Featured: A Conversation between Gerald Dawe and Philip Coleman

In 2015, the School of English will host a new website called Trinity Writers Portal, edited by Prof Aileen Douglas. Essays on a wide range of writers associated with the College will be published on the site, including a piece by Philip Coleman on Gerald Dawe. Dr Coleman interviewed Gerald Dawe in December 2014 as part of his research for the project, which is published here for the first time. 

PC: Tell me a little about when you first encountered Trinity, and how/why/when you came here? Were you aware of it growing up in Belfast, and to what extend did you ever actually want to end up here? 

GD: I was aware of Trinity back in the sixties in my mid-teens. A couple of teachers at my secondary school had been educated here and when, after faffing around quite a bit, I decided to go to university, not in the UK which was the fairly traditional route, but at home, Magee College was then very much in the public eye. It had been an important constituent part of Trinity College and there was a strong northern link between the College and Trinity. But then a political row broke out about where the new northern university should be situated – in Derry, where there was a university college, Magee – or in Coleraine, where there wasn’t. Anyway, the new university was built in Coleraine and that’s where I ended up a year or two after it was built. It was a fluke really. While I was there as an undergraduate I met more people who had been to Trinity, including Derek Mahon, and I had already met Michael and Edna Longley. I studied Irish literature and would have been aware of the great literary links between TCD and writers – like Beckett, of course, and others going back in time. Brendan Ken- nelly was the external examiner of my final year undergraduate dissertation along with Walter Allen, so I hovered at one stage and thought about applying to do grad study here in the early 70s but my supervisor, Alan Warner, suggested that the best route was to study with Lorna Reynolds in UCG as she was considered an expert in 19th century Irish fiction, the subject on which I was going to write my postgraduate thesis. 

After a short period of time working as a librarian in the Fine Arts Department in Belfast’s Central Library, that’s where I went, in 1974, to Galway. I had friends in Dublin whom I used to travel over to see in the 70s and we often went to events in Trinity, and I gave a reading in the Burke when Poetry Ireland was established, and a little later, gave a lecture on the Thirties Poets there as well, so while I was living in Galway and establishing a life for myself there as a poet and teacher in the university, Trinity was sort of there or thereabouts. I’d taught Beckett one year at UCG and was amazed that he didn’t appear anywhere else. And around the same time I had a correspondence briefly with Donald Davie who had written enthusiastically about my early poems [Sheltering Places, 1978] and he mentioned Trinity where he had taught at one stage. I knew by reputation Terence Brown, whose book on ‘Northern Voices’ and Louis MacNeice I had read and admired. And Brendan was of course a much heralded public persona and poet whom I would get to know very well and appreciate greatly in the years ahead. I also used in teaching at UCG Nicky Grene’s pioneering study on Synge. Bill Mc Cormack had been a lecturer of mine at Ulster and published some of my poems in Atlantis and he was at that stage lecturing in Trinity. And I knew and was beguiled by Eilean’s poetry collections as I’d reviewed her work in the north in the early days of Fortnight and in the Honest Ulsterman. 

I also met and read Eavan Boland whose books such as The War Horse and Night Feed impressed me greatly and who had been very supportive at the beginnings of my own poetry efforts when I moved ‘south’. But I hadn’t given any thought about mov- ing out of Galway. That was where my family was; and things were good there. We lived outside the city and I was working away - busy with poems and other things. But by the mid 1980s - trying to raise a family on what was really quite a low salary, travelling around giving readings and extra mural lectures, things were re- ally getting fairly tough. We had two children. The economy was shuddering to a halt. Tax was literally through the roof. My wife had been very heavily involved in women’s health and civil rights issues. And had also been much involved in establishing the first AIDS clinic. That was all very stressful. So we decided to take some time away from the pressures and went to Australia for an extended stay. I was giving readings at festivals and so on and the idea was to think about maybe moving there. As it turned out my wife’s mother died suddenly so we returned to Ireland the winter of 1987 and I tried to pick up where I’d left off. But my heart wasn’t in it and I was feeling frustrated and really, I think, I wanted to move on. 

By pure coincidence a job was advertised for a lecturing post in Trinity’s Department of English - as it then was. I applied, was shortlisted, did the interview and was offered the job. That was 1988. And it was down to replacing Nicky [Grene] for that year that I moved to Trinity and remained. I’ve written about that period in Trinity Tales: Trinity College Dublin in the Eighties (2013), describing the commute every week between our home in Corrandulla and a Dublin very much different from the Dublin of today, almost thirty years later. ‘Good Night’, a poem included in Sunday School (1991) conveys something of the experience of living in College. It was awkward being away from home for much of the week but I enjoyed the teaching - it was challenging and different and I was stretched in a way I hadn’t been before. And I made friends with many colleagues who impressed me greatly with their commitment to College, the students and their own writing. No one made a fuss of that, it was assumed. There was a social life surrounding the College life which is probably less in evidence now so I got the benefit of listening to wiser heads, vastly experienced writers and scholars in many different fields. They set the standard high and it meant you’d something to measure your own efforts against without being overawed by past literary achievements or smug about the past either, because you really had to prove yourself to yourself. I guess I just fell for the place and was lucky, along with the various visiting professor- ships in the States and fellowships here and there, to spend my academic life in Trinity, amongst great colleagues. 

