Terry McDonagh, Odes to Tragic Flaws

An Ode to Tragic Flaws

When called to a fashionable fitting room
the manager came running. Oh yes,

it is a flaw, good sir or madam.
No cover-up, soul searching or tragedy.

Have a Carlsberg and crab on me.
You see our house style is Danish.

Colourful as parrots we are, said
he or she, humming note after note.

No doubt they’d have dressed nicely
back in Hamlet’s day in Denmark

but his mummy wouldn’t have done
her own shopping and neither would he.

He’d have been busy gallivanting
with Ophelia, drama and college.

He’d have brooded a bit – bogged
down in heaviness and layers of despair –

even seeing light sometimes. Mummy
would have seen to his washing and

kept him dandy in hose and codpiece
before wellness got to Castle Kronborg.

Hamlet’s time was one of heroics
when revenge was bittersweet

and procrastination a tragic flaw
left to grumbling, antic disposition

or flights of angels. Epic was rampant
and the dead were endowed.

Even when his demented girlfriend
floated with flowers in a singing stream,

he couldn’t do his duty: axe his uncle
and be done with it.

Ophelia lives on in fairytales and
in the names we give our children.

Today her passing would be fake news
or a social media event to be liked

in our times of acrimonious six-packs,
in our times of tragic flaws in facelifts.

The Man Had Only Wanted To Buy Rat Repellent

The man had only wanted to buy rat repellent
to deal with a big yellow-haired rodent
and his colony of rat-a-tat plague carriers
but the shops were out of stock across the land.

What chance had a caring citizen in sweats,
on a mission to repel rats,
when even the slimiest of rat-a-tats
was handed a gun at birth to ensure
that schools could be used as target practice?

The big rodent’s rhetoric was sketchy
and his commands simple: wrap mobiles
in the colours of our flag,
wear a God Loves America smile
when peeling onions,
stand poised on street corners and in bars
with weapons trained on Mexican TV
and focused on shooting at a Chinese virus
without blinking.

Bad was a good word because foreign was bad.
He ordered his colonies to strip to the waist in
mud, sweat and mire – to lie in sniper position
in case climate changers should drop fake ideas
on USA soil via satellite. There was defence literature
in letterboxes, guns in the air, and parachutes
on the ground to prevent the moon aligning itself
with the alien Greta gang or communists.

Asia has released contagion to bring
America to its knees – with little effect,
the big yellow-haired mutant preached.
Large numbers, in rat-a-tat costume,
dosed with anti-dissident disinfectant,
were immune, he assured them, and
there’d be multi-storey torture centres
with hanging parties, gratis, he promised.

Droves of cheerleaders were signing up
to counter a Swedish climate conspiracy
and the threat of fanatical Maoist fans
in sweaty bottoms and Coca-Cola tops
masquerading as Americans outside gun shops.

It would be gala. Hollywood. Back gardens
and church properties were welcomed as
burial grounds, some balconies too, but
the good news was that all American blood
spilled in defence of the flag would be
blessed by God and sold in supermarkets
at a price even the poorest could afford.

Now I ask you,
what chance has a caring citizen in sweats
when rat repellent is out of stock?

Out of the Dying Pan into the Pyre

IM poets Matthew Sweeney and John Hartley Williams

In Kreuzberg, Berlin, I’m tormented
by the thunder of hoofbeats
on the pavement outside a coffin shop

on the same street as the theatre
where fellow rhymers are to be reading
about death coming for poets.

Inside the window a skinny person
on a pert office chair among slabs and urns
is poised like an addict aching for a

blast of incense. In nomine Patris…
Trying to pass myself as a grim reaper,
I purse my lips flat on the glass pane

and lick a scythe into the condensation but
the man hardly gives me a glance as if saying,
I am used to scared little men. Instead

he seems to check me for height, weight
and life-time at my disposal – his business
is constant and comes in off the street.

I am oscillating between life and half-life.
A red heart flashes like a piece of karma.
Reincarnation can be had on a recurring basis.


I’d be this way again after the event,
two hours older with a signed book
entitled Death Comes for the Poets – mortals

owned for a time by caretaker parents, partners,
relatives, then by an undertaker, by earth or flame.
Parts of me have died already.

Life is the castrator ripping the young beast out of us.
The poets had been punctual but the books didn’t arrive.
I had nothing signed to confirm that death came for poets

but was assured that words would enjoy a long and
healthy existence after the demise of the pen. We drank
to the mystique enshrined in language. Travelling home

to Hamburg by train, I slept, dreaming of a journey
in a coffin ship from Ireland to America,
a time when death came for the hungry and nobody

cared about readings at The English Theatre in Berlin
or the shenanigans of a panicky poet
outside a funeral parlour. I woke. The train

slashed through towns and villages with
lights going out one by one on this strange planet
where we try to sing while poems are

being honed by slinking foxes in gathering fog,
by dozing cattle, crying babies or by
outlandish people from other places.

When I closed my eyes there were damp leaves
in shades of death and life and windows to the North Sea
casually deliberating the shaping of another day.

Terry McDonagh taught creative writing at Uni. Hamburg and was International School Drama Director. He has published eleven poetry collections as well as letters, prose, and poetry for young people. A much-travelled poet, he’s been translated into German and Indonesian. His latest poetry collection is Fourth Floor Flat: 44 Cantos (Arlen House). He recently returned to live in Ireland. http://www.terry-mcdonagh.com

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