Breda Spaight

What My Father Was & My Mother’s Cologne, 4-7-11

Breda Spaight

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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,

The Nightingale;

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


Because her 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

eyelid flicker,

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. 



Breda Spaight


Breda Spaight is a poet and novelist from Ireland. Her poems are published widely in Ireland and abroad, including The SHOpBurning Bush 2, BansheeOrbisEnvoiLagan Online, Atticus Review (US), Communion(AUS), The Ofi Press, and others. She is the 2016 winner of the Boyle Arts Festival Poetry Competition, and runner up in the iYeats International Poetry Prize.