Museum Of Country Life Turlough, Castlebar, Co Mayo

By John F. Deane

On the hither bank of the dark river, Methuselah-Heron stood,

the flow of minute, nor day, nor season

bothering him; this side the river, Patrick’s high round tower

guards the dead against all weathering; across the water

the demesne, Big House, where I take the lift

(chrome fittings, engaging mirror) down out of the present, step

out into Granny’s scullery, and there she is! sitting on a wobbledy

three-leggedy stool, the hour-glass churn

held like an unwilling child between her knees; black apron

with its smattering of stars, her grey hair wisping on her heated face,

and she plunges and plunges,

churning; there is buttermilk in the bruised enamel bucket

where I dip a chipped Irel-coffee porringer to drink; on the floor

last night’s scoured-out rose-patterned chamber-pot,

on the shelf tureens with grey-blue willows, eternal flight

of rust-brown swallows on a rust-brown sky. “Run”, she tells me,

“tell granddad the spuds are in the pot”; I make,

gently, soft-heel, genteel half-turns and there I am at once, away

beyond the crossroads at Cafferky’s roadside forge, big mule Romeo

heaving at the ropes; Granddad

has his big fob watch, he has opened the jacket

of his RIC uniform, smoking his white clay pipe and packing tobacco down

with his big hard thumb;

he points, saying the words for me, tongs, croppers, hammers

and there – collar and hames, bridle and reins; we are standing hot

in a racket-hall livid with fire, there is anvil-ding and

hiss-swish-swash of steam when the red-hot shoe is whooshing down into the basin, and misery! the sudden wuthering roar of the ass;

Cafferky, small and skinny, grinning nails,

is sporting his liver-coloured leathern apron to withstand all wars;

“Have you done,” says Granddad, spitting down into the flames,

“your homework?” and I make, gently, soft-heel

genteel half-turns, and there I am in the Achill schoolroom, nailed boots

and rolled-down socks, trousers to the knee, all us boys awed

before the expanse of the world beyond,

slates and chalk on the long desks, nib and inkwell and headline

copybooks, and I will forge out words, plunge deep into language,

I will fill copies, and pattern sentences into shape

in stitched and covered books. I was born here, will die, but will be

forever. I took the lift again, reluctantly, up to the present. Outside,

a long-eared owl let out its cry, obstinate

as a rusty hinge, from a high branch in the age-old pines.

This Poem Features In: