Five Poems

from The Blue Guitar

Sunday tomorrow. The house goes still.
Her father steadies himself at the basin,
foam like January snow on his face.
Her mother holds a finger to her lips.
The child stares at the razor.
They name it a cut-throat
he told her once. She doesn't know why.
He begins. Child and mother hush.
In the yard, calves and donkey fall silent.
He scrapes trails of smooth skin,
rinses blood-pinked foam
off the blade. Job finished.
Her mother holds out the towel. He turns
grinning, once a week clean, innocent
as anything. Yes, her mother says drily
that's the one I married alright.
Then she goes out to get in the turf.
The child hugs her father and breathes in
the benediction of soap and water.
Outside a calf bawls, the donkey calls.
Lightness comes back to the house for now.

A letter from John Morrin, Royal Air Force base, Aden.
                    Khormaksar, 28th October 1949.
The heat in this place thins the blood.
The doctor says watch out for colds
for six months after going home.
We've a church on camp for Mass
on days of obligation. At night
the Irish fellows say a Rosary.
How are prices at home this year?
Will fattened cattle hold their own?
Demand was not great at Ballsbridge I'm told.
Your letter was the first I heard
about that man's brother going missing.
Perhaps he'll turn up safe somewhere,
though it looks as if the Guards in Naas
are holding out no hope of that.
A lad who crashed-landed in the desert here,
was stripped and killed by the natives. I hope
your winter won't be too severe.
I reckon fodder will be scarce,
you will need as much as you can buy
without being burdened with cattle of mine.
It was good of you to keep them for me.
Have you any photos of our old place?
I think of it often out here. It's so hot
I hardly need to lick the stamp.
If I could have them just to see
I'd post them to you by return.
The ones of Lil, yourself, Pat,
made me anxious to be back.

The petrol pump attendant
He stares again at oil in a rain puddle,
kingfisher streaks, blue and green and gold.
He's seen this kaleidoscope so many times
he cannot admire the colours anymore
and mostly the oil reminds him of shoes
while the hours from two to ten inch on
not even hours, the one hour grinding over
and over - except for a day when his boss,
sporting a pair of flashy cream shoes,
stepped out of the car into the oil puddle
and effed and blinded to his dainty wife
"A hundred and twenty five pounds, the hoors!"
and kept on yelling it like a shout of grief
"A hundred and twenty five hooring pounds!"
Except for that one day the hour drags on
time spreadeagled over dirty ground.

A night out
They have made the effort all the same.
Spruced up in fresh, pressed clothes
in the beige of the Corrib Lounge
they share a desperate silence
pretending to listen to their own minds.
Once, words spilled from them like wheat from a sack,
golden as grain in a good year
or they stretched out in a different silence
that lay lazily between sighs,
little enough needing to be said.
Now, they stare ahead and wait for words
like landed fish out of oxygen
but nothing leaps from these tongues tonight.
Yet, in this silence, in this nothing to say,
is there not tenderness, everything said?

We will cherish your daughter like one of our own.
Thirteen you say? A flower emerging.
Petals not yet unfolded..
For his money he will expect to see blood.

Yes, the money is good for her tender age.
A family man, so kind to his children.
He has a girl her age, his pride, his jewel.
He will squeeze her throat when he comes.

Don't worry, nothing will go wrong for her.
Oh, a room of her own, made for her you could say.
Your girl will always have a smile on her lips.
A night in the long box sees to that.,

We would like you to have this camera. The latest.
She will earn it back in the first ten minutes.
Take a nice picture to remember her by.