Some poems

 

Inishturk

I slowed my step for you,
as we dipped between hills,
at the edge of the Atlantic,
they sent us away each morning,
no room in the cottage to hold us,
you tripped to keep up, as we ran
our small wild hearts out to sea
 
at the cliff’s edge,
our backs to the sun,
that big American wind
ripped the coats off our bodies,
we dropped and rolled to keep from blowing over,
cousins told stories of pushing battered cars in,
to watch the sea’s snarl swallow them whole
 
our uncle kept an eye on things,
bent to the window of his front room,
the shake of his sick hands
pressed to the telescope,
waiting for that terrible sea to rise-up
and force out another goodbye
 
we hid in the calm of the bay,
scrambled over wet rocks and seaweed,
settled to a day spent smashing barnacles,
making bait to fish-out a hundred crabs,
just to throw them back in again,
until, one cracked against a currach,
split its hard shell, and we stood still
as the slosh of water pulled it under,
the dull ring of death sat between us
 
that night, playing suduko
by the turf fire, huddled together,
and you, too young to understand,
watched my numbers dart across paper,
we walked the black roads,
the sky awake with starlight
led us along pot-holed boreens,
as we counted the wink of houses,
and trusted the land beneath us

 

The carpenter's daughter

sits in the sawdust heap, because it smells
just like her father, all warm dust and work
 
sweeps wheelbarrows of it out from under saws,
the scent of steel, the blade still above her head
 
pulls planks bigger than her across the room,
wants to know how to fix a shelf, or sand a chair
 
she loves most what wood can become,
rubs the blisters on her soft hands
 
they’ll turn calloused like his carpenter’s skin,
a small sacrifice, to be the one, to make—
 
a new world from that which has fallen,
sliced from the sky to never see it again
 
she has the gist, but not the knack,
the gist is building with bravery
 
to take a tree stripped of all its dignity,
then put it back together tenderly

In memory of Granny in Galway 

 

on your last night 

I stayed away as long as I could, 

didn’t want another sludge of hours spent counting 

hospital tiles or the tip and tap of time passing 

as if there was a choice in the matter

 

the sound of footsteps  

trying not to wake the dying, 

knowing you too should rest in peace, 

away from Granddad who insisted 

you looked much better now 

and you still slumped and slack-jawed 

being drip-fed someone else’s dreams

 

and I imagine, at first, the two of you  

stooped over your bent dreams, 

how they were black and mangled 

dead as your numb foot, 

it was only the foot at first, 

later the rest went too, 

Granddad said every prayer,

lit every candle

 

he took no notice 

when you started to rewind, 

you called me ‘Sandra’,  

we did not mention  

how you’d forgotten

 

there are things I will not miss 

your wheelchair in the corner, looming, 

its two wheels span twenty years of misery 

a memory stuck somewhere 

between fighting and giving up,  

lost in a haze of Coronation Street, 

ham-sandwiches and tea

 

until the pictures they showed us at the funeral 

were someone we never met, 

standing stick-skinny,

with a jumper to your knees,

hair tossed back in laughter 

and we think of your candle  

snuffed down to a black wick

 

we hardly remember you laughing, 

just Granddad’s cluck of care around you,  

missing a beat the day your hand fell heavy 

in mashed potatoes,

you sat more red and bloated and determined 

than we could bring ourselves to watch

hissing his name, so we wouldn’t notice

 

I didn’t want to sit there on your last night, 

it was five hours before someone told us it was over, 

and you waited till the girls came back 

from their cough of fresh air 

standing in a hospital car park

at 4am on a summer’s night 

 

we sat by the bed 

where you called them all angels days before,

a brief moment of recognition 

in the catch of a song note on Nancy’s throat

as she sang you back to sleep,

I couldn’t bring myself to step any closer, 

did not trust you’d know my  

words from any others

 

your last night in the hospital bed 

the morphine saying you felt nothing, 

but your low wail punctuating Lucy’s rosary, 

the beads clicking quick between her fingers

 

and when it was over,

when there was no more 

fight left in those lungs,

and the leg that gave up long before 

wasn’t the only part of you without feeling,  

when you had forgotten not just me, but everyone 

 

