Richard C McNeff

  Blue Nest woodcut © Bill Fulljames





The place is very beautiful

But you do not see it –

The rugged creek

Where Rigoberto painted

The fisherman and his son

Once setting out at daybreak

Again when they returned at dusk,

Moonlight green as glow-worm

On the boy’s pale blouse.


You hardly notice

The slate-calm sea

Or the sloping tile of Formentera

Wedged against the sky –

The immense gull

Perched on the treacherous rock

Of Santa Eulalia,

Which has drowned Phoenician silver

As well as corsair gold,

Is as indifferent as you are

To the bell tolling

Beneath the sea

From the church that slid there

When the men wore red caps

And the women garlands.


In the end, Rigoberto fled the Blue Nest

Bruised by the Argentine

Who plaited her red hair

In the nets of the fisherman –

He no longer saw slate, tile, or steeple –

He was blind to everything

But her soul.






Like a book he could not put down

Rigoberto returned to the Blue Nest,

To the little house shielded by pines

And the breeze they baffled –

He regretted Laura, regretted their battles,

He had a dream she would receive him

Like an old comrade,

Have him sit by her,

Drink and eat the old times,

They would dance to the flamenco

As it played on the phonograph –

He was not seeking love

Nor to usurp the fisherman from his nets

But if that came too he would not demur.


He knocked at the door of the Blue Nest

And a voice gruff with garlic and wine

Demanded what he wanted –

She was so thin

It seemed the door opened itself.

She howled at him in her tramp’s overcoat

That possessed no shoulders

Only spidery arms.

Fleeing from her barbs

He scrambled across the creek

As baffled as the breeze.





 Rigoberto's Envoi 



Having laboured so long

And gained so little

Rigoberto could scarcely believe

The news the postman brought


As he scrambled down from the tree house


He had built on the tallest pine



To evade Laura.



The prize in Barcelona paid for


 The house he built


 On the purple hill at the back of Santa Eulalia


 Flanked by almond trees still in blossom



The first night he slept there.




Rigoberto left the Blue Nest to Laura,


Left her for the fisherman and drunken waterman



Who caroused with her



When the fits weren’t on her –



He could not believe the wonderful peace



Of his spacious house –


No voice scolded him,



No moans honed his cuckold’s horns –


All the night through


He could not sleep.


 North East West South


You only made a triangle

Who intended a cross


From Edgware Road


to intersect with Aldgate


And Russell Square.


King’s Cross was closed


So in  Tavistock Square


You detonated your scrambled mind,


Finally shattered the vengeful dream.



 On the side of the bus an advert states:

“Outright Terror Bold and Brilliant”


A gleeful god laughs,


Your god, Bomber,


Who brings misfortune at the crossroads


 And the wrong sort of posterity.






My papers burned and time

Distinguished to a cinder

By the flames

Itself has raced to these white walls,

White days, my halcyon

Too blistered by the sun,

A weary jewel in its last setting.


Paris was blind,

London grey, Belgium scandal.

So the fickle then disgraced

My voyage and my pen,

Made mute the anvil of my craft –

Hammer and forge were blunt

Before the ink had dried

And as words fled

Something in my spirit died.


An empty rifle and a rotten bow

A hunter in a wooded shack

Some call Rimbaud.





This time we’ve got him! We know where Arthur

  Rimbaud is – the great Rimbaud, the true Rimbaud,

  the Rimbaud of the Illuminations.”

                                                  La France moderne (February-March issue 1891)

 At this altitude, it is,

And will be for another month,


Unpleasantly cold.


It rains and hails, and the wind


Is like a mother when she scolds.


I had to buy a mattress, blankets, overcoats.


Forgive me recounting all my troubles,


But I’m about to turn thirty or thereabouts


(Half a lifetime!)


And I’ve worn myself to death


Wandering the world,


To no effect.


The descent to Ballawa from Egon

 Very difficult for the porters,


Who stumble at every stone,


And for me, who falters and almost


Tips over with a groan.


The litter is already half dislocated


And the servants completely exhausted.


I try to mount the mule,


With the sick leg strapped to its neck.


I am forced to dismount like a fool


And get back into the litter


Which has already lagged a kilometre behind.


This journey is bitter and wrong.


On arriving at Ballawa, only drizzle.


Furious wind all night long.



Please then, Monsieur Le Directeur,


Send the tariff of services


From Aphinar to Suez.


