good?)

The shot knocked back,
The sudden kick,
Knowing this is mine.

A remnant rejoicing
Mild but rousing
More than a tear.



My emotional response to a medley of Catholic hymns at a Mass held in the ruins of St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury. Perhaps it gives an inkling of what it felt like for me to be a 'Roman' Catholic on that day (The Mass was a gathering of Catholics from Kent and South London to mark the 1400 years since Augustine's arrival).



Summer sunshine bank holiday
Workers playtime with the windows wide
Luvverble eastenders chas'ndaving in the Centre
Hooch of human kindness makes them kids again.
Harryoke at the mike,
That familiar wartime earache.

While granny has her knees-up
Father, adjacent, groans
Grateful for the trade
Looks towards the day
He'll join his generation
Misty-eyed and tongue-loosened
Punks unplugged.


Written within earshot of a Bank Holiday party held in the local Parish Community Centre. As I sat at my desk a few yards away, for several hours, I reflected on the appreciation of the partygoers for wartime songs and wondered what my generation would be singing years hence.


'Rivers of Water'

'Rivers of Water' on New Cross Road,
Travel shop
Or prophecy?

'Rivers of Water'
Thanks world wanderers!
You show me
What to write.

Let the world know
Rivers of water woke me up.
Like the
    fountains of Florence
    and driving drizzle
Ebb will ever flow.

So will I,
    sleeping during drought.

Yes, world,
In our inertia
Rivers flow on

So wash me away
Never the same


The name of a shop encourages me to keep swirling in the cascade of earthly existence.


Similar yet not

Strange southern land

Some spreading ricepaper
Of latest pressing
On that rocky roasting-plate

Others ancient,
Drowsy with dreaming
Lately laced by stubbies

    Strange land
    Strange endurance
    Common lot.

Some far in time and miles
From former homes
Grateful for centuries so still
And former ways so strong

Different to us
Yet sometimes on our track
(Seen sometimes
Hand on fax)

    Similar yet not
    They free us     Free us to be similar     Yet not.


Thoughts about the ancient and modern tribes resident in Australia and how the later settlers find spiritual support in the longevity of their Aboriginal neighbours.



Harry him out
Onto the dance-floor!
Hound her too!
Get them to let go,
Life widen, break ice!

Drag me screaming to my notebook,
Ankles bruised.
Tomorrow I'll be polishing
(Or sweeping broken ice?)
Carving words
Out of
And into

Drag me out,
The lines may even dance.


It's not so easy to start dancing, or writing.


old Australia map

The Australasian Collection


River Sunset, Brisbane

Ferry down the gleaming river,
Foil to rival bankside towers

Past the yachts of Edinglassy
Past the warship now no longer

Shimmer east and over westward
Dazzled in the glare of sunset

Past the convicts' slimy quarry
Hear the hurt returned to Logan

Sense the same revenge desired
By the native, con and soldier

Shine still onward, glimmer river,
Sprinkle starlight as you shiver.

Edinglassy, the settlement now known as Brisbane


On the Net

In air and at sea
Restfully surrounded
And alone

Time passing
Stands still

Letting me frame the mind's eye

Its people and its possible

Its moments asking remembrance

Up there
Out there
Air and water


On the river at Brisbane, finding peace travelling by sea and by air



The Darwinese,

Siblings to Oz,
Asia their kissing cousin.

Tropical tribe
Mixed race,
Children of Brisbane and Bali.

Roof-fans and tree frogs
Rainforest and box-jellyfish,
Today's news from the plane, after lunch.
Arid acres south

Warm seas north.



Ballarat, scene of would-be dreams.
Diggers' gold bought drinks paid bills changed lives built town

Now tourists
Late for luck
Pan too.

Thirty miners and five police
Fought until death
Civil outrage
In a land without (white) strife.

The shaft's still fruitful
When digging
For a fair go

This nugget,
The true enduring Standard.

February 1998, Ballarat


Dreamed Out

All dreamed out.
Memories scoured
Agonies emptied
Joys raptured.

Lost for words worth ink
I come back to everyday
Songs stories people.

Amused, muse absent
Stilled enough to ask

Why not me?
Why watching and listening,
Why not making?

The answer:
Live this moment
Ears eyes nose open.
Refuse to see it dead,
Demand its secret.
Touched by its value

February 1998, Ballarat



Alone with others
Mutually unknown

After easy solitude
Acquaintance slowly self-assembles.

This the early time
Enjoyable isolation

This, a pattern so familiar
Ice breaking
While my mind is on warmer waters past.

Why begin again?

Look to last time
For your answer.

