The Morning After (hardback) - Sam Gardiner

Sample text

A goat on the desolate road by Carrowdore

trots along with ten empty miles before it.

Hanging from its womb is half a dead kid,

the tiny hooves of whose forelegs
do not quite touch the tarmac.

When I overtake at a funeral’s pace

the goat never spares my holiday hire car

a glance, eyes fixed on some

unsignposted sanctuary the road ahead

is painfully, slowly unwinding towards.

A mile nearer nowhere I pull up for a girl

thumbing a lift plus two more covered in smiles

who tumble out from behind a stone wall.

Goats are charmless unfeeling beasts, the Devil

combs their beards, one says, all giggling together.

Safely penned in a garden in Portadown

our nanny, who between attempts to escape

yanks my father’s socks off the washing line

and feeds them to the twins, a pair of wire-haired kids,

must dream of places like Carrowdore.

Country girls from the middle of nowhere,

off to the Sunday night disco in Belmullet,

are familiar with dead births. They are

content that nature looks after its own,
six bare knees lined up along the back seat.

If but a man with a wife dead

And a wife alive beside him

Could be forgiven for having read

Thomas Hardy till bedtime.

The ghosts who inhabit the summerhouse

in winter remembered him reading his westerns

about real men with big hands and women

with big eyes. They raised thin voices

unlikely to disturb the deckchair spiders,

or the narcissus bulbs smouldering hopefully

in dark borders where he planted them.

When the vicar appeared at his bedside

and said ‘Let us try a wee prayer, Tom,’

Tom flapped him away, saying ‘I’ve tried that

and it doesn’t work.’ So the vicar prayed

for him in church that Sunday. It didn’t work.

We gave away his homing pigeons to friends

and members of the flying club, but they kept

coming back, in case nothing had changed.

What Samantha does after dark

is not for agnostics. No one who sees

her drag an irate dachshund round the park,

the turbulence left by her striking girth

and voluminous draperies

drawing bewildered butterflies

into her wake, suspects the truth.

Nor do Sunday gardeners charting her progress

with mock alarm. ‘No church today?’ she cries,

to which the stock reply is ‘No,

‘fraid not. I have to cut the grass,

and besides, it grows on Sunday.’

‘It does not,’ she snorts. ‘It stops while you go

to church.’ No one would ever guess,

as she billows boisterously away

to creak a pew, that Samantha alone

at night enjoys her greatest happiness.

Feeling her body all over for lumps,

blotches and tumours of the bone

(as shown in Illness Made Simple),

she knows too well how the heart pumps

this life away. And knows the remedy:

with every probably fatal pimple

or twinge she sinks massively to her knees

and prays eagerly, ‘I’m ready,

Lord, take me now. Take me now. Please.’
The bed I left as soft and warm

as the down in a dove’s wingpit,

but long before the clock alarmed,

before there were clocks to alarm,

before there was time to be alarmed about,

I had joined the team in the minibus

and was crashing through the scattered night,

over bridges that hunched themselves when

they saw us coming. Incandescent at the birdsong

backing a bloodshot sun was struggling up a hill,

a shade less riveting than on TV except that behind

each picture, however thin the atmosphere,

deep the water, wild the life, or early the hour,

stands a camera crew of trained technicians

with ulcers and mortgages. A second camera keeps

an eye on the first, and a slowly panning third sweeps

the location for studio reality. God knows why the sun

did not surmount the earth that morning. The earth

rolled over, abased itself and the sun rode over it.

Over it rode the sun, and so did we.

My obeisance to the sunrise, or earthset, sun-up,

or earthdown, stirred a graveyard of Norfolk

flint-knappers as we racketed past behind a

swaying lorryload of trumpets.

He sneakered home late with pockets like panniers,

so full of windfalls they stretched his new

Oxfam greatcoat and buckled his knees,

and he cursed the builder that built the house
that creaked itself awake, because he thought

he had too many children to know each one personally,

or remember whether they liked sweet apples,

bruised but not brown where the earth had kissed them,

or had grown up and gone years ago.