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Volume 10 – Issue 5 – New Poems – Scottish Review of Books
by Paul Durcan

Volume 10 – Issue 5 – New Poems

March 6, 2015 | by Paul Durcan

Il Bambino Dormiente

Last Tuesday I nipped over to Venice for a day and a


I needed to see one particular painting in the

Gallerie dell’Accademia

By Giovanni Bellini:

The Madonna Enthroned Adoring the Sleeping Child –

Il Bambino Dormiente. 

Needed to? Yes – needed to.

On the spit of dissolution,

Estranged from my family,

I needed to see again

The most affectionate yet sacred family portrait ever


Cheap Aer Lingus flight to Marco Polo,

Bus into the bus station in the Piazzale Roma,

Water bus down the Grand Canal to the Gallerie


Half-price entrance fee for a European pensioner.


Not many visitors. In a vast stone hall

I linger alone before Bellini’s small picture

Of all that it means to be your mother’s son

In the mortal world, all that it means

To be a young mother doomed. I needed –

As we need to drink water to stave off death –

I needed to see myself as originally I was:

A naked male infant draped naked across my

mother’s knees,

Sleeping the sleep of death;

I needed to see her slightly prised-open eyes

glancing down

At his sleeping visage, his tall, thin, grey, aged

features –

Il Bambino Dormiente.

I needed to see again with my own eyes

Her apprehension of the inevitable;

To check again that she does indeed have red hair

Parted down the middle

In a white veil

Under the flat gold plate of her halo

And that her cheeks also are red –

Not with rouge –

But with all

That is most virginal, auroral,

Most purely West of Ireland peasant princess,

Palestinian Jewess,

Her slender fingers craned tall in prayer.

I linger – I linger all day.


I stayed overnight in a nearby pensione

On the Rio di San Trovaso,

‘The Villa of Miracles’, which between the two

world wars

Was the Soviet Russian Embassy.

(The concierge archly confided in me:

‘We still receive the Russian clients.’)

In the middle of the night, after a catnap,

Having churned back up the waters of the Grand


To the bus station in the Piazzale Roma –

A young Chinese woman named Ya

From Yunnan Province studying in Manchester


Helping me find the bus to Treviso –

I got a Ryanair early flight back to Dublin

To settle my affairs and get ready for my own little


Meeting my mother in the big deep.


Meeting the Great Consultant

After having fasted from midnight, I get a taxi at noon, Driven by an easygoing, affable Wexfordman from the

Hook –

He confesses that he finds modern hospitals ‘scary’ –

To the Hospital – Level 5, Day Care –

For what the Great Consultant’s secretary by phone

Has told me will be ‘a procedure’.

As with anything to do with Health, it’s a Stations of

the Cross

The purpose of which is to cause the patient maximum

humiliation and stress.

Reception: a mean-looking, middle-aged lady with

dyed blonde hair;

Canine, snub-nosed, dismissive.

Onward to the ward: two young female nurses –

One human and warm and gay and bright and helpful;

The other brittle, curt, bent on making a nuisance of

herself –

Flings open cubicle curtains, instructs me

To get into a trolley bed.

Having undressed and wrapped up in a surgical

gown –

The usual, humdrum, pre-crucifixion scenario –

I sit there in bed for an hour and a half – waiting

Before being wheeled at speed down corridors

To the day-procedure operating theatre.

In position, I can see the Great Consultant –

His back. He does not deign to greet me

But in his blue scrubs stands with his back to me

At a counter, mugging up his notes,

Or, as he would pompously snigger, ‘consulting your


Finally, he spins around on his heel,

Vaunting a glimpse of boyhood’s homoerotic hips,

A young middle-aged, grey-haired, baby-faced gang


Who theatrically thinks of himself as the nurses

Think of him: as a God of the Hospital

(They refer to him never by name – only as HE).

Standing over me he gloats and glowers,

Informing me of the type of anaesthetic I’ll be injected


I ask him a question, but he ignores me – after all,

He is a consultant and consultants do not consult,

Certainly not with a patient.

And so I am injected and a masked nurse

Clamps my mouth, and the Great Consultant

Shoves a sewer rod down my throat

And fifteen minutes later I am trolleyed back to the


No, this tight-bottomed, pint-sized, Dublin suburbanite

With his Dublin 4 Great Medical Family pedigree –

His Rugby or his GAA field cred –

All-Ireland Championship medals or Irish caps –

Will not be doing any consulting with me today.

A boorish, contemptuous, conceited bully boy.

Three hours later, as I am departing Reception,

He passes me by, pretending not to recognise me.

But I put a spanner in his swagger and greet him and

compel him

To say ‘Ah, Mr Durcan!’ and I say to him:

‘Do you know what? You are a perfunctory little bugger,

But you have just done me for 600 euro – enjoy!’

1916 Not to Be Commemorated

The Irish government has announced that 1916

Is not to be commemorated in 2016.

On account of their 150 per cent rollback

Of the principles and ideals of the 1916 rebels,

The authorities wish to proclaim

That they do not cherish all the children of the nation


That the people have no right to the ownership of


That the people have no God-given right to freedom,

That the nutrition of good government is inhumanity

and rapine,

That the testosterone of proper administration is the

pylon and the wind turbine,

That the people have no right to speak

Other than in celebrity cliché, media jargon,


That all forms of humane speech are to be outlawed

In the light of the disgustingly visionary utterances

Of the poets Pearse, MacDonagh and Plunkett,

And the gay, casual words of the feckless MacBride,

That Liberty, Equality and Fraternity

Are prohibited substances in Ireland;

In 2016 anybody caught proclaiming 1916 values

Will be sentenced to solitary imprisonment for life

In a windowless room in a ghost estate.

The 2016 logo of Brand Ireland will be

In fake, high-end Celtic calligraphy:


Signed on Behalf of the Provisional Government


© Paul Durcan 2015

Extracted from The Days of Surprise 

Published by Harvill Secker at £12

From this Issue

Going Dutch

by Nick Major

What’s become of Kennaway

by Richard W. Strachan

Who Won?

by Kevin McKenna

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