PAL O’ ME HEART
A non-plagiarizing tribute to the novel AT SWIM, TWO BOYS by Jamie O’Neill
Arthur and Gavin, boys nearing manhood,
soon to fight for Irish freedom,
Easter Rebellion of 1916,
rising to expel the British:
Arthur slim under thick auburn mop
he shakes from his hazel eyes,
tossing his head to meet the world,
shyly biting his lower lip
at certain special pleasures:
honors in school for Latin,
reading of heroes in ancient times,
watching a sea storm:
Over gray water the waves peak white,
echoing lightning above.
A lad from a Catholic home,
he used to bind his hands with the rosary
not to fetch himself,
bottling his lust into fever
till his father and brother heard his moans
and said "Don’t struggle,
you can’t sell sweets in the shop lying sick."
Arthur’s reluctant to act his passion
for muscular black-haired anti-Church Gavin,
laboring son of the poorest folk,
who donned a kilt with him at school band,
curly black hair on his legs, dark eyes,
daring and quick, a sudden sharp grin,
who’s been with a man but it’s Arthur he’s loved
since the auburn lad struck in like thunder
to stave class bullies off Gavin the new boy,
soon to die wounded in Arthur’s arms;
but now, alone with each other,
(word’s gone out of Rebellion delayed)
an Easter morning sunny and cool,
they swim the sea near Dublin,
their bodies only as nature created –
"Dare your pope to say it’s wrong" –
clothes hidden dry on shore meanwhile.
They’ll carry them up the hill of new grass
but throw them aside to race about,
members bouncing and leaping, Gavin ahead.
At last out of breath, they drop to the land.
Alongside each other, on their fronts,
what work they’ll do in free Ireland,
Gavin a postman, Arthur a teacher,
living together of course;
enemy boys in school they fought:
"When O’Connor sneered at our so together
I saw your fist come out same as mine,
you’re the man for me, Arthur McNally – "
"And Gavin, we decked him, Monahan too;
and thanks to the priests, they’ll keep away."
"Why God made priests, you muddy red mop-head,
also for tickling us on the sly – "
"And who’s to stop them? tell me now."
"If any – " "You’ll be first to hear."
Now Gavin turns on his right to face Arthur,
nudging his pal to lie on his left.
The amorous narrow of Gavin’s black eyes,
his full red lips tucked in, beckon Arthur;
but when Gavin’s fingers walk up his friend’s thigh
to fondle his desire,
Arthur protests, and he lets go.
"A kiss at least?" "Ah Gavin, one day....
Please touch me face and tell me you love me."
"Arthur, I love you," and tenders his palm
on the cheek and brow of his auburn mate,
mussing and smoothing his hair.
"I love you meself, Gavin McCall.
Bit nervous about today I was,
bit nervous where it would lead,
and now I feel brought down to rest."
"Well Arthur, come to me arms, sleep so."
His drowsy lad he softly cradles,
gazing the water to lull his passion.
Naked they lie, alone on hill-meadow.
Soon Arthur awakens: "If we might stay."
They speak of Ireland’s liberty battle.
When dressed, Gavin sports a green uniform:
Will he take Arthur to see his commander
in time for them to march side by side,
"Like that we’ll be most together, Gavin,
lover-soldiers of ancient Thebes."
At first these words dislike dark Gavin,
silently fearing the fight, who’ll die like a man:
"You’ll join me in battle?
Arthur McNally, you danger yourself,
I’ll bate you blue-black, or wreck meself tryin’....
A teacher of Latin you want to be?
then keep in school, prepare so –"
"Gavin McCall, I’m grand at shootin’,
I’ll come where you – "
"Laddie, no tears, I’ll write you me place,"
an arm round the mop-head’s milkwhite shoulders....
Sea and hill, the quiet around,
invite them to taste a last day of peace.
Sweet hunger stirs in the freshening breeze.
His deepest desires tenderly roused,
held warm and tight by his black-haired Gavin –
will such a moment be theirs again? –
Arthur who’s never, now turns his back
and solemnly offers himself to his friend,
who gently warns it may hurt.
"Now think to kiss me before you come in."
"Glory be!" shouts Gavin; and when he does enter,
the pain to hazel-eyed Arthur is brief,
allayed by the taste and touch of his man.
"Are you fine so? It’s your time in me,"
but Arthur says wait, let me hold this feeling.
Gavin’s full lips now stretched in a grin,
Arthur openmouthed in delight,
they surge with love, groins pressed together,
limbs wide, hands locked,
their eyes all afire, another kiss panting
pal o’ me heart evermore.
editor's notes: This poem was originally published in August of 2008; Poet Barry Frauman has revised it and here it is, re-presented and represented in its intended entirety.