The Third Child, by Frank McMahon

Our state assumes the third child
Needs no food or clothes, shelter
Cot or  toys. Our state assumes
That what is stretched and threadbare
Will go further when moral fibre
Is applied. Our state assumes
That just before you copulate
You both will take appropriate precautions
And bear in mind that for the poor
Conception should be subjected
To rigorous analysis
Of all the costs and benefits.
Our state assumes that for the poor,
The joy of a new-born child, the third,
Should be tempered by poverty and want.

Our state assumes that all the rest
can procreate carefree and have
as many children as they want.
They are the ruling classes after all.

It is the sound, by Frank McMahon

of a child abandoned on a hillside
of a man’s tears falling across a rock
of a seabird caught in a trough of oil
of a whale lost amongst the throb of engines
of a mother pleading for the life of her child

It is a sound
drawn from wet, wind-hammered fells
drawn from the curlew’s piping
and the lapwings winter cry
drawn from the farmer robbed of his fields
drawn from the tribes driven into exile
drawn from a saw cutting bone

It is a sound distilled
from the edge of extinction
from war’s obliteration
from the driving out of mercy.

It is sound that grinds against the skin
that lacerates the heart
but is not heard by all and so it must be amplified
a threnody for the loss of hope
played by the last surviving piper.

Why Can’t We? by Frank McMahon

Sweat rises from the ground, oozes
Through my hair as I bend and lift
Uprooted weeds from soft, dark soil.

I find a piece of bone. Elsewhere,
Some other place or country, I
Might have asked to whom it once belonged
And if there was, beneath the spade’s edge
History asserting old claims
Upon  the present? The dead know
All about equivocation,
Denial, lines of remorseless logic.

Must they sing again their
Songs of lamentation before
We cease our fumblings
In the charnel-pit of words?

Find me Words, by Frank McMahon

Find me words to stop the slaughter.
Find me words which will be heard
and  not just heard but taken up,
amplified and echoed. But not

just  voiced by millions or painted
onto banners. Find me words which
will pierce concrete walls and steel-clad
minds, find me words which will stop.

Find me powers to lay across
their desks and war-room floors broken
bones and flesh, find me powers to
make them cradle in their arms

the headless child, to salve her mother’s
napalm-shredded skin, unclog
the students’ gas-filled lungs, prise out
the shards of shrapnel while they order

more assaults. If they will not desist,
then give me power to move them
to the cellars, the shattered streets
and farms and make them wait alone
while we decide their future. What
can they offer to atone? The dead
and maimed must speak, pronounce. Find
them words to write the final page.

Times Like These by Frank McMahon

A yacht sails in summer, northwards to the Pole.

A  slush  of gelatinous grey greets its bow

as  it  makes its ambivalent journey.

On Admiralty charts a woman replaces islands,

sketches  new sandbars, reefs marked with buoys,

while their people are  moving into legend.


Lines of footprints cover deserts; jackals, bones,

eyeballs.  Driven from shelter to shelter, children

ailing and confused, half-filled ditches,

refuse  tips: where will the unborn live as

their families take flight?


A gig

was  once  a party, an impromptu concert

in  a  corner pub, a mingle of music, sweat

and  beers. A world of miasma now,

of  beck and call for paupers’ pay, waiting

to  be plucked like a lobster from a tank.


Yes, yes, the richest should have more,

more  tax-breaks crammed into their maw

until they vomit gold, excrete jewels and mansions,

super  yachts and private jets, smearing

the earth and the airwaves

with  their self-obsessed banalities.

In shadowed lobbies, their hired  hands work

on  dispossession,   the cutting of common bonds,

democracy just one more acquisition.


The future bleeds away as we pick

at old  obsessions. The past is now a home

with  many  rooms, space for those who hold

a  ticket for nostalgia. For each a leather

armchair on  a floor of empty cans; loop on loop,

the  TV  screen shows newsreels of the past;

paper  walls and cling- film roof, the toys abandoned

on  the  lawn where foxes prowl. Brewing

in the cellar, fantasies, stench, nightsoil.


I am a Citizen by Frank McMahon

I am a citizen of no country who

welcomes  those whom war flings on our shores,

who  feeds the last survivor, who wishes

he  could staunch the blood of every wound, could

seal forever underground the chariots,

the spears  lusting for others to impale.


I am a citizen of no country who

cries as the planet dies, writhes in toxic

shock,, is gouged and burned to mute surrender.


I was called a citizen of no nation

when I went beyond our coasts to speak

of  common ground, to learn their hopes

and history from their flags.

It seems that

I   betrayed our flag, my kith and kin. I

should  have  stayed at home and drawn the blinds,

watched,   instead,  the fatuous retreat

to  the towers on the cliffs, the hill forts,

their  beacon fires spluttering in the rain.



We are citizens of the world, though raised

in  our  native soils. We will not permit you

to partition our humanity.


Shoes by Frank McMahon

Shoes, pointing in all directions

as if they could not decide which

way  to go. Ahead the river,

wide and fast, its shore empty of

boats. And people. The shoes, fissured,

soiled, heels broken; children’s clogs. As

they stood in their final sunlight:

prayers? Huddles of comfort? Piss and

shit leaking onto ancient leather.

Hurled backwards, no funeral flowers

save the smoke curling from the guns.

Downwards, where the Duna receives

them, cold, reddening as it flows,

mere dross and cargo. A flask of

spirits opened, a cigarette

lit, safety catches on, the world

more Judenfrei.

Shoes, now again

pointing in all directions.

Berlin 1933 by Frank McMahon

Find the glass window set in the cobbles
outside  Humboldt’s University. You’ll
need to angle your view and wait  until
the light reveals the whiteness of the empty
shelves, a void in Europe’s  heart.
Judischen, entartate: this is where
they began the burning  of the books,
flames and sparks, yellow like stars,lighting the way
to  ghettos, wagons, lines of wire, ashes, bones.

Ghosts gather, tug at your sleeve politely,
plead that you read the Book of the Dead.
Its opening page lies at your feet. Descend
to  lamentation’s rainbow.

Universal Credit by Frank McMahon

Learn this lesson: assume the supplicant’s
position, low before the arbiter.
Hang your petition on the ox’s horn and
pray as it turns and plods inside the keep.
Forty two days in the wilderness, longer
than Christ’s self-chosen stay. Time to go home
and  count the copper pennies in your palm, time
to scour the bins for corn cobs overlooked,
scraps on bones, nubs of bread, hide candles
and kindling, beg remission on your rent.
Time to forage hedgerows, scrape bark for baking
bread, claw the furrows for potatoes, hush
the hungry child while you lie clamped and clemmed,
fashioning hope from feathers and dung.

You may be lucky: beneficence
parsimonious may be granted or
day on day on days delays will find you
in winter’s shadow outside the castle walls.