Slathered in a vernix coat,
you slithered out to my relief
with ten toes and two perfect hands
bunched into tiny fists.
Your fingers opened and little arms flailed,
at odds with vastness after the final
weeks cramped in the dark.
Lung pockets filtered your breaths
without a second thought,
your independence sealed
with a clamp.
Like a marshmallow,
dip-dyed and plump
your brand new heart
started to pump blood,
under the stinging lights
and midwives changing shifts
and I watched you, from purpley blue
turn a delicious pink.
He came back this time with hens,
returned with his swagger
and whiskey breath. Crisp, folded notes
released in rote from an arse pocket,
handed over the counter
without a scrap of guilt,
while she prayed the car wouldn’t stall
the red orb on the dash unheeded
and sat tearing skin from cuticles,
the bleed a warm release.
Taking rage out on her hands
that used to knit him Aran sweaters,
in earthy russet tones,
the chain stitch a secret
from a pattern she wouldn’t share.
They stayed in the shed, the hens,
with their downy necks of terracotta.
Plodding with their fearful eyes
and four pronged claws, their droppings dotted
the concrete floor as days whiled away,
egg laying, cackling, pecking for grain
until the day they each made a whimper
as their slit throats bled scarlet streams,
his free range dreams dying with them.
You used to fit
in my elbow’s bend,
the early days when I could sit
and scan your features
for ancestry. Hours spent watching
crap repeats of daytime soaps
and movies long forgotten,
as your father slept
and it was just you
I sat before the sun rose,
before light woke up the house,
flooded through the bungalow.
Company for the ticking
of Agatha’s clock, whose coiling stem
stood like a question mark.
Placing little arms and feet
in softest cotton. The click
of poppers peppers my sleep,
as you potter now with insomnia
in the adjacent room.
Just six inches short of my crown
and the silver hairs, more here
than there. Slouched in a hoodie,
five steps behind.
My attempts to engage meet with apathy.
We walk in silence, each mulling the space,
the time, the in between,
the comfort of one another.
He shuffled in,
his posture screamed
anywhere, but here,
accepted a seat with an arm
and an offer of tea.
Fidgeted with a rogue stitch,
a loose black thread,
whilst small talk prevailed
before they were mentioned..
The hooded eyes drooped,
the heavy scent of neglect wafted,
as his raised arm took the tea.
I watched her, listened
as she dodged the truth,
skirted around its sprouting roots,
shovelled it under the lumpy mat.
The mug balanced on his crossed leg,
as tea and a solitary tear
fell on his trousers,
when he mentioned his dying wife.
I wished I’d used a cup and saucer
as their words swam
muffled in my ear canal.
I saw my sister laughing,
rolling her eyes at all the doom,
in the room where she lay,
in a box with golden handles
just two days before.
Teddy Bear Heart
He sits on a wardrobe roof
doors and drawers of rich chestnut,
whose factory glaze faded with the calendars.
Sitting heavy with fallen dust,
giving his custard coat a layer of memories.
Spreadeagled, beleaguered, amber eyes
watch my every move. I stood in the room
where carpet curled over and mould hugged the skirting.
The acrid tang of neglect stung, wrapped around me
and clutched curtains, hung in the creases.
I sat and recalled the radiator’s rattles
when she relented and switched on the oil,
even though two fires burned
with crumbly peat and nuggets of coal.
A furry master of all he surveys, in his best pose
between a home computer and foot spa – good as new.
You had to come back with all you ever owned
and dying a bit more each new day, you slept it off,
your teddy watching from his throne.
I wonder is he still there, or placed in a see through bag
with all the others, missing you
like I do.
You fell down
onto the russet carpet
stained with years of us.
It concealed years
of coming, going,
Its cushioned layer
smuggled me in,
a swaying teenager
hiccuping into the silent night.
The thud echoed over the music,
I craned my neck around the door
you lay still, silent
as warm waste seeped out
and betrayed the smokiness
of the peaceful evening.
I cursed that life
being the only one there.
Terrified I’d receive no response
I knelt and tapped your shoulder,
one of a set that carried me
when naivety was printed
on my dress labels and soles of shoes.
You woke from your drift
and I offered to run a bath,
to let the steam destroy
the half hour
that can still haunt me.
The Willow Pattern
Pulled out from the wall
the wearied supports protested
for felt pads, to muffle the screech
on the checkerboard floor.
Gran shook the tablecloth,
it floated down
in a picnic blanket trance.
We squirmed on hard chairs,
as the laughter of our friends
sneaked in with the salty air
through the sash window,
veiled with a layer of tide.
Granddad rose, a Neptune of the village,
sectioned the salmon
and slid it onto oriental plates.
I whispered, asked Mum
to tell me again, of the doomed pair.
She regaled the tale,
her impatience in hushed tones,
rushed as she piled potato salad
onto her plate.
I glared at my offering,
pushed it to the rim, traced the pattern,
until a deafening maternal look
downed my fork.
The tiered flesh melted on my tongue
like a haunting, pearlescent scales
adhered to memories
and clung to the sides
of the Belfast sink.
I took a different route
through steep hills and hedgerows
showy new builds in fields
with topsoil mounds.
The flag from the weekend’s
match stuck in a rock pile,
flapped sorry, wind slapped
for the defeat.
I stopped to pull fattened
blackberries arched from branches,
heaving with tangy fruit.
Clusters formed like new blisters
bulbous, juicy, they burst
in my mouth.
I pounded higher roads
in a daze and worn soles,
tried to stamp away my grief.
Your shadow hovered,
always ahead, cloistered berries
in a nettle patch.
Dropped some into my coat pocket
where they chafed and popped
and bled, the inky stain
an ebony mass, seeping, creeping,
as the rain came