I am completely paralysed, and so


Wish to embark in good time.


I must be carried on board.


What hour should I come?


I shall go under


And you shall walk in the sun.



 A shaft of sunlight on a golden barge,

The Nile recedes,


Antony recounts heroic deeds

Compares her to a rose –

He will forge his flashing metals

To chains and fetters

The Pharaoh knows.



 Surrounded by incompetence!

On the skyline Moscow burns.

Shoot the looters!

Give the stragglers all to death!

But secretly he carries

Cossack lace,

The coins of Empire

Will bear her face.




 In Memoriam - Hunter S. Thompson

A moment like no other 

Came and went -

The wave rose so high

When it was spent

 A different world emerged,

 Worse and better

 Than what had gone before.

 Charting it, your head full of

 Booze, your pockets packed

 With acid and sedition,

 You railed against the

 Villainous dull ache


 Of the everyday.

 Firing bullets

 At all and sundry 

 Till one hit you.



  (7 January 2006)



My dad loved art and Shakespeare,

Hated football and the royal family –

 He was born in Wormwood Scrubs


To a neurasthenic soldier


Who left.


Brother Eric died at five,


He told me this to burst a depression,


Revealed the secret of my childhood,


His dark youth, because he loved me


And wished to see me well.


Brother Tommy was killed at Arnhem,

 A mangled parachute in a nest of snipers,


I found a daughter and said


This is her because he loved me


And wished to see me well,


Her mouth was Tommy’s,


The same slant of smile,


And in profile


My dad’s Barrymore nose


In his knight’s repose.






Sixty years they loved one another


I missed eight -


Six steadfast decades


From Rommel and the ATS


To Iraq and the PLF


In their true love loyalty


They bickered and squabbled


And danced round the kitchen table


Shouting words of love.






Sweetly he went


His body riddled


With disease but in


No pain, he died


Serene, went to meet


No maker that he owned


Yet still believed


In a love allotted evermore.



Sweet father death

Into your dark stables


Take these hooves -


 Let them gallop!




 Silly me!

 Walking out on everything


Like the proverbial bull –


All that broken China,


Sixty million dead they say,


But I’m so busy with myself


I can’t see the wood


For the proverbials.









Pitched in the key

Of Solomon’s desire


He rent the veil.


Tired, love’s clichés


Smouldered at the chords.


The senses’ mountaineer


Climbed the scales,


The circle of a moan


Praised the unrelenting bone.



But in the modern age

The hero crushes death

With razor blades,


Sees it all in a mirror.


On the rocks,


Tim Buckley,


The narcotic siren


 Broke you.   






Here the Nineties aren’t so gay,

The pool where Oscar and Alfred lay

No longer hosts the earnest children

With their cheeks to the sun.


The seat of life decays,

Golden boys and golden boys,

 Bronzed in their rapture,

Recall those better days

As they timidly examine

Their pale limbs and paler hopes

Finding pointless the expense.


 Oscar, whose fetid body revenged itself

 Upon the wallpaper that had to go,

Bequeaths to Alfred the Fourth Estate

Who snap him supine on the tiles,

Where death comes as a lizard


 Gazing up at him with utterly patient

  Bulbous eyes.




Bring armour and a sword,

The surcoat, polished helm and mail,

Nightly you follow these commands

And watch this tall and silent man

Interrogate his prison of desire.


When the sun docks western cargo

Then I am gold,

Clear with golden light,

My very purpose glitters with false ore,

Resolved to leave,

Despatch and quell

This bitter insurrection of the flesh –

But her corrosive star

I name the acid of my will,

Dissolving fortitude,

Rendering all decision blunt.


A Queen surprised me,

Grain from an unclenched fist

Awoke the clay –

Could I then resist

To bare from shoulder to the hip

And hear fate whisper

Venus is delivered from her Mars?


Matchless in law,

The focused common will and scope,

Beloved King,

I do not betray you,

Even led at evenstar

(Myself my fatal shepherd)

A heiffer to love’s abattoir,

Where we are met

Without defiance or regret

In that white room

Upon that usurped bed.


Though long the Queen’s entreaty

And your forced march

Troubled eve and aftermath,

Does a storm question itself

Or thunder beg permission of the clouds?

Does lightning waver where it strikes?





Reagan saunters from the lobby,

A casual wave, his hair at seventy                      

A glossy supernatural black.

He thinks of Poland,

Regrets a favourite hunting rifle

He gave the President of Mexico.

