Recent Poems from Time's Revenge

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While she was alive
I took my mother's sayings for granted -
those lines of words that came
so easily into her head
as if she were turning on a tap:

"Go slowly and you'll go further."
"Buy not buy, but try."
"Having one child is like having
one eye in your head."
Or, "I'm not from the stepmother."

Sometimes they made sense;
mostly they didn't - not that I bothered
to stop and ask questions,
to think about anything that ran
deeper in my heart than blood.

Now that she's dead they all make sense -
short, humorous, elliptical,
like blows to the head or heart:
spot on, up close, hard,
never missing their mark.


My father spent nearly thirty years
travelling to and from work daily
on the trains - rarely missing
the scheduled "red rattler"
from Regents Park station to the suburb
where he was currently working.

He taught me how to recognise
the signs of their arrival
before they came into sight -
how signals would drop at the end
of the platform, or birds would fly up
from where they were feeding.

The old trains were replaced
by new models long before he died -
signals changed, modernised,
and railway embankments
cleared of undergrowth, burnt off.
Birds no longer fed opposite the platform.

Wherever he might be travelling still
I hope my father is well, enjoying
the view that he rightly earned
and is sitting comfortably at a train window -
while I stand alone on the platform
at Regents Park and wish that I could follow.



Five years after his death,
I remembered
a habit of my father
from the very early years
after we arrived
in Australia:

the way he brought home
old nails in a tin
from the places he worked -
nails that were bent or rusty,
had been thrown away.

With eagle-eyed accuracy,
patience and skill,
he'd straighten every one
with a hammer
on his shoe last -
then put them to good use
around the house
on things that needed fixing:

fenceposts, palings,
perches or nests in the chookshed
because, as he said,
"It's important
to keep them happy also
if we want fresh eggs..."

Steel on steel,
not too loud,
the hammer made a hollow,
steady tapping
with each nail it
straightened out.


Fifty years later,
visiting Ireland and drinking
in Lisdoonvarna
at the Kincora Hotel,

I hinted at details
of the story
to Patrick, the local milkman,
who listened like a bird,

head turned
slightly to one side,
then, fixing his yees to mine,
replied without ambiguity,
"Ah for sure,
that's a sign of real poverty.
We know all about that in Ireland..."


That night I almost wept;
walking on the road
between Doolin
and the Cliffs of Moher -
reliving the conversation with Patrick,
wondering what the connection
between Ireland and myself
might be about:
hearing the tap-tapping sound
of steel on steel
between each gravelled step.

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