Cassie’s

The Irish Army discharged him ‘cured.’

At least they paid him a pension, though

it couldn’t compensate for loss

of future. Orphan boy, born poor

left school at fourteen. Now the chance

of a commission gone. One year

in Dublin, city fair, but not

so fair as the O’Neill girl who

enchanted him, his life’s great love.

He married her in forty-four

back home in Belfast. Ten months later

came a boy. Cured man again

in hospital and coughing blood.

A knight with shining scalpel saved him.

Eighteen long months later, free

to convalesce in Cassie’s cottage.

What a dream for those whose Ireland

was composed of such! The sweethearts

plus his namesake set up home

and soon a girl was born. Her mother

boiled the milk from Cassie’s farm

scrubbed laundry with a washboard

in a tin bath in the yard. The man

and boy would take the ferry with

the heavy lithium radio battery

over Strangford Lough to have it

charged. Forty plus years later

Kerry girl, bereft of son and husband

came again to Cassie’s. It was gone

replaced by clone of cottage

white and clean and new, and all

her memories and love gone with it.

In loving memory of Terence John Burns (sen) d.1982, Terence John Burns (jun) d. 1983 and

Sheila (O’Neill) Burns d.2014

Compulsion

I empty my coin-purse, sort them in piles

place them parallel to the edge;

coppers left to right, then silver,

lastly one pound, two pounds. Next,

I count them. Satisfied, I file them

in jeans’ pockets, one pees left, two pees right.

I have a useful coat, two pockets,

five pees left, ten pees right,

remainder back in coin purse. Wallet

holds the paper. Every note

is facing the same way; twenties at the back,

fives in front, the tens between.

At supermarket till, I count

exactly, slowly, slowly, while the line

snakes surely past the offers, lotto,

magazines, confections, freezers, wine.

Store card fumbled, vouchers, life-bags,

careful packing. No receipts, please.

Shoppers shuffle gladly forwards

flashing payment cards – contactless;

no hands soiled with filthy lucre.

Back at home, begin again;

the coppers to the left, then silver

to the right, and counting. Then, I wonder

whether daughter’s purse has coins

I may exchange for those of greater value?

First published in Sarsvati

Evangelical Coffee Shop

My local. Not a pint in sight

between the church and bookshop. Here

I settle with a poetry book

hoping for peace. A masquerade

of mothers seated opposite parade

performing offspring who are, strangely,

mainly silent while the garrulous

gaggle gossip. Notice reads: Link closed

eleven-thirty. Why? I ask.

A funeral. Now crows begin

to gather, old men dressed in black

and staring, silent at their lattes

while, around them, life, its loudness,

mirth and madness carries on

enough to wake the drowsy dead.

First published in Sarasvati

 

Innocents

We lost our first ten years ago today

When Herod – damn his eyes! – sent murderers

to kill our sons. Thank God, one got away.

We heard he went to Egypt and was saved

though how his parents knew that they should flee

we don’t know. Were they warned? They didn’t say

else we would have gone, too, my babe and me

and my poor husband, dead now, in his grave

with Jacob, though he gave me two sons more.

I had to find someone to take his place

or else we would have starved. A cruel land,

Judea. Women without men are cursed.

We may not work, inherit or be free

from men’s ‘protection.’ Caleb was my first

and then I married Judah. He was kind.

I bore him daughters but he didn’t mind.

He died as well, and now I am with Ben.

I miss that couple. They were young and sweet.

Their first-born was a handsome child. I’m glad

he lives still. When old Herod died they feared

a life in Bethlehem. Some say they’ve gone

to Galilee. Well, I know naught of that

but when the sky is dark and stars are bright

I think of ten years back. There was a night

when stars outshone the moon and angels cried:

‘Hosanna! May his name be glorified!’