Category: poetry

Ode to an ash tray

Fellow vassal of need, honest companion,

we residue collectors, exiled together,

in this garden of earthly delights we incense air,

light-bearers of extinguished hope and

heirs to the throne of desolation

Vessel for the ash of my leisure

Little reminder of the end of pleasure

You hold my future,

Asher to ashes

It was fun while it lasted.

The Banquet’s end

It is a universal truth that there exists between man and inanimate objects a mysterious. Astute observers of humanity, such as Woody Allen speaks of the “innate hostility of inanimate objects to man.” I concur. My contribution to this dialectic is a response to one of humankind’s worst inventions-the public toilet roll dispenser. Where they fail in utility, they succeed as effective metaphors of modern existence. They hold within them the promise of ease-of-use but despite their failure to deliver, they continue to keep us hoping that next time it will be easier and better. It seldom is.

Ode to a banquet’s end

When in haste to this enamel throne I come,
the world behind me, I am, as made, alone here, undone;
my kingdom’s laid bare – its mystery revealed:
all human endeavour’s are a folly unrivalled, 
while the high and the lowly are at table divided,
men’s stations at banquet, are at toilet suspended.

But after thine bowels for thee here have toiled,
Alas, now be warned, the encore is spoiled,
this paper dispenser would have you stay soiled.

Were Dante alive now his inferno would tell,
this plastic contraption’s the first ring of hell.

MJ Scallan

How to watch a sunrise: morning

I was going to title this piece something minimalist like “morning” but I’ve found that adding ‘How to‘, to anything seems to gain readership. It’s one of the things a writer does, write and then find readers. So, firstly, thank you for taking the time to read this and to those of you who regularly read what I put out, thank you. I do not take your continued support lightly. I am currently exploring another writing site that hosts some worthwhile content, it’s called Medium and you can click on the name to take you there, after you’ve read this. It’s well worth exploring since it caters to a variety of genres.


It’s 6:30 am. I’ve been up since 4:30 grading English papers. My students appear to be struggling more than I realised. Now I am. Self doubt rises. After the 10th paper it has convinced me I might better serve the community in some other way. I start an internet search for local jobs, anything … postman! That sounds appealing from where I sit. Bukowski did it.

But, I know I won’t. The same way I secretly know I’ll probably not do so many of the things I said I would: like skydive (why did I even say that?), like ride to Key West on a Harley or travel the world in an old panel van or climb Mt Kilimanjaro, swim with dolphins, smoke a cohiba in Havana, talk books ‘n stuff with Stephen Fry, or … the bucket list disappears beneath an endless pile of essays. No. I won’t become a postman. I would stroll rather than walk, forget to post the letters, talk for too long to lonely people waiting for news from someone, anyone. I’d be a rubbish postman. I owe the bank too much. I am locked in for life.

Soon I am approaching the shadow world I know only too well. The bull that lives there shudders, ready to charge. Its front hooves rake the ground, it snorts. I make a cup of coffee. Sit outside, knees propping up my elbows, the coffee has little appeal. I get Macbeth,

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;

I breathe in too deep, cough. I look up.

It is immense. How did the sky stretch so wide? Has it always been so? So high (it seems daft to state the obvious. It feels I am noticing it unfold from space for the first time) and so low it feels that if I held up my arms I could stir the colours like I was Monet and God. Something within, that unidentifiable aspect of ourselves that is lost in the day to day doingness of things alerts my senses. I want to find words and the voice from that inner region grabs me by the scruff of my nightgown and says: “just look. Just feel. That’s all you need to do.”

So I do. I lose the need for words. I soak in the glorious warmth of burning pastel light. As the light grows brighter and the sky shifts to blue I take out my phone again and start finding the words. I can’t help myself. It is an impulse too ingrained. If I have not squeezed words onto the page, it never happened.

But, soon the moment will strain under the weight of the day. Pressed cold, olive like, the essence of it anoints me. Not as king, my kingdom is overrun by barbarians who have taken my crown and placed a number to live by in its stead. No, I am anointed as something better than a king. The sun anoints me renegade, maverick on walkabout in a world gone mad. I grade the papers with my old eyes. The ones that prompt the tongue to say

“here are your grades, but what is more important, I saw you loved the book and that will stay with you longer. Trash the paper, let’s read. Let’s read about sunrises and mushrooms and walls and old men on blasted heaths and then you may stand a chance.”

