Referring to it as ‘the job’,
Dad first, then my eldest brother,
would leave the house,
head out to bandit country
where ‘the lads at work’⎯
a self-sufficient tribe of rebels⎯
ruled their world from 8 to 5,
far from the reach of bosses and wives.
The crack in the depot
waiting for the work orders
to be handed down,
the skiving off to football matches;
the slagging in the canteen,
a mug screwed carefully to the table,
its owner’s priceless face when he tried to lift it,
the lads killing themselves laughing.
I wanted in.
Wanted that life.
Never the view from the kitchen.
ONE THAT GOT AWAY
‘My knight in shining armour’, she calls him,
voice still shaky though it’s forty years
since her uncle pushed past
their sullen resistance,
stood at the foot of the stairs,
calling up to her to pack her things;
he’d come to bring her home.
Forty years and still she finds it hard
to forgive a mother
cowed by the parish priest
⎯widowed, without a man
to keep control⎯
who blackened her ears
with talk of family shame, terrible sin,
righteous solutions to an awful mess
only God knew how to put right.
She’s one of the lucky ones,
a narrow escape,
she knows that⎯
but this tightness
in her throat, hurt rising
when she hears of mothers erased
from birth certificates, of underground tanks,
infant bones pressed up against each other,
endlessly seeking comfort in the dark.
WHILE THE OTHERS IN SCHOOL
listened to The Bay City Rollers,
I was knee-deep in Dylan, The Band,
The Allman Brothers Live at Fillmore East.
I’d put in the hours⎯
long afternoons in the sitting room
on weekends, fire flickering in the grate,
sitting at my brother’s feet, leaning
into the speaker to catch the first few notes,
shouting out the name of the artist and song,
bursting with pride when I got it right.
I’d earned my music-lover stripes,
wore my taste like a badge of honour,
so years later, newly-wed and setting up home,
when the man who came to clean the chimney
glanced at the CD rack and said
‘I see your husband’s into music’,
I felt stripped of those long afternoons
when I’d first tested the honeyed notes
of a slide guitar on my eager tongue,
foolishly believing the newly-made world
was mine for the taking.
I write the blue of the sky, the beads of condensation
on the skylight, the chill coming up the attic stairs,
the sound of my fingers on the keyboard.
I write the brown leather of my mother’s purse on the desk,
her fifteen-year-old eyes looking at me from the black
and white photo on the wall. I write the ache.
I write the heat coming from the radiator beside me,
the coarse feel of the woollen throw across my knees,
the house creaking around me, the knowledge of Neil’s
steady breathing. I write the comfort.
I write the frame of Aislinn’s door, the remnants
of Claire’s artwork, Darragh stirring downstairs.
I write the day the house is empty of children.
I write the relief. I write the grief.
I write the colour of the sky on my run, birdsong,
the flutter of bags, shredded and ragged, caught
in the branches of trees, the leaves budding into bloom.
I write the heron flying over houses, swans by the canal nesting,
the thrumming energy of spring. I write the cracks on the footpath,
the uneven concrete; Sian appearing on the road in front of me.
I write the joy.
I write my mind’s eye remembering a beach,
my eight-year old-self turning cartwheels across the sand,
my fifty-two-year old body in awe of her.
I write the flow of the river beneath the river, the sound of water
rushing over stones, the brown hush of the riverbed.
I write my ninety-seven-year-old father, the veins on his hands,
his bony knuckles, the fragile length of him, the stubborn length of him.
I write my mother’s death. I write the stillness of her body.
I write the dream of my own dying, the dream of my own death.
I write the pigeons cooing on the roof. I write the day beckoning.