There is a sea of people
in the church the ceilings are high
I have made the long walk
to the golden railings on my spindly legs
in my white Communion shoes and socks.
The crowd pushes to the big swing doors.
Outside it’s a bright, bright day
the white sun flashes at me and I want
to fall, the cough I was keeping
at the back of my throat starts to bark.
My mother looks at me, at my white face
at the black rings circling my eyes
she has a question on her face.
She stretches out her arm, her hand
cups my elbow, her other hand clasps
my wrist – helping me across the road.
The sun’s daggers are flicking
at cars as they pass. My spiky elbow
rests in my mother’s cupped hand
in the soft pads. Her roly-poly fingers
press through the nylon of my white
summer cardigan, the elbow folds
into the blanket of her hand.
From elbow to wrist, she holds the long bone,
carries it across the road.
In the September haze I find you
running, a child with broken shoes
haring through the smells of fern
and wood-smoke, sprinting through
the piebald sunshine, singing Oh
to have a little house, out of the wind
and the rain’s way, flapping round
the streets and fields of Fermoy,
scooping blackberries from the hedges
and callies from the Blackwater, plucking
kindling from Glenabo, roofing apples
at Glenarousk, Coolagown, up and down
the town’s hills, skipping to the pipe band’s
promenade in late summer streets –
Emmet, Redmond, Clancy – in the low
gold light, fife and drum up Barrack Hill
and down the lane, the stone wall
to the iron gate, cows in the field beyond,
nearer my God to Thee, Kilcrumper cemetery,
the sweeper at his work, brushing moss
from marble flags, and under your feet
clumps of abandoned bones are waiting
for the pippin light of autumn to release
their ghosts into the sheets billowing
from the yews.
That December night, she raced down the unlit path
to the frost-covered gate, shouting to him to hop across,
to duck and dive in the traffic and he called back that he
ran the risk of being flattened by cars, by the black stream
flowing between them. But the rush-hour and the dark
and the shouting and the wind and rain were not enough
to run him, with his two bags, into the next parish
and he landed in the yellow hallway, in the bright kitchen,
brushing sleet from his jacket and dust from a bottle and
words into the oak of the table. Into the candle-flame went
talk of Mexico City and the high-wire circus of Budapest
and the German outposts of Transylvania and the lure
of pepper (chilli, paprika) and three bottles of French wine
and the touch of his hands. Stepping from the taxi now,
she looks across at the icy gate, at the blacked-out eyes
of the houses beyond, glimpses a flickering presence
peering too, pondering the plunge into night-time traffic.
[Mary Noonan is an Irish poet and academic. She lives in Cork, where she lectures in French literature. Her poems have been published in The SHOp, The Stinging Fly, The Dark Horse, Wasafiri, Tears in the Fence, Cyphers, Southword, The Stony Thursday Book, The Cork Literary Review, Penned: Zoo Poems (2009), The Alhambra Poetry Calendar (2010), in Best Irish Poetry 2010 and in The Captain’s Tower: 70 Poems for Bob Dylan at 70 (forthcoming 2011). In 2007, she was selected to take part in the Poetry Ireland Introductions series of readings in Dublin. In November 2009 she was invited to read at the Poetry Hearings festival in Berlin. She was awarded the Listowel Poetry Collection Prize in June 2010.]
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