The camera records newsmen, crowds,

The usual entourage.



Shots sting the airwaves!

Editors scramble,

Satellites become oracles,

Millions wonder if the deadline

Between flesh and bullet is fatal.


 And in those dead lines on the screen

The servicemen lose their secret faces –

Only the assassin keeps his.

The inscrutable masked vengeance

Spawned in the tedium of a small town

By an age that brooks no temperance –

Raised on soda pop, westerns,

The grudge against history

That at last is ours.

There’s no doubt here

Life has outmatched art.

Who could believe a plot

Where motive is a subterfuge.

Its own elegy, entire to itself?

That man killed Kennedy, that man King,

By that hand a pool of celebrated blood

Stained the front page.

On the sidewalks of Dallas and New York

The muzzle of that loaded mind

Took aim.




 The roadsense of my kind,

 Those vintage types

 Who traced a Grand Prix

 In the sand

Then dreamed of lay-bys.




I am a neophyte of The Golden Dawn

Fifty years after,

I see the symmetry of worlds

But not their meaning.

I am a shaft of lighning


 Burning up a tree,

 An incandescent bark

 Fanned to question by the wind,


 If the universe is song

 And we vibrating particles of sound,

(Thin quavers on the interstellar bridge)

What use am I?

An echo of the blaze

That has no keeping

With the tenor of the wind

 Or pine’s contralto.


Those who write by night must know

 That the vision of angels

 Is not that of birds,

And when they have written

All they expect to read

And find they cannot fly,

By the vehicle imagination

This can yet be done.

Rather than to hover here

At the entrance of a hidden way

And never gain admittance

Shall I admit that it is you

Who fills the lamp

And trims the wick

And have done with it?




 Knowing of the hunt

He chased the quarry of their love

Into the thicket of a rhyme

Captured the beasts’ dialogue

In the pivot of an adjective

And cadence of a line.



If words were gold

Then this hoard glittered!

But they are paltry things

Enclosing in the tomb of script

False grandiloquence,

When love, like Tamburlane,

Conquers all

But only passion reigns.



First words stray,


Then the restless Emperor

Rides away. 





Where stars blazed

And night was the lid of God

There became fixed points

And an assured renewal,

This Logos, absolving destiny,

Proclaimed the death of Horus.


But the man lived!

We saw his star,

And the auguries foretold 

 The face of Isis

 Would be revealed in a virgin

Scrubbing clothes on a stony floor,

 Moans and belly kicks and something



How then could we have known

 That one small cry denied the Aeon?

That the eagle’s span was not an ecstasy

But mangled with blood and thorns

Flight was difficult?


In itself nothing –

To he who bears the beacon

Adversity measures the flame –

Pain is the royal road.

But why is the path of majesty

On a fallen plain

Littered with the shards of a mirror,

The ancient polarity of above and below

Dissolved to opposites.


Tenants of the burning libraries,

Scribes of Tunis, Alexandria and Thebes,

Your prophecy has gathered a ruined harvest.

Know this: the ageless book is finished

But is worthless,

The swansong of a dying God.


           Symmetry of wood







A prophet makes his temple

On the surety of peaks,

Gives credit to the mountain.

A poet, giddy with the height,

Keeps one eye wary on the flux below,

Suffers from a vertigo,

Impersonates the real and the unreal,

Hammers with rebellion

The Kingdom’s rocky seal.


But if the energies decree,

Though every word is swallowed

In the next mouthful,

Oaths betrayed,

Neither promises nor the sacred kept,

What bush burns for him

And waters part,

What towers tremble

At the trumpet blast!


A prophet lives his teaching

Takes the circus out of words.

A poet in the ring

Stabs lions and chimerae

With his pen,

Trains words like fleas,

Is buried in the end

By the sawdust of his dreams.




Your mother made it seem

A fine thing to be an artist

In a broom cupboard -

But when you finally
Attained the garret
And the blank page glowered

Like an absolute stranger,

You realised that nobody cared
About Nerval hanging by the belt

He mistook in his wisdom

For the Queen of Sheba's garter;
And Vincent was a loser -

Richard Dadd slit the throat

Of his eponymous father

On a train, just to prove

He could paint like a god.

Old Ezra stayed silent,

The best thing to do,

That or change your view.




Slim Volumes: Songs
Lynne Munn: Poet
Richard McNeff: Actor
Wordlore and ELT