The inevitable call came from the Alzheimer’s nursing home.
Mummy had been sitting there in an armchair for two years
In a top-storey room with two other aged ladies,
Deborah O’Donoghue and Maureen Timoney.
Three Irish orang-utans, silent, stationary.
The call was to say that between 3 and 5 a.m.
The three of them had gone missing from the room.
At first it was thought that all three had slipped
Out the window, ajar in the hot, humid night.
But, no, there were no torsos in the flowerbed.
It transpired that a car had also gone missing.
Was it thinkable they had commandeered a car?
At five in the afternoon the police called
To say that a Polish youth in a car wash in Kinnegad
Had washed and hot-waxed a car for three ladies,
All of whom were wearing golden dressing gowns –
Standard issue golden dressing gowns
Worn by all the inmates of the Alzheimer’s nursing
Why he remembered them was that he was struck
By the fact that all three ladies were laughing
For the ten minutes it took him to wash the car.
‘I am surprised,’ he stated, ‘by laughter.’
At 9 p.m. the car was sighted in Tarmonbarry
On the Roscommon side of the River Shannon,
Parked at the jetty of the Emerald Star marina.
At 9.30 p.m. a female German child was taken
To the police station at Longford by her stepfather.
The eleven-year-old had earlier told her stepfather
In the cabin of their hired six-berth river cruiser
That she had seen three ladies jump from the bridge.
Her stepfather had assumed his daughter imagined it
As she was, he told police, ‘a day-dreamer born’.
The girl repeated her story to the police:
How three small, thin, aged ladies with white hair
Had, all at once, together, jumped from the bridge,
Their dressing gowns flying behind them in the breeze.
What colours were the dressing gowns? she was asked.
‘They are wearing gold,’ she replied.
Wreathed on the weir downstream from the bridge
Police sub-aqua divers retrieved the three bodies,
One of whom, of course, was my own emaciated
Whose fingerprints were later found on the wheel of
She had been driving west, west to Westport,
Westport on the west coast of Ireland
In the County of Mayo,
Where she had grown up with her mother and sisters
In the War of Independence and the Civil War,
Driving west to Streamstown three miles outside
Where on afternoons in September in 1920,
Ignoring the roadblocks and the assassinations,
They used walk down Sunnyside by the sea’s edge,
The curlews and the oystercatchers,
The upturned black currachs drying out on the stones,
And picnic on the machair grass above the seaweed,
Under the chestnut trees turning autumn gold
And the fuchsia bleeding like troupes of crimson-tutu’d
ballerinas in the black hedgerows.
Standing over my mother’s carcass in the morgue,
A sheep’s skull on a slab,
A girl in her birth-gown blown across the sand,
I shut my eyes:
Thank you, O golden mother,
For giving me a life,
A spear of rain.
After a long life searching for a little boy who lives
down the lane
You never found him, but you never gave up;
In your afterlife nightie
You are pirouetting expectantly for the last time.
That was that Sunday afternoon in May
When a hot sun pushed through the clouds
And you were born!
I was driving the two hundred miles from west to east,
The sky blue-and-white china in the fields
In impromptu picnics of tartan rugs;
When neither words nor I
Could have known that you had been named already
And that your name was Rosie –
Rosie Joyce! May you some day in May
Fifty-six years from today be as lucky
As I was when you were born that Sunday:
To drive such side-roads, such main roads, such ramps, such
To cross such bridges, to by-pass such villages, such towns
As I did on your Incarnation Day.
By-passing Swinford – Croagh Patrick in my rear-view mirror –
My cell phone rang and, stopping on the hard edge of P. Flynn’s highway,
I heard Mark your father say:
“A baby girl was born at 3.33 p.m.
Weighing 7 and a I/2 Ibs in Holles Street.
Tough work, all well.”
That Sunday in May before daybreak
Night had pushed up through the slopes of Achill
Yellow forefingers of Arum Lily – the first of the year;
Down at the Sound the first rhododendrons
Purpling the golden camps of whins;
The first hawthorns powdering white the mainland;
The first yellow irises flagging roadside streams;
Quills of bog-cotton skimming the bogs;
Burrishoole cemetery shin-deep in forget-me-nots;
The first sea pinks speckling the seashore;
Cliffs of London Pride, groves of bluebell,
First fuchsia, Queen Anne’s Lace, primrose.
I drove the Old Turlough Road, past Walter Durcan’s Farm,
Umbrella’d in the joined handwriting of its ash trees;
I drove Tulsk, Kilmainham, the Grand Canal.
Never before had I felt so fortunate.
To be driving back into Dublin city;
Each canal bridge an old pewter brooch.
I rode the waters and the roads of Ireland,
Rosie, to be with you, seashell at my ear!
How I laughed when I cradled you in my hand.
Only at Tarmonbarry did I slow down,
As in my father’s Ford Anglia half a century ago
He slowed down also, as across the River Shannon
We crashed, rattled and bounced on a Bailey bridge;
Daddy relishing his role as Moses,
Enunciating the name of the Great Divide
Between the East and the West!
We are the people of the West,
Our fate to go East.
No such thing, Rosie, as a Uniform Ireland
And please God there never will be;
There is only the River Shannon and all her sister rivers
And all her brother mountains and their family prospects.
There are higher powers than politics
And these we call wildflowers or, geologically, people.
Rossie Joyce – that Sunday in May
Not alone did you make my day, my week, my year
To the prescription of Jonathan Philbin Bowman –
Popping out of my daughter, your mother –
Changing the expressions on the faces all around you –
All of them looking like blue hills in a heat haze –
But you saved my life. For three years
I had been subsisting in the slums of despair,
Unable to distinguish one day from the next.
On the return journey from Dublin to Mayo
In Charlestown on Main Street
I meet John Normanly, organic farmer from Curry.
He is driving home to his wife Caroline
From a Mountbellew meeting of the Western Development
Of Dillon House in Ballaghadereen.
He crouches in his car, I waver in the street,
As we exchange lullabies of expectancy;
We wet our foreheads in John Moriarty’s autobiography.
The following Sunday is the Feast of the Ascension
Of Our Lord into Heaven:
Thank You, O Lord, for the Descent of Rosie onto Earth.
to Mark Quinn
Running the relay at twelve
Is not half so good an idea
As running the relay at sixty-two.
It’s not only that at sixty-two
I drop the baton,
Which is normal,
But that I arrive at the handover without the baton,
Having forgotten to start with the baton in the first place,
Which is even more normal.
Nobody knows who I am
On whom even the clouds shine.