PC: How significant is Trinity’s literary heritage to you as a writer (thinking of people like Beckett, Synge, back to Goldsmith and Swift, but also later poets like BK and ENC)? 

GD: The list of Trinity writers going back in time is luminously impressive. When I was editing an anthology of Irish war poetry it struck me just how many first class poets and writers have ‘been’ to Trinity, as students, as teachers. Some of them are world-renowned, of course, like Beckett, Synge, Goldsmith, Swift, Wilde. But there are also figures like Patrick MacDonogh, Leslie Daiken, and the peerless Jimmy Kennedy. It would be great to see them all together in a massive anthology celebrating the College and its writers. But I guess the direct influence you ask about is present and correct in the poets whose work I came to as a young poet myself, and of these I suppose Mahon is the one I would have been most aware of having grown up in north Belfast not that far from his own neck of the woods. Unquestionably I read through Derek Mahon and other Trinity-connections such as Beckett, and of course Michael Longley, a cosmopolitan Irishness which is unforced. I think there probably was also a sense of the civic protestant aesthetic associated with these writers which I found familial - not in a sectarian way - but simply a common unstated tone of irony, self-irony at times too, that shines through Beckett alongside his chastening, punishing clarities. I like the modern Trinity egalitarian secularism very much, it’s the way things should be, but the radical independence is waning with the inevitable corporatisation of university life and cultural experience in general - but that’s happening everywhere, Ireland and elsewhere. 

PC: What is the relationship between teaching and writing (poetry) for you? (If there is any.) 

GD: I’ve never had any problem ‘teaching’ poetry. I love poetry, and always have done so; trying to get that across isn’t so difficult though it can be demanding. I don’t think as a poet I have any particular privileged insights on teaching but knowing how, say, Yeats goes about opening a poem like ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’, the rhetoric of an imagined life in ‘East Coker’ or the tone of voice in Kavanagh, for instance, can help take a poem into a framework that’s neither too heady theoretically or too subjective. It’s really all about balance; about hearing what a poet is do- ing with language and what he or she is working with both technically and ethnically, that brings the best out of a classroom. In many ways teaching, when it’s not a daily grind, is a shaping of material that’s already been proven to be valuable and that what one is doing is trying to unpick the historical, structural and formal reasons why and placing this matter into some kind of critical context, out of which all the other options and comparative possibilities can be touched upon as well. It is not a jigsaw puzzle. It’s more like trying to articulate all the various elements of language over time. And of course sometimes you get off on the wrong note. That happens. Then the lecture hall can be a lonely place! But I’ve enjoyed exploring poetry and hearing what bright engaged students make of what I try to place before them. Teach- ing poetry for graduate writing students is technically different. You could have a class of all ages, many different educational and cultural backgrounds, and literary ideas, so it’s challenging to connect them together around individual poems and how to make the best out of the individual student’s talent which might well be in a direction completely unlike one’s own. But that’s all to the good I think. 

The more a developing poet (or critic, or scholar for that matter) reads – across time, across literary cultures – and reads deeply too – not just only what comes most sympathetically to their ear or eye – the better it will be for them. I have noticed in recent years though that students seem to be leaving whole centuries of poetry behind them, and concentrating – sometimes exclusively – upon late 20th century poetry. Of course reading Milton or Donne, or Tennyson isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But that’s part of the exhilaration of reading. You can rove throughout the generations like a time-traveller and end up in Canterbury, in New England, in Finisterre or in the middle of the trenches of WW1. 

PC: Do you see yourself as a ‘Northern Irish’ poet or does that term have any real usefulness outside of the critical/literary histories? 

GD: When I left Belfast in 1974 it sometimes felt as if I had become an exile, ludicrous as that sounds today. There was a very strong feeling then of ‘getting out’; of leaving for good. 

I wasn’t a fully-fledged member of the Northern Irish poetry group as I hadn’t gone to Queens. The ‘group’ was made up of several poets who I got to know and some of whom became friends but because I had left - even though I returned home regularly - I had a different angle on things back then. All this stuff probably doesn’t matter at all today. The moral-political geography of Irish literary traditions, the emotional mood music, if you like, is much less important than it once was. But certainly the Belfast-London axis of the ‘Northern Irish poet’ scene was dominant and I know southern Irish poets did feel a little aggrieved that they were in some sense outside that loop back then. But it’s all changed now really. Poets from here are regularly published in the UK and while their work might not receive the critical-media attention that poetry from Ireland had once enjoyed in the UK there is unquestionably much less interest in ascriptions such as ‘being a Northern poet’. Indeed it may now be passé, given the way fashion shifts. 

But I only ever really thought of myself, when I thought about these matters at all, as a poet who happened to come from Belfast. I was 22 when I left; I lived in Galway for 20 years and then 20 years in the east coast, as well as living for various different periods of time in the States and shorter spells in Switzerland and elsewhere, so ‘Northern Irish’ fades in its meaning even though I can recall how urgent and fraught those terms once were. 

