Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Yesterday and today, when cycling up Dame Street to Lord Edward Street, I saw an elderly man I used to live in the next room to, when I was a resident at the Iveagh Hostel on Bride Street, pictured above. He is a schizophrenic with cancer, and has deteriorated significantly since I saw him last. He doesn't look like he has long left.
He is one of those people who we know to see but have never spoken to. Like in any town, some people we have known by sight from childhood, but never a word passed between us. Strange, and yet, entirely human. A common experience.
I lived at the Iveagh from July 2004 to December 2005. It provides direct access accommodation in single rooms for 70 single homeless men with low support needs and there are 125 single rooms providing long term accommodation.
I moved there in July 2004 a newly (2:1) Writing Studies and Drama graduate, right after finishing university in England, living in a small room in the basement for the first six months, where the 70 short-term homeless men are housed; and then on the first-floor for a year, in the room next door to where the man I saw on Dame Street yesterday has been living for many years. And as a lot of the other long-term residents there also have. Some have been living in their ten-by-six rooms for forty years. And happy to call it home.
I moved there with the practical and romantic notion that I would test myself as a trainee three-year old barely between bardic grade-one Focloc and two MacFurimid ('son of composition') student-poet in Dublin, whilst living with society's poorest, of which I was one. It was a practical solution to my then homeless situation. As though I eventually got educated, I was for extended periods in my twenties prior to getting educated, in a series of similar hostels and in the same boat as all the men living week to week in the Iveagh, who I lived with for the first 18 months of being in Dublin.
I moved out after Brian, an alcoholic in his fifties, on one to three bottles of Jameson a week, discovered he had inoperable secondary cancers throughout his body. Brian was a really kind man, who everyone liked because of his openly honest nature, and at this point, I instinctively knew it was time to move out and look forward with my dream, that decanted a kilometer away to a self-contained studio-room on the first floor in a Victorian terrace off the South Circular at Donore Avenue.
Long term the Iveagh hostel is not an ideal venue for inculcating healthy eating habits. And with minimal cooking facilities making your own food is the exception. If I am honest, I am too much of an emotional coward, and though my moving out had been slowly on the back-burner to-do list for some weeks, I was spurred to move out the second of those final few weeks with him facing a swift and sudden end.
I was too spiritually weak and afraid and had no intention of witnessing someone i shared alcoholic tendencies with pass on in such a sorrowfully tragic 'private matter' before my inexperienced eyes. My emotionally privileged existence, being a happy reader and doggerelist in the life-long swim to Segais Well, I knew couldn't handle well -what proved to be- the month-long terminal decline and his death within weeks of being diagnosed after going to a doctor with excruciating headaches.
Before this however, the Iveagh offered a perfect balance to my writing. The writing kept me sane and the homelessness helped me keep a balanced perspective after arriving at the height -and through the final four years- of a mass cultural delusion and toxically tragi-comic social ostentation and default crassly nouveau riche Celtic Tiger affections - when sporting in the then new literary form of pseudo-critical spontaneous online trolling/freedom fighting in the battle of Ideas and on inherently unstable and shifting speculative sands of the discourse with poets at various literary-topic talk-sites I stumbled across and began writing and publishing linguistically innovative conversational doggerel at straight after arriving in Dublin and becoming a resident in the Iveagh homeless hostel.
When a well known poet dies, there is a brief outpouring of condolence, but not for the homeless men in the Iveagh.
The poem below was occasioned with this man as the human agent propulsing to life the fictional Sweeney of the title. And on this day of all days I think it appropriate to remember the forgotten men like the one I saw yesterday.
Sweeney spat flakes of monologue
to an invisible foe in room 108
before he took the plunge.
A flyer of thought
who'd lick round corners like a knife wind
sweep up shined steps
and cyclone through swinging doors
of the red-brick kip called home,
trailing an underbelly-aura of tramp-glamour
through the smell of pine-fresh floor-polish
lining corridors like the yellow smoke
of Eliot's Prufrock.
He'd wake to reality's nightmare
cursing in a feral wheeze or grunt
and shout about
"cunts....bastards....lazy wankers dying of cancer"
then bang a wall with his fist
and start the day dissolved in tears.
He never socialised
or idled with others
just the one time of a long chat with himself
in the communal area, before Oisin complained
to a warden, who shut him up,
stuffed him back in his dressing room
where he worked on the final scene.
A plasterboard box left whistling
as he stepped onstage at the shelter
at 8 12 and 4,
dressed in a drab bundle of grey rags
clutching a mug
with a look to no one
and none to him.
What demonic cause sucked his life
away behind the eyes
and forced his lips to pucker gumward;
curdle twisted words in his mouth
and draw sweat onto the one shirt
he ever wore and never took off?
Years of liquid cosh and ECT
beat and drained Sweeney's blood-bound scrap with life
nuked his mind and buckled his passion
on an anvil of despair
razed thought to a desert, where a phantom's whisp
baked his nut to the brain-scrambled recipe
a frazzled garda scraped from the pavement
and time struck from the memories of residents -
this spirit passing to assemble at the House of Donn.