It was as far from
Sybil Fawlty as you could get:
I know, I know,
Oh, I know, said the voice over and over.
He didn’t of course, not exactly,
difference making distance, distance staking difference.
From my distance though, just a few breaths away,
so close I could see the pores on the back of his neck,
I felt the visceral truth of his avowal
and the undertow of close-kept sorrow
as he held his failed, fretful child
whose chin rested on his shoulder,
her face face to face with mine.
She ageless, frailly tumescent,
a macrocephalic rag doll lolling into his wholeness.
Her dark curls lustrously were her only winning way.
She would not make him a grandfather.
We were stalled in the stairwell
of the Fishguard to Rosslare ferry,
summoned en masse to return to our vehicles,
but somehow out of sync,
with the doors to the hold still locked.
So jammed, our world reduced
to an unsought sweaty intimacy.
My sea view of Tuskar Rock
and the broad sweep of the old familial houses
as we approached the harbour
shrank to this
out of sync child, her father and mother- strangers-
before the doors released us and the vehicles dispersed us.
Did he and his wife think their life would become this?
Days of grit and slobber
grudging a truncated future?
One foot after another,
one fitful rest after the exacting exhaustions of one day’s care
and on and on and on to the vanishing point
of relieved, grieved and rightful loss.
I know, I know, he murmured,
and it was about as close as you could get to
the honour accorded to kinship
and the sway of adamantine tenderness.
The integral heft of his words knew
that from the grist of care would accrue
the silky pure flour of love,
sufficient to see them through
And endure. