What My Father Was
Gifted, as in he owed no one
for his talent to learn music by ear,
the melodeon (the box, he called it) bee-bumbling
on his left knee.
Yellow pleats corrugate dusk
onto his narrow face; his body a prize-fighter’s
when viewed from behind,
bony shoulders and elbows punch-poised, shadow boxing
in the radio’s robe of golden light
as notes of a new tune inseminate his body –
the throe of a hip, lurch of his backbone.
Quavering ribs listen while he consummates the melody
furrowing his ghost, that morsel of him that dies daily
and rises at twilight –
the resurrected pure being of my father.
If I could see nothing but his slender neck
in an open collar, white Sunday shirt,
I would know everything
about his bachelor days dancing at crossroads,
The Lark in the Morning, The Geese in the Bog,
offerings of bottled stout like ten-pins around his feet,
vermillion fingernails mottling summer sunsets,
echoes of guttural hurrahs, Sound man yourself!
and the hungry applause, like rain hears thirst.
Wearing memory’s cloth cap, I would become the young man
forged cruel by his gift, lapping up praise,
yet aware of how effortless music was for him –
The fools. The óinseachs¹,
or was he the dolt?
the crowd humouring him as nightfall’s slow
descent describes the day, enclosing everyone
in the ordinary virtues that unchain them.
¹Óinseach, fool (of woman).
My Mother’s Cologne, 4-7-11
after Nickole Brown
generation wore perfume sparingly
as a mother-of-ten smile, I only vaguely remember its smell.
The floral scent was almost fizzy, one part
Lucille Ball, secretary to Mr Mooney, who made us laugh
at the dumb secretary, the rest all heart notes of
Audrey Hepburn, doe-eyed queen of the rapid, high drama
the impossible waist.
4-7-11 is a housewife weary of the Kilfenora Céilí Band,
kneading dough to Engelbert Humperdinck in secret,
Quando? Quando? Quando?
It is the odour of ritual,
Mass, funerals, the odd Friday afternoon bus trip
to town, atomic pockets of my mother’s other self alone
at a window table in Finns Café, the glass occasionally
fogged up, an atmosphere of intimacy
in the musk of women’s bodies
fused with sweet cake: purgatory on a good day,
4-7-11’s odour little more than the soap
& water smell of scrubbed corners and 50s’ sex –
my mother’s heels corpse-firm on the bed.
Today, I stalked a woman wearing my mother’s cologne,
stopped myself at a chocolatire’s window on Grafton Street,
middle aged, awakened
to the deeper knowledge
of my mother’s life. Something was not given to her,
or something was taken from her with which she was born,
tiny spores within her young soul had collapsed
in dusty mounds; fragile gold tendons that hold the womb
of dreams had snapped.
I smelled rosemary there on the street. I smelled orange blossom,
bergamot, lavender. My heart lurched
at the lonesome call
of a solitary gull.