PC: Belfast/Galway/Dublin: which place has been the most conducive to writing poetry for you, if any of them? Does place matter, in that sense, to the activity of writing. 

GD: ...Which leads on directly to your question about ‘place’. I found when I was putting together my Selected Poems that many of my poems are based in or around the seacoast (the north east and west, Galway-Mayo, south county Dublin) and also of other places where I’ve lived, such as the east coast of America, and in or around Geneva, Mediterranean islands. I can’t say that one place matters more than another. As you say three cities appear clearly in my own life so far – Belfast, Galway and Dublin (or to be precise, Dún Laoghaire!). But to be honest I’m not sure the actual places are what generates the work; its rather the inner core of living and experiencing different lives, the styles of living, based in these places that intrigues me: how time as history works its way through ordinary daily lives; the texture of home life. What it’s like to have lived then and there as much as here and now. 

So place does matter, yes, but not to the’ activity of writing’; it’s the point of departure for making poetry but it’s not the subject of what interests me. I’m much more interested, obsessed even, by the processes of change and how individual lives measure change, and deal with it. There are certain landscapes that I love – on the west coast, for instance, where we lived for so many years, but it was difficult to translate those landscapes into vibrant poems. Finding the language, the right tone of voice, the appropriate form and the belief that what you’re writing out of is artistically buoyant and interesting, that’s really what counts. And that, for me, takes time and luck and often a tricky period of waiting for the work to add up to something worthwhile. 

PC: As you look towards retirement, what are the things you will miss most about Trinity when you leave (if one can ever leave the place!)? 

GD: You ask about looking towards retirement from Trinity...Well, when it happens it will be the closing of a very special period in my life. I loved my time - almost thirty years – teaching in the School of English, setting up in 1997 the Oscar Wilde Cen- tre with Brendan Kennelly, Ruth Hegarty, Lilian Foley, Nicky Grene, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, and others. It was good fun too. But well before that, many colleagues at Trinity became good friends and we shared a lot intellectually and had a sense of purpose, not so much consciously voiced, but unstated, that Trinity mattered. It still matters as an institution, of course, but also (without wanting to sound, pretentious) it matters culturally, symbolically, as an international bridge between Ireland and the rest of the academic and literary world. We can call upon high scholarly and critical standards in the lecture hall and seminar room but also in the way the School continues to maintain in its key public role and profile with the engagement of writers such as Richard Ford. There is a robust tradition in place, going back generations, second to none internationally, and that needs to be understood and underwritten institutionally for future students and faculty. I don’t think it’s possible or clever to rest on laurels. What ‘things I’ll miss’ is another story: the buzz of new term, the meeting with new students, undergrads and postgrads, the sense of getting back as much as you provide in the form of intellectual and artistic conversations. But also simpler things – the look of College in mid-winter and the first sightings of spring, these images remain very dear to me from the very first year I spent in New Square. That never leaves you. And if I’m let in I might be back, now and again. But as you know a writer never retires, s/he simply runs out of things to say! 

Maurya

by Cheryl Julia Lee
 

After Bartley died, they wanted to know
how you could have forgotten the nails,
you who have had so much practice
losing sons. But leaving them out
next to the boards felt too much
like asking. So instead, each time a boy
walks out the door, you hand them a loaf
and put a nail in your pocket, and pray
that God sees one and not the other. 

After Ithaca

by Michael Kemp
 

Ladies and gentlemen,
we are floating in space;
together we are in motion
being each and both carried westward,
forward & rearward respectively,
by the proper perpetual motion of the earth
through everchanging tracks
of neverchanging space. 

They have determined our earth’s rotational velocity;
from the equator, our static journey
takes twenty three hours, fifty six minutes
& four seconds to complete.
From the micro to the macro,
all has been measured. 

O, terror of knowledge, terror of totality! 

Hold me, husk child –
the darks of your grey matter –
those known unknowns –
have to be mapped with black marks
like great lakes on yellow-drawn land;
between the material mesh of the flesh
are illegible sparks
that allow us to speak
to each other, like now. 

The boy would walk

by D. Joyce-Ahearne

 

The boy would walk with the sun on his face and his shadow behind him
so that light and heat were his only concerns.
The sun would rise and he would rise to meet it.
He would cross land and sky and go anywhere if the sun went there first, heated invincible. 

When it would begin to set, for a while he would walk with a falling sun.
But his courage would always fail with the failing light
and he would turn his back on what was to him a dying star. 

He would find his shadow waiting for him
and the sun’s heat on his back as he walked home.
Because he was afraid to walk home in the dark he never saw the sun set.
He would close the door on the last breath of day that always saw him home even after he had turned his back on it. 

Then one day he decided that if the sun could walk him home he could do the same.
And so he did, down to the end of the night
where he saw that black is only the end of purples and reds
and darkness is only the ashes of light, and should be treated as such. 

