Now that her heart is bent over
like larkspur after a storm,
she stays in bed past milking time,
pulling the quilt
tight around her shoulders
until her collie barks her
down the stairs
to lift the backdoor latch.
She kneels to light the cipeens
piled on last night’s embers.
Her bones creak
like the bolt on the door of the barn.
A cup of oats, two cups of water,
a pinch of salt –
porridge, tea and tablets,
a meal for a queen.
Every day without him
is too long;
with the tired cows at the gate.
Pit Ponies of Glendasan
Hitched to an eight-hour shift
in britchens, hames and traces,
they follow the miners’ carbide lights,
halt under hoppers, turn
on a thruppence and lean into their collars
to pull the ﬁve-wagon train.
Low-set cobs from the Curragh,
a piebald and two greys, their hooves
fall heavy as hammers on granite.
They haul lengths of larch for pit props,
pneumatic drills, boxes of gelignite,
and, from time to time, deliver
injured men back to daylight.
The miners pat their necks in passing
and feed them windfall apples –
comrades in toil and ﬁrst to halt,
legs locked at a sudden rumbling, a change
in the air or the rush of running water.
The week before he left for France
we leaned a ladder into the apple trees,
picked Cox’s Orange Pippins,
Newton Wonders, Brownlee’s Russets,
laid them one by one
on dusty ﬂoorboards in the attic,
then planted hyacinths and amaryllis for spring.
We sat out after dinner
and talked of how we loved
this time of year,
when hollyhocks are past their best
but still stand tall
in copper, pink and cream,
beside clematis and the last of the sweet pea.
Still new to each other
when you found the lump,
we held our breath as the surgeon
marked the spot with an X.
A porter pushed your trolley
down the echoing corridor –
I stayed at the edge of your bed.
The matron asked was I a relation
and under the Sacred Heart lamp
I called myself a friend.
Later I searched for coins
and a pay phone
to tell your mother
you were back in the ward,
sleepy but smiling.
The rose-petal scar on your breast
was tiny, but enough to remind us
we’d already found what mattered.
To help us grow a garden, my mother and father travelled
across the Bog of Allen and over the Wicklow Gap.
They’d have preferred to drive west to Galway or Mayo,
they’d have preferred a husband and children
but their daughter loved a woman. We’d have the table set
for breakfast: rashers, black pudding, fried bread and eggs.
When the soil had warmed, we unloaded shovels
and rakes, buckets of compost and the rusted iron bar
for prising out rocks. The back seat was thronged
with pots of seedlings my mother had nurtured all winter.
We worked to her bidding: loosen tangled roots before planting,
sow marigolds next to beans, sprinkle Epsom salts around roses.
My father took off on his own to spud ragwort or clip a hedge.
One day he spent hours gathering stones of different shapes and sizes.
By evening he’d built us a wall under the holly, held together
by gravity and friction, hearted with handfuls of spalls.
11 Butter for Queens
13 District Nurse
14 Dressing My Mother for Her Grandson’s Wedding
17 All the horses she’s ever loved
19 All she needed
21 The Lookout
22 The Arch
PIT PONIES OF GLENASAN
25 Christmas Morning
26 Pit Ponies of Glendasan
27 The Pay
WHEN ALL THIS IS OVER
31 September 1914
32 In the dugout
33 The Game
34 After we’re gone
36 Priam of Troy
38 When all this is over
YOU COULD SAY IT BEGINS
42 You could say it begins
47 Family Bible
48 When the sun
51 The Dipper
52 Lazy Beds
58 Recipe for a bog
60 At Purteen Harbour
61 Little Tern Colony, Kilcoole
63 Mater Misericordiae
64 The Key
66 Her ﬁrst
69 First Earlies
72 Thief in April
73 Stepping in
BLOODAXE BOOKS LTD Registered Office: Eastburn, South Park, Hexham, Northumberland NE46 1BS, UK Registered Number 1656254 England VAT No 414 4062 89