The Butcher, The Lacemaker

God is tenderising me today.

A spiked wooden mallet slams

into a piece of steak

over and over

and over again. It works,

this treatment. It's effective.

It breaks the fibres. The steak

begins to look like lace.

Once I give in

I don't mind so much.

I begin to enjoy the feeling

of being pummelled, loosened,

and then the fine lace hook

in God's dextrous fingers,

putting me together again,

tenderly, to a new design.

Agitation, in three movements


Two in the morning.

He shakes me awake:

She wants you and she won't tell me why.

I go in to their bedroom,

to her side of the bed: What's wrong?

All she can say is: The small bag, over and over,

pointing at the Y junction of the catheter,

then at my eye, pressing hard on the flesh

of my right temple, then at her own left eye.

I check the catheter. It's fine.

Mam, can you tell me what's bothering you?

She points at the catheter, my eye, her eye.

In the morning she will be garrulous,

almost coherent, but talk is useless now.

She holds my gaze, asking the same wordless

question. I answer her with a held silence,

for five, ten, fifteen minutes:

There is no need to be afraid.

She sighs, settles to sleep.

He snores lightly beside her.


I come back after my week away,

ask: Is she still waking agitated?

He barks at me: Don't be ridiculous.

How can you wake agitated?

If you're asleep you're not agitated.

I'm stunned by this old version of my father:

Your mother never gets agitated.

Agitated means anxious. Your mother

never gets anxious.

Don't talk tripe.

No, Dad.

Agitated means disturbed, restless.

I look it up in the dictionary,

show him: See?


I search for sanity more than sense -

my mother is dying,

I feel like I'm losing my father.

After ten years of learned ease

I'm the awkward daughter again,

all our camaraderie gone. I must remember

what I'd schooled myself to forget:

stay downwind of the old rhinoceros

as he charges, blind,

under the wound of her dying.

He storms, huffs, finally settles:

Well, he says,

if you'd been clear in the first place.

If you'd asked me that in the first place.


I have to get out of this house,

away from her need, his wound, my care.

The Gortnagearagh river flows

down from the Silvermines. I walk

between head-high mounds

of Bramble and Nettle,

gather Meadowsweet, Angelica,

bright yellow Marsh Lilies

(not Foxglove - I fear its toxic healing

in a house of broken hearts),

Rosebay Willowherb,

Wild Parsley.

Green grows into me.

My brain fills with green calm.

For one minute, five, ten,

fifteen minutes.

I settle.

It might be enough.


for Danielle and Heather Corish

I remember,

from when I was old enough to remember,

the three of us getting ready for bed,

slipping out of day-clothes into pyjamas.

We watch as she moves, half dressed,

between the bathroom and the bedroom,

her white satin slip beneath her dressing gown,

her face changing, eyelashes lengthening,

eyebrows arcing, lips as red as Smarties;

while our father fusses with keys, phone numbers,

instructions for the babysitter, with telling us

we should be in bed by now. We plead:

Just five minutes more.


She appears out of the bedroom:

her bare shoulders, her leaf-green satin dress

held up by the grace-of-god,

her night-time perfume, her diamanté jewellery,

a necklace with stones as big as sixpences.

She clips a pendant earring to her left ear,

to her right ear, turns to face us:

How do I look?