As he watched how the last flame of day licked the night
he walked the sun into black and found himself alone in the dark but not
afraid.
He turned his back on the night and walked home.
He had seen the glory of the setting sun fade into darkness
and he knew he could do the same. 

For my Father

by Rosa Campbell 
 

The Persian place is repainting and I take after my father
because there is no part of this life I love more
than walking past its fresh lick into the Dublin morning
to buy two litres of milk we’ve yet to actually run out of
and unreasonably fancy bread. I know it’s an excuse
for late March sunglasses in defiance of the early air, the
arrogant lightness of being local – keys swinging
in feigned nonchalance, no coat. “It’s evocative,” he says,
about every single place we’ve ever been, “it reminds me
of the south of France.” I meet my mother’s eyes, and
my sister stifles a giggle, but when we went to Provence
I think no man has ever been happier; left arm browning
out the window of the hire car, spelling our surname
for table reservations the same way I catch myself doing
on the phone with the broadband company. And always
getting up early to go to the bakery, an excuse to return,
baguette tucked under brown left arm, just as we padded
downstairs to find warm pastries on unfamiliar plates. 

Blackout

by Dean McHugh

The TV died—
Dazed, alert to our fish-eyed gaze
And suddenly self-conscious
Whipping shut the reflective curtain
In a violated and opaque display.
          We lit our candles around our table,
The matches reared their blazed helmets
Like an archaeologist’s troupe
Who with brimmed senses
Dig toward a lost underworld.
        Our kitchenware flirted in morse glints
Oracular, bringing to light
The play of wind and motion.
And staring out the window,
We saw astrology was possible. 

Haiku Poet of King County

 by Will Flemming

Drinking cool water
from a tin cup,
I think of stilled Basho haikus; 

I dream up clouds of
Cherry-blossoms, hung above
a nomad’s bald head 

encapsulating
mind and nature, side by side
in perfect measure. 

I can see him now:
beard and stick in blue meadows—
plucks a blade of grass; 

stoops in rest; salutes
a dim crescent moon, looming
over distant hills. 

Within his satchel,
a poet’s stylus carves out
wonders of the world; 

in his body twists
a poet’s wind-swept spirit,
craving sweeter words 

to transcend the poor
transience of infinite
sketches; immortal 

is the legacy
he leaves—an homage to the
fleet mortal voyage. 

With another sip,
I pluck a haiku poet of
King County up— 

setting off eastward
to retread steps; words; riprap
laid down by himself 

to inaugurate
a vacuum in the hollow
of the skull; a womb
              wherein the world is born anew. 

Fruits

by Dean McHugh

You say a kettle left open
Will boil itself to death. The sun, too.

You explain how
With so much of the world made human

There’s not much that needs remembering.

The wasps slither where we are— Around the fallen dates, though Tonight our orchard yields no fruit. 

The Silent Valley

by Jacob Agee

Butterfly polje, sometimes. A soft
Silence steeping in the heat, out beyond Kocáje.
Where admirals float amid scant flowers
And cabbage whites twine feints with lilacs,
Around the old stone walls. For movement, this is all:
This, and the evergreens’ odd breeze-sways at the rims. 

Stillness adjourns like the sky itself,
And all things are always still. 

Still are the trunks of the trees.
Still are the dry-stone walls and the drace,
And the karst dacha on the hill above
The still vineyards and the olive groves.
Still is the silence in the chairs in the trees
For the wild boar’s hunter-in-waiting.
Still too is the mine in the shaft
Left unexploded since World War II. 

And silent is the morning: no cock crows.
Silent is the evening: no dogs going at it.
A silent depth, out of earshot of all roads. 

I summer out there in the maquis,
Where it dips into the Silent Valley.
I know it, its half-left fields always empty,
The trailed ridge where snippets of sea 

Are seen between the hills. From the cypress’
Nod of ascension to the pale mauve on
A butterfly’s wing, it tells me as much as itself. 

Polje: valley, fields (Croatian)
Drae: brambles (Croatian) 

For Fred

by Rosa Campell

I hate poems about writing poems but all I’ve done today
is eat sugarsnap pea after sugarsnap pea and think
about the word “elegiac” a lot. I like it because it sits
heavy at the back of your throat when you’re done with it,
resting on your adenoids (is that what they’re called?)
like cough syrup. 

                   The cough syrup simile sits a bit heavy too, but it’s there because you’re sick, strung out on exercise
that you didn’t want to do in the first place (although I think
your adenoids are okay). 

                                                   I hope it’s reassuring
that bodily ruin as a result of the pursuit of the perfect body
is really a very postmodernist way to be ill,
and that even though you haven’t finished Infinite Jest yet
I’m pretty sure Foster Wallace would be proud. 

The Hatching

by Dean McHugh

 

Hatching of the Magicicadas
Summer, 2021

We have come here for terror.
For the fruit of seventeen years 

of nectarous roots, quenching
another new generation. 

The babel of Brood x escalates—
“Pharaoh!” ricochets through the plains. 

Exoskeletons from the moult
lie discarded as rifle casings; 

some still clinging to weeds, others
shuddering in the lunar winds. 