February 1998, Melbourne


Distant Whistling

Does distance over-dramatise?
Does it ease us into attitudes
Otherwise not ours?
Or does it bruise us into anguish?
Stripping truth to the bone.

Free to meander
I wonder round my mind,
Glancing at the white-plastered bricks
Of this Cathedral cell,
At one with Empire exports
Half a world distant from their loves

This elsewhere, elseworld, all around,
Now for them a nightmare with no rousing
For both keepers and kept,
Tending their tight and anxious breathing,
Scanning the seas for memories.

'Tyranny of distance', people used to say.
Self-confident they pine no more
And yet, under their luminous sky,
Come black holes to mind.

February 1998, Melbourne



Another day,

Better to know there's nothing
Than expect.
Expect zero,
Handbrake happiness.

Postmen don't deliver
Friends write late,

So why this grim intensity?

Joys remembered

That shared life, laughter,
Eyes that say
'You count'.

Falling headlong from those heights,
Each message breaks my fall.

February 1998, Melbourne


Burning the Midnight Oil

Curious thrill of guilt
To leave the Cathedral after nightfall
For St Kilda's 'grunge and scunge'
As fellow cleric put it.

Curious too
To stand with concert faithful
And feel apart,
A story replicated
Shoulder to sweaty shoulder.

Elderly at 37
Yet younger than the band.

Unable to sleep
While the beds are burning.

February 1998, Midnight Oil concert at St Kilda, Melbourne


Silver Screen

Silver screen
Our waking dream

Dream with your lush colours
Overhead, within, along,
In that broad landscape
Make us hear: Belong

Silver screen
Our earthly dream

Dream of losers exultant
When loss turns victory,
Able now
To bear the waking day.

Silver screen
Repair our dreams

Dream us into others' lives
Familiar but unknown,
Enmeshed in them
We know their flesh our own.

Silver screen
Our mutual dream

Dream with us,
Wider and kinder
Christened in your gleam
Petty minds now noble
Failures now redeemed.

Silver screen
Our waking dream

February 1998, Melbourne



Swaying down the rails
With a slumbering payload,
The Afghan hound
Sprints towards stillness.

And catches it?

But does the desired calm
Disregard this effort?

Does it fall like manna,
Or is it only caught
By hearts and minds prepared?

How then to prepare?
Emptying or filling
To teasing in the peace?

For my sake,
May the centre
Grab each of us
Despising our preparation.

May the desert and the rock
Send us away chastened

Each 'I'

In a wide horizon.


Twinned 1

A pair of ghost gums
Lean and parched.


In a scorched crevice
Of King's Canyon.

Theirs a secret source.

Twinned 2

Blanched silhouette on the night sky,
A frozen crone by day,
Scorched, ragged and gawky

She ranges over bush
Scuppering any Anglo-landscape

Her partner the spiniflex,
Low and stocky
Wiry and without splendour
Its alone the mighty Nullabor

Only at that desert's outskirt
Returns the gum
A daytime spark of night

Approaching the city
The line of gum steps back,
Remembering its eerie kin
Held hostage in the Park.

And for its scrubby partner spiniflex?
No such shame.

March 2003, The Red Centre


Patrick's Day

The blues sax plays Danny Boy
At the Orient Hotel.
The band plays and the faithful reel.

High foam hats
Signal playful patriotism
Shamrocks on the black stuff

Tut-tut if you will
But do so with a smile
Glad for Irish eyes
On an ungreen isle

Far from Tipperary
On Sydney's Rocks



Four dozen red-eyed gulls
Watch him snack on Manly beach,
Each screeching for a chip.

One arm lifted raises half of them
He stands, scatters,
And the leftovers are gone
With the gannets.

Sharing a vigil
For the Big One
The line of surfers wait,
Bobbing in solidarity.

Arriving, it smashes their equality

The exalted swerve and sway,
The damned bite the foam

Spluttering to the surface
They see their betters run out of wave,
Human too,
Swallowed by broken breakers.

The voracious now departed.
He waits too.

March 1998, Sydney


Sailing from Manly

Breaching the sentry harbour's heads,
The intruding ocean
Jostles the domesticated ferry.

This tussled tourist's thoughts
Turns to transportation horrors,
No land since Gravesend,
Former lives
Long buried.

These days different,

Tamed inlets yachtified
Speed boats skim past the prison island
Leisuretime sails mass like gulls homing
As glowing evening glares before embering.

The end in sight now,
Clouds hang
Under the wide-skied bay

(An embrace extended
From mother Oz)

Hungry for home,
A single gull leads the eye
To the city's manhatting towers
And their much encored jewel,

Its quay
Opening Oz to us.

March 1998, Sydney


Club Croc

Bring the folks
(Maybe for a wedding)
Sun-loungers a-plenty
Day and evening carers for the kids.

