For Jean McConville.
Trussed up like an old hen – and sulking
when we pulled the sack off. A touch
of steel under her ear persuaded her.
I’d say it was a fair trial – rigorous maybe –
but we gave her time and more than one chance
to tell the truth and shame the devil.
She said it began with a knock, a thump
like a bag of coal falling and there he was –
a wee fellow – dying on her threshold.
We heard she had provided a cushion.
“A pillow,” she said, “that’s all it was.”
I recall the crack of my boot to her head.
The Chief was kind, patient as a saint.
“Tell us all,” he coaxed, “and you’ll be back
with the weans by Bingo time.”
I held a cigarette to her mouth, pulled
off her wedding-rings. We left her in her cardi,
an old nappy-pin on the lapel.
It’s that pin that haunts my sleep –
warrior-mother’s rust-bronzed brooch,
sole relic of the Disappeared.
That summer I fell in love with the shirt
of sheer, white cotton – its wide sleeves
held fast by tight cuffs as it billowed over
a market stall in the Dandelion Market
and it cost too much but I handed over
lunch money and bus fare because I knew
that if I wore a flesh-toned bra underneath
and tucked the shirt-tails into my blue jeans
I would look like a sexy pirate.
I wore it to a party in Rathgar.
At the vicar’s house there were traybakes,
lemonade and dancing – dancing with you –
until I feigned fatigue and we retired
to a dark corner, my head on your shoulder.
I adjusted my chin, watched your face
through slit lids, allowed your lips to find mine.
You brought me home. I held on tight, lay down
on your back when your bike took the corners,
inhaled your Head and Shoulders
and the oily tang of your biker-jacket.
I clung to you again when we kissed.
You laughed shyly when your jacket
left tracings of black wax on my good shirt
and, of course, I should have kept it – crumpled
and unwashed – battened down in an old trunk
with the wedding dress and the floral smock,
let its traceries whisper to them
and argue that the parlay had been wise.
A.M. Cousins’ poems can be read online at Poet Head; Poetry Ireland Review; The Stinging Fly; The Irish Times NIW. She won the FISH Poetry Prize 2019 and her work was shortlisted in the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Competition 2019. She writes memoir and history essays and regularly broadcasts on Sunday Miscellany, RTE Radio 1.