Rain hushes the season’s tumult—
the freshening of ancient waters. 

Locusts inter each other.
Like clockwork, metamorphosis turns 

from imago to disillusion.
A shiver runs down the soil
returning the electric sensation
to some unturning evolution, some history
from which all revolution springs. 

 

"Meniscus" of Corbally

by Michael Kemp

Malachi Clarke awoke in the bottom bunk of his friend’s bed, eyes swimming and head whoozy from the night before. He trundled out of bed and wandered fully clothed in to the kitchen of Tim’s mobile home, its small kitchenette having the facilities needed for Malachi to make his breakfast. 

Tim himself was dozing in eyesight of Malachi, hours after burying himself under a mountain of coats as a make-shift duvet. He had made his bed on the two cushioned sofa that sat under the wide sill of the bay-facing win- dow. The curtains were splayed to the side and so the reflected sun from the green sea outside reminded Malachi of dancing coins, the shine off it flecking at the side of his vision as he grilled bacon in a pan dolloped with butter. White horses, he thought, the name he was taught in childhood for the crashing white that arouse from the tumultuous turning of waves, the same that railed the amateur body boarders as they paddled forward towards Wales. The sun was still so low that he couldn’t figure if the day was clear enough to see the ridges of the dragon’s back. 

The stretches of pork in his pan began to sizzle and Malachi then cluttered through the drawers trying to find a plastic spatula to flip them over on to the other side, leaving their dark bellies facing up. 

Soon done, he flicked them on to a plate and dosed them in maple syrup, then lapped them up while planning the next few parts of his day. 

He would now walk from here out of The Nook- the mobile home site that sat on the southern cup of the town’s “C” shaped bay- and on to the main southern road that lead to the winding centre of town. He would pop in to one of the cornershops for honey Lockets or a hot caff- whichever he felt would work best for him. Then break on to the pier to waken himself with the wind before cutting back in to town for the uphill walk to home or the pitches. 

“Giizzzusssumma-dat-ya-fecker”, slurred Tim, his head no longer propped on the sofa but lolling itself loose in to air, beckoning conscience. “I only sed youcoouldve two” 

“Yeah mae”, Malachi replied his mouth full, “Ah cooked de las bunch and lef de res for yo on a plae.” 

“Sound buudzz,” muttered Tim as he rested his head back on to its perch and gained his composure, “I’ll see you by the Colours match later. Not that we’ll watch it- bit a green might be free elsewhere and I’ll bring my ’05 Finale for a bit of a kick.” 

“Sounds good to me,” Malachi responded before clacking his lips together as he finished off a glass of water “the only thing you can do on a day like this.” 

“Yeah man,” said Tim as he nuzzled the pillow and trailed off “only thing you can do.” 

Malachi looked at his watch then rose from the narrow boothseat in the kitchen, leaving sleeping Tim by the door as he walked along the hard ground and dry shrub of the estate, weaving through the mobiles in their myriad lots. 

Along the winding and grass-edged road now, the advent of pavement to walk on announced the impending arrival of the town itself, those layered and crowded streets of clashing architectures and buildings of unknown purpose. The jumble of its old redbrick and brutal concrete began to loom around him and he saw it all with the acute perception afforded by a hangover... 

The posh kids from the old monastery school were walking down in to the town. With black gowns folded and tucked under arm, their voices unbroken but already rolling their vowels, they marched in line, black leather shoes stuck out and walking at an affected 90 degree angle. The frayed wool of their white socks caught Malachi’s eye. 

Some of the kids veered off in to Sherry’s gym, the old stable that Polly Sheridan had fitted with free weights and a treadmill to catch some local inter- est. Malachi already heard a few giggles and strained clanks soon after the lot went in. He was already well down the road when he heard a loud “Fuck off, Cecil!” from Sherry himself, soon followed up by a more muttered “Get fucking real, you chancers” as they trotted out, surely to come back tomorrow. 

Malachi felt uneasy at the rate his hot coffee was melting the Locket in his mouth and how numbingly sweet it had all become, his tongue swishing from side to side amid the sweet froth. He spit a bit in to a bush like it was a spittoon before he was walking on the sandy pier that gave the town its name, Meniscus. 

However it came to be, the town’s “C”-shaped bay was often pummelled by the tide to an extent that water often swelled at level or above the pier and its wooden boards, only a strong Western wind keeping the spillage at bay, the water piling up like an overfilled glass. Any other time though, the water at high tide could swamp in to the bay-side shops and pool around children queuing up for Maoam and strawberry drinks. 

Swallowing the liquid gunk, Malachi opened his mouth and let the salt of the air ease the tang that assailed his tongue and tonsils. No more Lockets for the next while. He sipped at the nourishing bitter of his coffee as he started to feel the air’s chill as a lone cloud veiled the sun, and made for the uphill walk towards home for a change of clothes. 

Up to the lofty north of Meniscus, on top of the rougher hills whose crags separated her estate from the pitches, she sat dosing herself with eggs heavily salted. The “Heiress” looked out at the town, the concrete labyrinth below her that could be seen between the gorse of the lower garden, observing the future ruins that she would make fall. She noted the change of wind and thought already of how the water would run up and swallow everything up to the hills. 

