Jon Hanna

I was relentlessly bullied from day one at secondary school. I met you and here was someone who appeared weaker than me and I did what many bullied people do. I passed it on. I bullied you. I remember laughing with glee that the focus of the bullies was not, for a moment, trained on me, but had found you instead. I knew it was terribly wrong, but like a sheep I did it anyway. But you never ever did the same. You never passed the torment down the line, because despite appearing weaker than me, you were stronger than any of us. As I grew up alongside you, I gradually realised that you were better than me. I learned from your forgiveness of me, and I learned how to be forgiven. I learned to accept and celebrate difference. I learned a little humility and gained a little maturity. Thank you, and sorry. Sorry always.

I learned from you how to generate complex maths equations to describe the world around us. I learned from you, painfully, to play chess properly – I suffered one hundred and seventeen defeats at your hands before I finally gained a victory (I suspect that first victory was a gift). But soon after, we were evenly matched and I loved our games. I loved the development of my intellect in jousting with you. There were times when you could be a veteran bore, and times your wit and intellect and humour were soaring. Your mind could be in the gutter one moment and then lift to high and unassailable parapets of virtual genius. You were awkwardly gentle, clumsily warm. You were smarter than any of us. You were “not wise, like” but you had wisdom. You were funny, but so clever some of us didn’t always get the joke. 

I remember your struggles with your sexuality. I was so honoured that you shared your struggle with me, and so proud of you when you came out. I was proud by then to call you my friend. And then, one day, school was over and we all went to university. We scattered to different ones. Distance and time inveigled their way between us. You remembered me when you first got married and I was overjoyed to celebrate with you. Then, I moved to the other side of the Earth, and the tyranny of time and distance again crept up. And so it was, until last year, when, after losing my mother, I was overjoyed when you materialised to meet me in a Dublin pub. That was the last time I saw you. It was lovely. Same deep warm muffled voice, same loping walk, same awkward warm hug. Same man. A good man. A great man. A gentle man. A kind man. A passionate man. A goofy, geeky, principled legend of a man. I will miss you, my friend. You were the most truly unique individual I have ever known. The world is richer for you all-too-briefly gracing it, and much much poorer now that you’ve left it. Some knew you as an activist. Some knew you as a father and a family man. I knew you as a kid. I knew you when you were just becoming. I watched you carve your own path, and truly dare to be different. To be yourself, no matter how hard that sometimes was. 

Your children will one day know what you were. They’ll be so proud of you, I hope. My sadness is nothing compared to what your family will feel. 

Oh Jonathan. Goodbye, old friend. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for forgiving me. 

Fallen flag and fallen king by Domhnall Brannigan

Beautiful painting of Jon, by Shubhangi Karmakar (with permission)

Rest in peace. Rest in power. 

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Rosella


I watched the resplendent rosella with inexplicably emotional delight. Then the explanation came to me – I was feeling not just my own appreciation of its colourful plumage but somehow I was channelling the joy I knew my father would feel if he stood beside me. And in that moment, he stood beside me. The decades of time and the miles of distance and the ravages of his Parkinson’s disease all fell away in a real and imagined moment of mutual connection. The rosella cocked its head, lifted a wing, nibbled its puffed out chest for a moment, then fluttered off, and my father disappeared. Suddenly he was worlds and light years away again. Tantalising glimpses and bird calls remained. That’s all.

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Erratic

Rocks are Earth’s previous thoughts: 

Scattered like abandoned ideas

Or filed in folds and strata

Like memories 

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Ancient Rain

I experienced this quite incredible and unusual concert last night – “Ancient Rain” by Paul Kelly and Camille O’Sullivan. A rather original combination of theatre, poetry and music. I urge you to see it if you get a chance. I thought I’d trickle out a few of the poems featured (they are among my favourite Irish poems) although bear in mind the interpretations in this show were…let’s say, different. Firstly, they opened with Heaney’s wonderful poem “Digging,” one of my absolute favourites.

Digging

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

 

 

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State-change 俳句

The sublime mind boils

with ideas which, not written,

soon evaporate 

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Mourne Mountain panoramas

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Sliabh Bearnagh looking back over Hare’s Gap


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From the summit of Sliabh Bearnagh looking back East across the high Eastern Mournes

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Fine filaments of life

IMG_6603.JPGI became acutely aware of the heavy rhythm of my breathing syncopated with the pulsing in my neck as my face gently broke through filament after filament of the fine filigree of first webs. I spun my pedals at a high cadence right on my limit, working my weight back and forth on the saddle to balance rear wheel traction against front wheel steering. I thought of the fine delicate strands of life under my hands and the laboured breathing of a man I’d worked to resuscitate late last night. A more desperate rhythm, balancing on the threshold of life and death. He would have felt his pulse throbbing in his neck too. Getting weaker all the time. His breathing getting faster and faster as his energy left him. As his life left him. I spoke with his family. I touched him and said goodbye. I completed the paperwork. I walked to my car and I drove home.

I drank a beer. I microwaved the dinner left out for me by my wife. I slipped under the bedclothes quietly so as not to wake her. I lay listening to the soft breath sounds of her vibrant life and felt her warmth. I took a while to drift off to restless sleep. I woke today, kissed her and my two boys and said “see you later.” I made a coffee and now I am riding my bike back to the Emergency Department the long way, through fine filaments of webs tickling my face on technical singletracks across beautiful Mount Wellington’s flanks in a dawn commute and feeling glad to be alive.

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