Granddad stood over you saying it didn’t seem right, it didn’t seem right, 

and Daddy clutching your hand like he could pull you back from that gone place

 

you might know we lost Granddad too that night, 

his hands left empty as he wanders 

the halls of your old house, 

screaming your name so loud 

the neighbours can hear 

his last love song

 

the day we made our way to the funeral,  

we found him doing your laundry, 

he gave us jumpers

you hadn’t worn since the eighties,

said he wouldn’t be coming,

but to remember you well

 

remember the girl on the island 

her hair strapped to the wind 

and a heart running faster

than footsteps could carry her,

she who left home at thirteen knowing how to make strong tea  

and fish for crabs, with no chance of learning much more, 

sent to work away from the slap of sea air

 

she walked the streets of Birmingham in a two-piece navy suit

and there wasn’t a man didn’t stop as she walked by

 

the young woman she became at the dance hall,  

flitting through the hands of young men,

finding granddad in his red plaid suit 

and teaching him to smile 

one cup of strong tea at a time

 

the mother that loved her only child like he was the only child,

and how you whispered your first grandchild’s name, Alvy, like a promise

 

I still think of you, 

though I do not visit your grave, 

and were I to find my way there 

what would I say, 

just stand, helpless, 

whispering my name to you 

over and over

We never said goodbye
 

driving past Dublin city

in the almost light of six a.m.

with coffee in our veins

and Oasis on the radio, telling us

not to look back in anger

 

the world sliding together

in the slur of morning lights,

promising we'll write or call

a story web across the distance,

knowing we might not find time,

laughing about how you should

really learn to reply to letters

 

we talk

about things long gone, 

easier to speak about 

the half-mile of boreen

between our house and the main road,

how just before school started back

the hedge was heavy with blackberries,

soft with autumn rain

 

it's too early

to think of proper things to say,

silence sometimes slips between

the smell of leather seats and wet dog,

you say you won't miss 

the dog hairs on your black coat

and I see veins on my hand

as I hold the wheel a little tighter

 

in the airport everything smells so distant,

and we are the only people

too early to check-in,

we try to play cards on plastic chairs,

give up, realising we’re only 

shortening the minutes

 

you remind me how you always wanted to go,

even though it's been five minutes now 

of staring at strangers,

and you really ought to make your way

to a gate somewhere

or so the intercom tells us


I don't reply, 

because there are as many reasons
to ask you to stay,

as there are to say goodbye


I walk you as far as they let me,
flustered, you juggle passports,
hands jittery from all that coffee

you say you’ll call when you’ve landed
and that has to be enough, for now


it might be years
before you're back again,
and we'll drive past Dublin city
in the half-light of six a.m.
talking about how the time 
flew in to meet us

we'll go back to the boreen,
so you can walk that road again,

you'll wear your black coat 

and there'll be dog hairs clinging on,

the blackberries will look a little different,

heavier now, from another type of rain

Warning  

 

ask nothing when my hair has lost out to the wind,

the flirtatious bitch of it, cares nothing for me

 

I’ve no brush and pucker to hide the bruises,  

will always insist we talk about it in the morning  

over warmed milk and porridge,   

even though nothing irks me like breakfast,  

time spent boiling oats to lumpish consistency

 

it is not just this that scratches at me,  

it will be blackbirds cawing against the hours,  

traffic lights gone red, the umbrella inside-out  

gloves left bedside, cursing puddles, cars,  

that two-foot tidal wave,

how they’ve all conspired against me  

 

my mind black and blue with people,  

papers to my chest clutching at things to say

  

leave me to cry silently  

over how the spaghetti

is looped in the sink 

 

know none of this is your fault  

but I’ll blame you anyway,  

quiet and insistent as spring rain

Video poems

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