“A chance for what they will say”.

To which I shall reply: “If you can hold onto a poem longer than your mortgage contract then you might just survive this life. Then, scattered randomly through the interminable days of drudgery ahead of you, there will be sunrises that will take your breath away and remind you that in the light of that, nothing else really matters.”

The Sisyphus pearl

Sisyphus polished rage pearled purple


iridescent layers of loss rough to the

touch. He did not heave

some slipping century smoothed,

huge knuckle crunching boulder,

but bent double around a


stone of perpetual despair, a

reminder of gone people, gone things.

And poets pocket the same stones,

picked up

after placid crowds or from river beds


gardens where they were kissed and


gravestones and deconstructed


Who of us who hold them now have


filled our pockets on walks by the


But, we carry them and carry on.

After the storm

Pick up and burn the dead birds

there will be more where they came from.

Turn over the pots blown down.

Sweep the scattered soil into the garden

(or a dust pan and discard)

Honour the dead by carrying on.

Pick olives and bottle them.

Next year the tree may be gone.

Sustainable love

all across the sky of today

I have stretched your name, even

on the impossible ocean

of tomorrow in foam

I flung you

for all to see,


and ceaselessly I corral my hushed

spirit onto the sand

in crashing rolls

of hello.

I say I love you still forever so

go down to the beach and hear

What is a poem?

Words. Life distilled. The endless returns, returned to one last time. The furry creature in a dark room trapped. It is a hunt. It is the aah yes in the surest, quietest place of self, located somewhere between the toe and the brain, that the condition of life is now forever changed and then the compulsion to set out the truth of that in words. To say for oneself something true for the first time. To locate an original idea and attach to it words. Words. To write for oneself. To write oneself into the event of life. Because in the beginning were words and I am not yet ended. It is learning to look. To trace in the creased linen of the bed sheet the valleys and hills of one’s being. It is a reason to find reason to continue, if only to watch dead leaves and breathe softer in the trudge.

It is archival for the soul. The soul’s bridge home from the toothless, friendless age. It is a note to self (a parenthesis in everydayness in which i say what i did not know i knew). It is the breathe of the soul spoken. The unutterable uttered. It is the deep yes, the womb where words first find form. It is the why of our woes and bliss. It is the eternal isness of a thing stepping into the light. A closing of the eyes to see.

Officio Rex


They navigate us,
Boats at sea
from windowless offices:
•river views with underground parking.
•3rd storey (higher purpose).
•air conditioned at 21°C (stable).

Creating circulars to circumnavigate the bold.
Contextualizing the world (one circular at a time).
Reviewing them that create it.
Coordinating the rules that govern them.
Grading and paying them.
Your opinion is
important to them.

Birthing a shadow

I’m birthing a shadow; pushing out a form from within, and

glad to have it out –

to end years of kicking and

pushing and peristalsis in my brain, my

birth canal.

But now, i am shaped around the form that is gone,

the thing got the best of me.

left me squatting over a puddle

where my soul once was.

What did you do there? God will ask me.

I shall say I leaked.

working with air

I wish to unfold myself.

Spread out the contents of my head to better see

what’s in there where

nineteen thousand and ninety days

give momentum to my stride


across the blasted heath


Yesterday a sunrise was beginning there I swear.

I recall a thought, I think …

I forget – what,

what thoughts I have formed,

what forms the worlds I created took,
from which form I framed this version of what I have been?


I remember much, but little of my being,

of time bleached days now

soft stains on the snaking matter of brain i strain

to know If I  turned out ok in the end.


I’m unfolding myself now

I’m air.

I work with air.


MJ Scallan



Sisyphus writes back

Sisyphus writes back


Four centuries pass too slowly for rock heaving rogues,
for God’s sentries failed to tell Him a man caste out has will,
so deaf to me He held in flux what deftly moves us still,
the motion of the seas, the sun, the cycle of moths

Tormented toil has taught me this-
grants these words a force;
a gravitas, a mind that sees and now shall call it thus-
I move boulders, God moves stars;
my pebbles roll, his planets swing; mine in hell and his up there …

My grave waits; His lies cold.

