When this is all over: Day 10…from Phrenologist to Quizmaster


after Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin


When all this is over, said the phrenologist,

I shall spend my days at Walden Pond

where white rocks line the far shore

like so many discarded skulls.


I will hoe the yellow loam and plant rows of beans, 

walk to Concord in my own company

to buy a bag of rye or Indian meal, forget 

the rag-stoppered bottle of yeast 

spilling in my pocket.


I intend to live on pine nuts, huckleberries,

test my constitution 

in the daily chopping of firewood, 

wield my borrowed axe with tenderness,

free from the troubling cartographies

of other people’s minds.


As for neighbours, I  shall visit only the Irishman

in his turf hut, stand for want of a chair

listening to the fishhawk’s cry,

the distant laughter of the loon.


Come winter, I will lift the largest rock

and hurl it to break the lake’s glassy surface, 

gather ice and retreat to my cabin,

wet my razor in thawed water, 

find my face in the broken mirror.


Prison Officer


When all this is over, said the officer of the prison,    

I’ll don my sunflower cocktail dress with heels and a cashmere shawl,   

wear bright red lipstick, diamond bracelets and earrings that glisten,  


I’ll step out – unescorted, hair loose – with wild racing frisson  

into a boundless garden of freesias, daisies and windfall.

When all this is over, said the officer of the prison,


I mean to invest in a velvet chaise longue and envision

installing a large freestanding Verona bath where I’ll loll

wearing nothing but a bright red shimmer and skin that glistens 


till it turns to cream. I’m going to keep roosters and chickens

to chuckle with, live open-plan and knock down most of my walls                      

when all this is over, said the officer of the prison.


I want to forget my surname and the sounds of derision,

inhale Chanel, dine on filet mignon and dawdle in malls 

where warm lights purge as I sip chai from my china mug. Listen


to the summons of the wind. I will stand beside the mizzen,

sail across oceans, along rivers, past plunging waterfalls –

when all this is over, said the officer of the prison,

wearing a blood-slick from a tanked inmate whose mouth-froth glistens.


Probation Officer


No, I never took my work home with me.

At the end of the day it was always 

lock away files

shut down the computer

go home. 

Leave behind the secrets and nightmares stored in tattered files and rows of hard drives.  

No ‘how’s your day been?’ chats and pray no work related dreams.


No I didn’t let the job get to me. 

Twenty years of there but for the grace of god

and trying to find the good in folks

and empathy

and help

and fear.

It was years ago, I’ve forgotten most of it.


Except for

the abused woman who finally retaliated 

and the unrepentant grandfather who was only showing his love 

and the lads who loaded the wheelie bin with its gruesome cargo 





there were more.  So many more.  

They sit on my shoulder and whisper you could have done better. 


But no, it never bothered me, the job.




When this is all over, said the quahogger,

I will stand, steady and solid

On hardened sun-heated tarmac

Glinting liquorice-black at dusk.

I will walk, feeling the solid slip

Of boot on stone.


When the unyielding earth settles,

And the paint-red dust has finished 

Exploding around my feet

In petulant clouds

I will reach upwards to the heavens,

Feel the depths slipping away

From my too light arms.


Every day, I will savour an unsalted hunk of beef,

Resplendent with scarlet blood.

I will taste its earthiness.

My home I will make far inland,

Deep in a forest where the horizon

Hides like a fugitive.

My song will be the razor-sharp chittering of raccoons,

Slicing the velvet shadows.


I will summon the moon

To relinquish its hold

And I’ll watch the stillness

settle like a mantle.



 after Eiléan Ni Chuilleanáin


When all this is over, said the questioner,

I will put aside my face

and smile at children in the park

holding the hands of young mothers

who have all the answers.


I intend to take up still life drawing

and write a history of serious words.

I want to sleep in a dreamless room

with no crimson wallpaper or corners

no heavy chairs from dead offices.


I want to see the sun rise without a soundtrack

and hear throats singing only hymns.

One drink will be enough.

You know why I’m telling you this, 

don’t you.


The Quizmaster

When this is all over, I’m not answering any more questions.

I’m not going to choose between the six wives of Henry VIII

or explain the meaning of onomatopoeia.

I won’t care which is the longest river or the highest mountain.

Famous footballers can dribble through my fingers, and

celebrities and pop stars can f-fade away.

I won’t recall who signed the Magna Carta or who

discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun.

As for Agincourt, Trafalgar and Waterloo, they’ll be

dates for others to fight over.

Wembley Finals, Wimbledon Finals, Olympic Finals,

will finally have no hold on me.  Mozart and da Vinci needn’t

darken my door again, and there’ll be no capital in knowing

how to spell Reykjavik.  I no longer want to be

the one people turn to for all the answers,

but grant me instead the bliss of ignorance.  I will fill it

with thoughts and meanings of my own.

Who was it said the pen is mightier than

the sword?  I will not know and would not tell you if I did.


And if you’re wondering what treats are in store for tomorrow, I’m not telling . And I’m not telling you what a Quahogger does for a living x

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