Thursday 19 July 2018

Ulick O'Connor - poetry: Christy's poetic left foot

Artist: Ulick O'Connor and Christy Brown
Artist: Ulick O'Connor and Christy Brown

Ulick O'Connor

This summer, 85 years ago, Christy Brown was born in Kimmage. He was a rolled-up little guy, who had cerebral palsy, which confined him to a wheelchair. You could hear him coming - bang, bang, as he manoeuvred his chair around.

Every word Christy spoke was a bonus. He had to twist it out of himself, with perhaps a little squeak of triumph as each word came. Despite this difficulty, one could spend hours in enthralling conversation with Christy.

Christy was world-famous even in places where English wasn't spoken. He wrote his autobiography, Down All the Days, which was made into the Academy Award-winning film My Left Foot, with Daniel Day-Lewis giving an extraordinary performance as Christy.

His mother gave birth to 21 children, of whom Christy was the 11th. It was this titanic woman who faced up to her son's appalling illness and helped to make him into a remarkable writer and painter. When she died, he was inconsolable.

He wrote a number of novels and poems which sometimes explored the far-away world of his illness. He typed with his toes and also he used them clenched together to grip a paintbrush.

I launched Christy's first exhibition for him. The canvases painted were startling, they had a sort of primitive Spanish touch, painted by an artist who himself had a face like an El Greco painting. In my speech, I said what a pity it was that his beloved mother, who had died a few years before, wasn't with us to see his success. As soon as her name was mentioned, like an explosion, Christy jerked meaningfully in his wheelchair "She is here, she is here".


It seemed that indeed she was.

Only in your dying, Lady, could I offer you a poem.

Never in life could I capture that free live spirit of a girl

in the torn and tattered net of my words

Your life was a buried flower

burning on an ash-heap.

… … … … … …

Only in your dying Lady, could I offer you a poem.

With gay uplifted finger you beckoned

and faltering I followed you down paths

I would not otherwise have known or dared.

Only in dying, Lady, could I offer you a poem.

I do not grieve for you

in your little square plot of indiscriminate clay

for now shall you truly dance.

Christy Brown 1932-1981

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