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
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
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.
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,
not brown where the earth had kissed them,
or had grown up and gone years ago.