Poetry by Siobhan Logan


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.


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.


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.

Poetry by Siobhan Logan

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

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  1. I was there… Scramble out / onto a beach of black basalt lashed / by Atlantic grey. The surf crashing / higher to meet that brooding sky.
    I especially liked ‘Another North’ and recognized myself somewhere in these lines:
    “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.” You take me back to Ireland for a very welcome moment.

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