I blister heaven with my prayers; grow callouses on my heart,
Pushing a rock on a rock, the eternal sickly cycle,
sickle minded we tread our rut,
we carry on, we’re carrion
Samsara has us beaten,

I, Sisyphus am done.

By Michael Scallan

The history of the world

Blooms fall,
People fall,
Falling is death,
People are flowers.



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The day Dickinson got rapped

So there I am with my unruly pack,  in the library,  to read. Yeah right!

A handful of serious readers are face-planted in their novels. The rest,  the other 22, form clutches sprawled around our awesome student friendly reading room. Here three boys each have a copy of Guinness World records and they share bizarre facts,  a competition to see who can find the grossest recorded fact. They’re engaged,  all good.

Over there two students are doing some strange yoga or getting comfortable, too early to tell. There five students are draped over the comfy floor cushions,  giant multi-coloured squashed marshmallows. They’re reading magazines and graphic novels. One student is going the extra mile and reading his book upside down, a copy of “Where’s Wally?”.

Two girls are cocooned in the reference section, almost asleep. Lucky them!  Then there are the boomerang gang. They keep coming back with new ways of testing my ingenuity and patience.
Fancy a game of poker with us?  Tom winks while dealing to Steve.
I’ll show you a trick sir,  then we’ll read,  ok?
I say okay like it’s my decision. The trick is good,  really good but I don’t say wow! Not yet.
One more? Tom says.
One more, and tell you what,  I’ll read to you. Deal? I ask.
Deal! They echo in unison.

True to their word they do the trick, make the queen of hearts reappear, drop the cards into the plastic box and lok at me expectantly.

Tom, you’re the musician, beat-box for me I say. I happen to have my poetry anthology open at an Emily Dickinson poem, should be interesting to say the least.


Tom begins a rhythmic tapping of the table, sounds his tchook, tsk, pututt …

                                               Because I could not stop for Death –
                                               He kindly stopped for me –
                                               The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
                                               And Immortality

I’m more shocked at how well Dickinson lends herself to rap than the sudden attentiveness of students. We do another stanza and another and now i’ve created more noise than all of the students i’ve been shushing since we arrived. Somehow it seems ok. I page through my anthology screening lines for rhyme. Lord Byron …

                                                             And thou art dead, as young and fair
                             As aught of mortal birth;
                                                               And form so soft, and charms so rare,
                             Too soon return’d to Earth!
                                                              Though Earth receiv’d them in her bed,
                              And o’er the spot the crowd may tread
                                                                                      In carelessness or mirth,
                              There is an eye which could not brook
                                                                           A moment on that grave to look.

It’s a revelation, I think I get rap! It’s awesome! I feel like a kid discovering sherbet for the first time. I have a selfish thought, if they’ve learnt nothing, stuff it – that was amazing.

Soon it’s time to pack away and on their way out two girls are jiving to a line of Byron while Tom slaps Colin’s head in lieu of a table.
Thanks for the lesson sir, they shout after me…

Thank you all I reply.
On the way home I’m rapping the witches scene from Macbeth
fair is foul
and foul is fair
Hover through the fog
and the filthy air…

staccato beats on the steering wheel, foot tapping, in minutes my heart rate is up and and I’m smiling wide, this has got to be good for me. Does this mean I’m a bro in the hood? Too far?

Walking on sand


I love the yielding, generous nature of sand
Holding my presence for a moment.
Long enough for the earth to remember how,
This walk lasted forever
In my mind.

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A teacher’s sonnet

DSC_0178Let me not to the marking of scripts

Let me not to the marking of many scripts
admit ineptitude. Sanity is not sanity
which fails when it flaws finds
or bends with the writers who are deluded.
Oh no! It is an ever flowing cup
of coffee trudged through calloused catacombs to invigilate
in the long grey hours that are cold, lonely, never up.
Oh these hours on hours on days. These days I hate.
Sanity’s not for sissies, fool! It’s a fragile brew
within the double coiled loops of this lamentable distillery
where load shedded neurons along the grey folds are few
still hoping through hell for relief from this pillory.
And if it be shown that this is sanity
I’ll trade my next paycheck for a frontal lobotomy.

M scallan