“You don’t have to like oysters” – poem by Paul O’Mahony

You don’t have to like oysters,

there’s nothing wrong with you

if caviar and truffles turn you off.

Though some will look down their nose at you

if you decline champagne,

it’s not a sin to spend your life

without a diamond ring or stud.

As for grand opera, Wimbledon, Ascot

and the Royal Tea Party,

you’re not alone in preferring to dunk

ginger nut biscuits in Earl Gray

and nibble soldiers with soft-boiled eggs

for breakfast.

I met one honest man who ate puffer fish

before his wife – with their Johney in mind.

He founded a not-for-profit that cared

for orphans in Somalia or earthquake

victims in Katmandu.

There are bungie jumpers, macro-biotic vegans

and others devoted to saving earthworms

from global warming,

before the bees run out.

You don’t even have to be like any of them,

if you want your tombstone to be admired.

Your legacy may not even be on your agenda –

and who cares if no one remembers

your greatest achievement?

No one teaches children to stand out from the crowd,

to plant their own standard

and translate their imaginations

into language you can use for talking to yourself.

Few parents instruct their offspring to ignore

advice from elders and betters –

which may be why I’ve yet to see

a mother feeding oysters to her darling

and a father making sandwiches

with earthworms or dead wasps.

You don’t have to have a religion

or vote for a political party.

You don’t have to love your teachers

or thank them for their work.

You don’t have to drive a car

or send Christmas cards to say you’re still alive.

You don’t have to eat too much

Or donate yourself to a worthy cause.

“Really?”

“Honest?”

It’s not even compulsory to re-read this poem.

Song for Mary Oliver on her 80th birthday in Florida 

As we say in Ireland,

“You’re one of us Mary,

you’re a chip off the old block.”

I came across you recently

when I was looking for something

– like a better life –

(not even sure what it was).

Not even sure what it felt like

the day I opened the door to you

and you came into the kitchen.

Almost certainly, it was raining.

You see, I’d never have written

“You don’t have to like oysters”

if it wasn’t for the sound of your voice

– the way you didn’t just sit in the chair

opposite me, but got out of the chair

and sat on my lap.

Every now and again, daemon-like,

you’d change form (not substance).

You’d hop on my shoulder.

A whelk, a blue iris, a river, a goose

(Oh no, not a river, another creature.)

Not only was this a new experience for me,

it was an old experience, returned

to poke the cinders

to see if any of them still glowed.

Poem for Aylan Kurdi Shenu

  

We are humans

I am your soul Aylan

your true humanity

I did not die with you

sinking in Bodrum‘s sea.

Who do you think washed you ashore?

Who painted your t-shirt red?

To Kos the adults took you

‘We promise home’ they said.

Who do you think will lift you now?

Who’ll cuddle you warm and true?

Who’ll bring your people safe from war?

Who’ll bury your shorts so blue?

I am your soul Aylan, your true humanity,

I did not die with you.