 

Sleep

by COLM LENNON


The space is an empty room, or locked cell, the two characters facing the back

wall, which has two standing lights downstage projecting onto it. 

SCENE 1 

Alice: All my life I knew they were coming for me with airplanes and pop music, making cracks to let the demons in. Not all my life no that’s not true. There was a time when I was young when I think I must have been with God because that was something when I think about it now. I remember the first boy I kissed properly kissed I was thir- teen he was fifteen and it was the summer and he tried to rape me but he didn’t have a condom so he got cold feet. Our flat was overrun with cats my father died when I was fourteen he was never committed my mother just put up with it and I suppose we did too. There was a song he used to like when he was quiet he said that was the voice of God and of course we believed him, we said then why don’t you listen to it all the time. He said sometimes you don’t want to listen to God. He really loved us, and we loved him. We all did, there was love and cat piss and God sometimes. He never left the flat and he was scared to sleep, we used to read to him from the newspaper every morning and he would sit there in silence and take a bath afterwards and not come out for hours. On my twelfth birthday I went in to tell him to wish me a happy birthday but he didn’t understand he cut my hand to take the chip out. I still had the scar when they put it in four years later. I thought that was funny, it made me smile. Right before he died he thought he was God Almighty and it was the most wonderful week of our lives. The doctors said it was an aneurism, his brain malfunctioning, but I knew different because he had told me things that couldn’t be explained, least of all by them. He taught me how to see and how to think in the dark. He was the sanest person I ever knew. 

Bob: How long do you think we’ll last? Alice: Before we give in?
Bob: Of course.
Alice: I don’t know. Not long. 

SCENE 2 

Bob: So my friends and family are staring at me watching me, and the jaws on this thing are enormous, six feet wide with rainbows of teeth, and the ocean is up around me and it feels like I’m walking a plank but re- ally I’m already in the water, and I go under and there’s a bathosphere a cage underneath me and I swim for it fast as I can and the water’s pushing against me and I swim hard as I can but I should’ve kept my eye on those jaws because I wake up in the most horrible fright and I know it’s over he got me. Night after night I’d go to sleep imagining myself climbing down into the bathosphere and watching in terror as it snapped at me but couldn’t reach me, and slowly my terror would go away and it too and I would wait a long, long time before swimming back up towards the light and surfacing alongside the boat, climbing a rope ladder to safety. And for a while I would be a monkey in the jungle, or waking up on Mars with my sister on Christmas morning, but somewhere along the way I would find myself in the water. 

Alice: That’s it, that’s the only recurring dream you’ve ever had. Bob: The only one. 

Alice: I’ve had lots. I’ve always had one on the go. I’ve had one where I could go through telephones, through the wires and go right into other peo- ple’s ears and then out again, and this went on and on until I must’ve gone through the phone book. It would always start with the phone in my grandmother’s kitchen, and most nights I’d be minding my own business I’d turn a corner and there I was, diving into the receiver. It was just a pain more than anything else. I had another one where I was a Cadillac and I kept crashing into trees. I’d be in fairy land or wherever and suddenly I’m a car bouncing around a forest. 

Bob: Nothing scarier than that? 

Alice: Not while I was dreaming, no. My waking life’s another story. I had one where I was walking up this plush carpet and two doormen stood like this with their arms like this and their heads like this and you walked in and it was a circus, a woodland circus with toadstools and fireflies, and at the back was a gypsy lady who was a girlfriend of mine in this enormous purple velvet dress like one of those toys that never falls over, and the feeling I have in this place is one of pretending I’m enjoying myself while really I’m looking for something. I never find it. I’ve forgotten what it was. Ones like that are just strange, there’s nothing to them. Then somehow you learn to write them. 

Bob: You mean you make them up? 

Alice: It just happened gradually, more and more it’s like you’re awake in your dream, or more aware, and you start to remember them too. 

Bob: So you’re in control? You can do whatever you want, in your dream? 

Alice: Whatever you want. Well, it takes time. You learn. It starts off it takes you ages to remember, and of course, don’t really know what you’re doing. The first time I did it I was in the mountains, Himalayas white as paper walking with my father, and I sat down on a rock because I felt somehow that it couldn’t be true. He went on, disap- peared, and I looked up at the sky and I wanted colours and there they were and I tried for them. I can’t describe to you what it’s like. The whole world moves for you, a world that is infinite and all colours all shades, all yours. You are the only one awake in this world. I would fly to an island made of glass way out in the sea, my little Atlantis, then I changed my mind and it was a humpbacked whale and steam blew from its blowhole and down we went into the soda stream that was anything that passed through my head. I would will us out into space and there we were, swimming past giant squids clinging to meteorites as they rolled across the galaxy, spinning in infinity I really can’t begin to describe it. And whenever I wanted to wake up I would just touch my face. 

Bob: Just like that? Christ I wish I’d known how to do that . . . but what do you dream about? When you can see anything you want, when you know it isn’t real? I can’t even imagine. 

