Peter O’ Neill


Peter O’ Neill






Death and Music


Words are places we go to meet people.

Some move like ghosts through the air

Summoning back the dead, or people

Whom we have met in the distant past.

Here is an example of such dead time.


After dinner, the musicians climbed up onto the stage

Like a group of pregnant women.

The audience shifted eagerly in their chairs,

In anticipation.

Were they now going to offer up some music

Of an unparalleled beauty or force,

Or were they going to give birth to a brewery?


Death is a box of feathers.

See, I can’t fly!

And death is skeletal like bones in the air,

Or falling upon us like snow or rain.

Death is as common as a teacup.


Unfortunately, the illusion of life is so complete

That sometimes you wouldn’t even realise that you were ALIVE.


Mandolin players know this instinctively,

But then, how can you encapsulate their agony in a sentence?




Paolo Conte


There will always exist the need

To have a sandwich or a beer,

But what of the consolations afforded by the cello,

Or the oboe?


What of the hour

When walls become orchards,

And women not birds

Sing to us from the branches?


What else can remind us of our dreams

When we are still up and walking,

To the point that we would even sing and dance?

And, after even all of that –

Clap hands?


See!… See! – si… si…


They fly!


What strange migrations

To warmer climes,

Like an affliction…


O what brought about the ice age?


Describe them for me

So that we may no longer ever sleep alone,

Even if our mattresses

Are built only upon corks!


Trace, trace their flight for me,

Till they nestle once again,

In perhaps a closer warmth.


O birds,

Trace their flight for me,

Trace their flight…




Homage to James Douglas Morrison

For Giovanna Nappi


“Did you know freedom exists in a schoolbook?”


Late October. Dry, breaking light.

Morning as cold and luminous as a corpse.

The wisps of cloud part like lingering vespers;

images of you evoked by a pertinent gull’s cry,

lamenting the rosy-coloured breaking that was spawned

from your mortuary, its cold steel finish,

the cardiac arrest, pronounced in your death’s, horrifying grimace.


Venice beach, California.

Libran equilibrium with Virgo in the ascent.

A Foucaultdean exploration,

adapting a Heaneyesque, linguistic stealth.

Eco-soundings. But how to rupture the academy,

their supreme, first-world, Apollonian calm?

Respect lies calcified off the coast of eternal regret.


Rome, Piazza Colonna; steel hooves echo along the cobbled streets,

evoking the seventeenth century: Bruno, Galileo and Caravaggio.

Knowledge as a flame, eternal, being passed on.

There in the kiosk, happy days, the newspaper vendor

is buried alive in a mound of paper and words.

See her burning like leaves in the November light.

A veil of vegetation blankets the baroque walls, her disparition.


Frescos on air! Baristas dressed up like admirals

commandeering the cafés, which will steer us back

onto the streets. Cupolas, domes and priests jettisoned

through the sky where plinths, columns and pillars flit.

Petrified stony faces peer out at you from above ornate balconies

which frame, apparently, solitary discourses being enacted

by apartment dwellers. But, back down on the street,


pedestrians cruise like miniature Ciceros in this

the second capital of rhetoric. I watch their hands

grappling as they try to grasp the unutterable words

parked there like invisible brick upon the air in front of their noses.

The preferred colours, to these figures, being:

blacks, silver and grey, and many differing forms of navy,

all hinting at mortality; wannabe Homers all, exiled from the azure.


While their women march, stride and amble along in boots

of every form, a fetishist’s kingdom. Knowing that us men

are visual creatures they tame us with their eunuchs

into obedience through our eyes. O rich silken ambiguity,

the hooves, a glimpse under the table, with Mathew,

muscular calves of the harlequins, those boys…

“Where’s my husband?” A tourist shouts up in alarm.


Here we are, exiled like Ovid, back in Ireland.

In the land of the barbarians. The first thing that strikes you

is the bloody cold. A fucking rock in the Atlantic,

battered and embittered. After Rome, t’is very plain fare,

all alcohol and misery and new money.

The only part of Rome you see here

is the influence of the Vatican.


Then one day from the turntable the baroque sounds

of the sixties grabs you by the juggler,

and the leather cocksman introduces you to the vineyard.

And with him you enter into a Greek world;

Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Dionysus through Euripides.

This Bachhic splendour lends some warmth to your days,

your teenage mind crucified by the Sunday’s spent upon your knees.


Next comes Nietzsche and The Birth of Tragedy.

You are seventeen, eighteen. Such a rich, heady schooling for such tender years. You love this new, sensual, androgynous figure,

which you find totally compatible with Christ.

Let the dead bury the dead, turning water into wine.

Now you are spiralling towards your first, real encounters with sex

and it is all related with death; for you want to die a thousand times.


Far from disused sheds and churning butter,

we have far richer subject matter here.

Enter Oedipus, Freud and William Blake

and a certain path to some knowledge with the Crawling King Snake.

More than twenty years on, just exiting the dark pool,

and I have finally made my peace with the Northern school.

And in all this time what have I learned?


As regards content, the context which was requisite

was more temporal, rather than spatial, and necessarily, exquisite.

The point being, that here was a dead man

speaking to me from distant years and what he had to say

was more relevant to me than any of my peers.

So, rather take with me the collected works of Jim Morrison

than the magnum opus of any Nobel- Prize winning academician.

Whom we have met in the distant past.

Here is an example of such dead time.



This poem first appeared in The Galway Review, 2013.After dinner, the musicians climbed up onto the stage





For Christian Thielemann


Such phantasmagoria, this architecture

Aural, composed on mere air…

A metropolis, borne over on a forest of strings,

And woodwind, transporting the spirits –its freight-

Through a sublime, metaphysical cloud,

Bearing all manner of fortune with it,

And the enraptured company of the Gods,

As well as the Damned; brass and tympany,

Their texture, all the chorale of the ancients,

With floral brow, feasting with the barbarians

Who crowd in serpentine plumes, their dreams

Of elephant, a testament at the wonder of their malevolence

Which would be their life forever barred to us,

If not having these gates through which to enter.



This poem first appeared in The Galway Review 2013, and later reappearedLike a group of pregnant women. in The Elm Tree, Lapwing Press, Belfast, 2014.











Peter O’ Neill was born in Cork in 1967.  His debut collection Antiope (Stonesthrow Poetry) appeared in 2013, and to critical acclaim. ‘Certainly a voice to the reckoned with.’ Dr Brigitte Le JueZ (DCU). His second collection The Elm Tree was published by Lapwing (2014), ‘A thing of wonder to behold.’ Ross Breslin ( The Scum Gentry ). His third collection  The Dark Pool is due to appear early in 2015 (mgv2publishing), and a fourth  Dublin Gothic (Kilmog Press) is also due to appear early 2015.

As well as being a regular contributor to A New Ulster, The Scum Gentry, The Galway Review, Danse Macabre and mgv2publishing, his work has also appeared in: Abridged, Bone Orchard, ColonyLevure Littéraire, Outburst, Paysages Écrits and  Poetry Bus. He has edited two publications for mgv2publishing: And Agamemnon dead. The Mauvaise Graine Anthology of Early Twenty First Century Irish Poetry (March, 2015), and Transverser issue 81 MGv2>datura Transversions of Early Twenty First Century French Poetry. He holds an MA in Comparative Literature (DCU) and a BA in philosophy (DCU). He is currently working on his tenth collection.

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