You went away from us once before:
I remember those curtained evenings
when we clambered onto the big bed
five of us snug as a litter of pups
to hear your letters read.
‘Standing Room Only,’ was how you described
that tumbling boat riding the swell.
Afterwards tramping around a red-bricked town:
even without the ‘NO IRISH’ signs, you were advised
you’d never rent ‘with a lock of children’.
So you doubled up on shifts instead
to put a house deposit down;
in that booming mill with the great drums
of damp paper and lurid dyes
that’d ruin your lungs in time.
Until my hand was fast in yours
as we climbed the ladders to a metal deck
where the crew hauled in huge fishing nets:
I knew these brawny men of Galilee
from the Jesus books at school.
And you had gone before, a lean prophet
of our future lives in another North.
A pioneer, undaunted by Heysham fog
wading into its damp wilderness
with a burning certainty of home.
You went away from us years ago
so we are holding each other again
sifting the tides and skeins of grey
for a smudgy line that might be land
and the surer beacon of you.
GOOGLE MAN IN THE SKY
Some days I draw a blank,
working in analogue to unpick moments
snagged in memory’s rusty circuit.
And if I dig out the cardboard box
that holds your cufflinks, cotton hanky
and empty wallet, I find
your old tweed cap gone musty,
its silk lining frayed.
But I think of my brother’s email
that lightened an unforgiving December,
and gave us each a double-take:
when we switched from Maps to Satellite
and dropped the peg man into place,
hidden there in Street View mode
was this pixelated echo:
There’s no mistaking the man
in shirt sleeves and peaked cap
kneeling in the middle of the road
to polish a wheel trim.
Under that thatch of grey hair,
your face is blurred. If I swivel
and drag the view, you smear
to a colour wraith.
I told Mum about Google Earth
and the orbiting satellite that snapped
your street a decade ago:
she dubbed it Yer Man in the Sky
like an AI guardian angel.
More Ghost in the Machine, I thought,
or a trick of algorithms to make
Time Travellers of us all.
You’re younger here, I see,
and the rose bushes are barely twigs
in your new garden. It’s June
and under the burn of that morning sun,
I catch the sweet tang of polish.
You’re out before anyone
with your bucket and shammy cloth
and the day’s jobs are lined up
fresh as peas in a pod.
Tell me again those long-ago tales,
in that slow gravelly voice that I’ve missed;
name me the people, each to their parish,
like your grandda who enlisted at Enniskillen
for a pair of shoes and daily ration.
You showed me once in the Ulster Folk Park
a low-beamed two-room cottage, the kind
you’d see crumbling in a backfield;
your father was the first tenant, you said
to lay a concrete floor inside.
Tell me about your country school:
was it Lisnaskea where you learned to recite
‘The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck’?
A random verse you’d chant with glee
for the rest of your life.
Between labouring jobs, you’d call at kitchens
where the woman of the house
would never let you home without a feed;
a plate of spuds in their skins or pridda bread
milk from the churn in your tea.
If only I’d thought to ask about
the gaunt young man with brand new teeth
cycling to dances all over Fermanagh;
and what spun you when you met the redhead
with the nimble feet and quicker eyes.
But your voice is like the sea
when the tide has rolled far out:
a low grumble, a ‘whisht’ caught
in the intricate whorls of a shell
held close to my ear.
CO. CLARE IN BLACK & WHITE
Mid-morning finds us on the Burren
picking our way over hop-scotch paving,
white miles of limestone slabs.
It’s warm enough for shirtsleeves;
you holding your elbows that way you do
a breeze snatching at your shock of fringe.
We peer into dark runnels below
inky slits and sockets of chalk.
Between the clints and grykes
I show you tiny flowers; freckles
of thyme, tufts of pink thrift fine
as the hair on your arms.
By afternoon, storm clouds are chasing us
all round the coast of Clare.
You two are in the back seat, chattering
like the children we used to be
until restless, we heel into a layby
to stretch our legs. Scramble out
onto a beach of black basalt lashed
by Atlantic grey. The surf crashing
higher to meet that brooding sky.
Do I take your arm for a steer
as we clatter over the boulders?
Let’s say that I did.
When the first drops pelt down
the four of us race for the car, whooping
at the rain. Damp and breathless
I raid the glove-box stash
for boiled sweets. We each suck hard
on a butterscotch, delighted
by the deluge sluicing the panes.
Siobhan Logan’s book Desert Moonfire: The Men Who Raced to Space, blends poetry and non-fiction. Earlier collections, Firebridge to Skyshore and Mad, Hopeless and Possible, were performed at Ledbury Poetry Festival, British Science Museum, and National Space Centre. Logan lectures at De Montfort University and co-directs Space Cat Press. @siobsi