Come for Coral Sea breezes
Where palm sprouts palm
And muzak trills:
Gypsy kings 'speak softly love'
Piano tinkles, sax sulters,
Endless Estefan.

Chilled beer at 10.30
Fine young cannibals up early
The waist-high pool their bar
Last night dimly hazy
Shelter from their red-eyed gals
The tune 'She drives me crazy'.

Today's cocktail: Summer Breeze
Today's activity: Champagne Twister
For the hearty jetski or tube,
Glass-bottomed cruise,
Snorkels, flippers,
Or paraglide by teatime.

Club Croc
The place to be.
The tune
'Don't cry for me'.


Then Came Damsels

Club Crocodile
Paddling a flat canoe in a Barrier bay,
All around me sailing
Workaday able,

Stealthy waves remote approach.

Over confident
Up ended.
Hat still on,
But humbled hanging on,
To right myself unable.

Then came damsels
To my rescue.
Expert oar assistance
From a mother and daughter,
Making all aright.


Take the safer path,
Mums and babes.


Whitsunday Tourist Trail

Club Crocodile to Shute Harbour,
Calm hills distant
Low beneath ice-cream cumuli
In a blueberry sky.

Fingertips away
Serenity smithereened
Coral sea a whiskered acquamarine,
Water wall behind beside
White horses flicking spray in midgallop
Across the ferry tail.

Episode closing
Reef peace yearning
Quick return choosing.


Tearoom 1

Nelson's 'Simply Food Tearoom',
A city with fields off the High Street
And a mountain at the end of the lane.
Half a sandwich costs a dollar ten
So does the other half.

Lavish care for the senior
Out from her care home,
The highlight of today, toweek
A joke with the young man
Replacing his healthy breakfast
With something sweet.

Opposite, builders restore
A bastion of Nelson's past,
Conduit for the river of tea
Flowing since its foundation,
The customary British baptism.

Weak or strong
Often English Breakfast,

Here they keep the Faith.

Tearoom 2

What is this voice?
Smile or sneer?
Eyebrow raised bemused, amused?

No hurt intended
Only a first impression,
A Polaroid emerging from the mist

Calling forward
Clarity and colour.

March 1998, Nelson, New Zealand



The news from Monáco
I heard at Kaikoura.
I sat and wept inward.

Knocked out on away goals
How heed Chubawumba?
Knocked down won't get up more.

Timarú to Tekápo
Resound to my grieving,
Remember not Schmeichel.

March 1998, Timaru, New Zealand


Road to Nowhere

Twenty minute parole in days en route,
Pausing at Kalgoorlie Pizza
For goldfield Garlic Bread.

The wild colonial TV hero
Consults the blackfellah
Wondering at the stranger's will
To put a road through his Dreaming.

Whitefellah need it
"Not get lost"
"What is get lost?"

My ticket shows me the way

To get lost?

April 1998, Western Australia



Suddenly I see!
Sight sharpened without specs
Light so bright
And breathing too!

Suddenly brother
To a fatfish floating by,
As we're related
He lingers in armsreach

Elsewhere more marine Eden
Perfect creation and no forbidden fruit.

These moments a hint
Of that initial bliss,
A pledge of its return.

March 1998, Rotness Island, Perth


Above Average

Final Call,
Bar and café, Perth
(Not just a teashop)

Confidential calm
And a licence to linger.

Cloud Nine's cappuccino?
Another plane.

April 1998, Perth


Away and Back

Return to warmth and wilderness
The sun high over its lucky country
Visitors glowing and entranced
Whilst local avoid UV's
A warm welcome where visitors are few
So much fire,
Not so much to do.

Return to warmth and wilderness
April showers its gifts
On a corner of this old capital
Parched though the sun don't shine
The gardener returns,
Unburnt spring
His heart's glow.

April 1998, Perth


Poems from John Kenny


Over there

Send no
more snaps


Burying Johnny

A night at
the movies

Hogs in Iowa

St Augustine's
festival day


Rivers of Water

Similar yet not


The Australasian Collection

River Sunset, Brisbane

On the Net



Dreamed Out


Distant Whistling


Burning the Midnight Oil

Silver Screen


Twinned 1

Twinned 2

Patrick's Day


Sailing from Manly

Club Croc

Then Came Damsels

Whitsunday Tourist Trail

Tearoom 1

Tearoom 2


Road to Nowhere


Above Average

Away and Back

All poems on this page are the copyright of John Kenny

This collection of poems from John Kenny is part of the divine donkey's anthology of poetry. John Kenny would like to hear from you. Messages will be forwarded to him by Andrew Roberts