Alice: When I was down sometimes I’d go back to those mountains, those same Himalayas and walk the trail looking for my father but I never found him, and I would sometimes will all the white wolves and the bears and the penguins to help me and they would find him and bring him to me . . . penguins, I don’t know what they were doing there . . . and I would see him and rush down the mountainside to throw my arms around him but it wouldn’t be him it would be a dummy, a braindead stuffed man with stitches in his mouth. So I would fly somewhere or walk alone until I hadn’t the heart to go on and I’d wake up. So you see you can’t say there’s real and there’s everything else, because that’s not true. I don’t really know sometimes what to make of it myself, but when you’re there and you feel it it feels real. And you know what’s not real. So I couldn’t have him, I could have a tyrannosaurus rex to fly me to the pyramids any night of the week, but I couldn’t have him. So I gave up and instead I’d just float down a river all cold and silver down down into the earth dropping and dropping further down winding through caves alive with things in the dark and down until it was just a cold black tunnel and I would wake up with a vision of every bone shattering in my body, no, my whole body shattering like glass, all the pieces scattering in the dark. But I would be awake, or half awake, with that screen dead in front of me at the end of the bed and the rumbling deep in the walls. I’d wake up all alone no sense of time and once my brother was sat there on the edge of the bed and it was like there was something sitting on me I couldn’t move and the cold moved through my skin and he was in shadow but there he was unmistakable til the lights came on and he was gone. 

Bob: He didn’t say anything? 

Alice: No. Not a word. 

Bob: How long were you there? 

Alice: Six months, that time. Six months and he was gone when I got out. I asked after him and no one could even tell me what had happened to him. He was just not there anymore. My brother. 

Bob: I had one where I was walking through the hospital looking for my wife, very swanky hospital only it was a mix between the hospital and my old school, anyway, it was abandoned and I kept locking the doors behind me as if there was something coming for me you know? And I don’t know why but my heart jumped when I went round corners, anyway I get to the top and there’s my wife behind these plastic curtains and they tell me I’m sorry she’s dead, and I can see her covered in blood but she looks ok, she’s staring back at me blinking as if nothing’s wrong, but they say no she’s dead so I leave. And I felt relieved, I wasn’t checking behind me, I wasn’t scared to go round corners any- more. Outside the hospital there was broken glass as though someone had jumped through a window. Maybe that was you, huh? Alice: I don’t want to talk anymore.
Bob: Don’t say that.
Alice: Why?
Bob: Because what else are we going to do?
Alice: Well let’s not talk about dreams anymore. 

Bob: My daughter would be one year old by now. When you have a daughter you feel like God Almighty. You’re not yourself anymore: you are all of existence. You shed your skin because there’s this other thing that’s you and so much more and if you try to put that skin back on it’ll kill you so leave it off and let the wind blow through you and it’s wild and it’s terrifying and it’s wonderful, it’s like this other half of your brain is turned on. I miss it so much. I didn’t even know if I wanted a child, I was terrified. But my wife was pretty damn sure, and God knows I’d have given her anything. That’s what she said to me, the night we made love and I came inside her and she held me so tight it hurt and whispered ‘thank you, thank you, thank you,’ like she knew just how frightened I was, I mean I was pathetic. But I never said any- thing, I just hoped against hope something would happen, something else would take over and I would just become this other person. But you don’t, you become God and all the angels and the devil and every- thing in between, and you realise how tiny and insignificant was this thing you’ve left behind, this navel-gazing idiot you were only an hour ago with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Now you are all the weight of the world and all the shoulders too, and it overwhelms you til you nearly drop the baby only you’d fall with her and die. So you hold her close not too tight and not too loose, and like a sail she carries you out into open waters and you’re still scared when you look back at the man you left there, the man with the mirrors where his eyes should be, but as long as you look to the horizon you are the sea and the sun and the waves and all that is. This little girl. You are her world. 

.. .
(out) Do you hear that?
.. .
Do you hear me? Answer me, someone. What do have to say to that? C’mon, who will answer me? 

Alice: No one’s going to answer you. .. . 

When I was a little girl walking home from the shops with my mother one day I went into this field by our estate and waded in the long grass, my mother called to me to come back on the road but I knew she just wanted me to stay in sight, and I looked back to make sure I was keeping pace with her carrying the shopping on the back of the pram then carried right on hunting panthers in the Amazon, with the distant roar of the river on the M1 and the loud wet lawnmower noise of the jungle all around me, cutting a path through clumps of lush wild ferns and bulbous red carnivorous plants leering down at me, when suddenly I see it: down in the valley, below, hidden in the trees, the wheel-shaped lost city of El Dorado, spokes glinting in the afternoon sun. I race towards it, into the clearing at the edge of the cliff, down on my knees so’s not to be seen when my heart stops short. There by the edge of the long grass is the sleeping head of a deadly black mamba, lying in wait. I thank my lucky stars I saw it in time. I look for a stone to load my gun, when I notice something moving on the snake’s head – little golden flies, rising and falling, crawling over its eyes. Is it dead? Or just playing dead? But no . . . I look again and it’s a dog turd, shining in the grass, covered with flies. I look for my mother and the pram, but from where I am I can’t see the road. I look again at this turd, shining in the grass, when all of a sudden its eye opens, its tongue flicks at the golden flies, and it’s like another sun’s risen in the sky because the field is caught in a wind of fire, blasted with colours bulging and melting together, deforming, warping with the wind, the grass shrieks, bares its blades like fangs the unrusted metal specks on the spokes shine like sparks, burst into flames glowing like the sun, the field is on fire with showers of rainbow rain and I am staring into the eyes of this twisted black snake whose face dances and mutates with ever more deadly intention, poised to strike but all I can do is sit paralysed and hollow inside with this tremendous fear like the world is frying like an egg all around me and I am nothing but a speck. So when they sent me to school I couldn’t believe any of the things they told me, even if I might have wanted to. I had seen God in a dog turd. There was something broken I didn’t want them to fix. 

