I remember fourth-class in Saint Brigid’s,
lined up like soldiers, rows of navy uniforms,
baby-blue shirts, elastic neck ties.
Mrs Duffy, aged as the class room, old
as the pipes that wrapped around the walls
and rattled. Older than the desks
with wrought iron frames and timber tops,
layer upon layer of thick varnish, carved
out holes for inkwells. Two pictures hung
on cold wet walls: the Proclamation, its black
and white circled faces, faded writing, the Virgin
Mary with hands wide, perfect vision
of forgiveness. Standing at the top a of the class,
face of scratched clefts and liver spots;
head of tossed greyed springs,
bamboo cane in her skeletal hand.
When she beat the blackboard, shudders
of chalk dust landed on the lip.
As she gave us lessons, the stick-slap
keeping time. Chanting or singing,
‘tá mé, tá tú, tá sé, tá sí; áris, áris, áris.'
We sat in our desks, mimicking
the mad music she was making.
I closed my eyes and dreamed
of Anfield, Hillsborough, Wembley,
drawing football- circles on lined paper,
a foreigner in her Catholic wasteland.
She told me I should be ashamed,
that men were stood against a wall and shot
so I could speak my native tongue.
'Batty Duffy, beating the blackboard
like a mad yoke’ chanting or singing,
‘tá mé, tá tú, tá sé, tá sí; áris, áris, áris.’