Bob: When I was young my mother said now Bobby I don’t want you to worry anymore I want you to forget about the past and I did. 

Alice: Are your folks still alive? 

Bob: I don’t know. Are yours? 

Alice: No. What do you think they’d think? 

Bob: About this? I think it’d break their hearts into pieces. 

Alice: Do you think they might be watching? 

Bob: I really don’t know. What would your folks think if they were still alive? 

Alice: My mother would take it, the same way she took every rotten thing life through at her. My brother would do something stupid. My father . . . I can’t help thinking he’d be proud. I don’t really know why. All his life, you could never really describe him as proud, not about anything, but I can’t help feeling, was it something he said? Or just something in my head? Anyway, are you hungry? Bob: Peanut butter blocks. Fat and protein. Alice: Want to share one? 

Bob: When we moved to the city my Dad got attacked walking home one night. I went down to the lobby and he was there with his hanky and his shirt all covered in blood because he didn’t want us to see, and my mother tried to take me back upstairs but he sat me down and talked about how there were bad people and everything the way you’d explain something like that to a child, I don’t really remember. What I remember is stepping out of the elevator and seeing them talking before they saw me, because it’s those moments you really treasure as a child, maybe treasure’s the wrong word, but when something’s really wrong and the adults don’t know you’re watching them that’s when you pay attention because that’s when you really see them. My mother was trying to keep her voice down but she was staring him right in the eyes going crazy and he was like a zombie, and that really shook my spine. She was shaking him like she wanted him to panic with her, couldn’t understand why he was being such a zombie, why he was just sat there fidgeting his hanky between his hands slowly like he was watching a movie while the blood was running down his face. I stepped out of the elevator and that hit me all over even though I didn’t understand why. Maybe because I didn’t understand. Then he saw me and he forced a smile, and he was a different man. Moments like that they become like anchors for your memory, whether you like it or not. 

Alice: I remember my brother and I looking up at the jet streams in the sky and wondering what they were, why they were there. Planes coming from the airport used to pass overhead all the time, so why did these ones leave a trail? And anyone we’d ask, my mother or a teacher or whoever would just tell us that’s what they do. That’s normal. And I could never understand where everyone got the idea that normal meant everything’s fine, no need to worry. Why people just naturally assume all is right with the world. Do you think we’ll win? 

Bob: Win? 

Alice: Yeah. 

Bob: I don’t see how we can win. 

Alice: I don’t mean live. I mean win, there’s other ways of winning. 

Bob: Like beating them somehow, at their own game. 

Alice: No, like playing a different game entirely. What do you think it is they want us to do? 

Bob: I don’t know. I don’t think it matters. Go out quietly maybe. But even if we don’t, it’ll still be entertainment, for a while. And it’ll have a message, I expect. 

Alice: Get plenty of sleep, you mean. 

Bob: No, don’t . . . look down, don’t look up, just keep the wheels in spin. I mean I guess that’s what they’re getting out of it. 

Alice: Don’t open your eyes.
Bob: Exactly.
Alice: Then we’ve got to keep them open. Bob: What, forever? 

Alice: For as long as possible. Til the end. And we don’t beg and we don’t bargain and we don’t say a harsh word or lay a finger on eachother we just sit here and we fight them, we just sit here and we don’t blink not once til they have to come in with their rifles and take us out and shoot us in the back of the head because that’s what they promised themselves they wouldn’t do. And when they’ve broken their cool in front of half a billion people then we’ll have won and our existence and all our sorrow will have been worth it for that. Do you think we can do it? 

Bob: Alice, you’re amazing. 

Alice: Do you think we can? 

Bob: It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be hell, but yes, I believe we can. 

Alice: Believe is no good, swear. Here, bite your finger like this. Good . . . there. I swear I will not close my eyes. 

Bob: I swear I will not close my eyes. I swear it on the dog turd. Alice: Good. Well remembered.
Bob: Alice, they’ll be watching.
Alice: Make love to me. 

Spotlight comes on them as they turn to face the audience, seated like John and Yoko at an imaginary piano, as Bob mimes ‘Imagine’ over a backing track. 

Lights down.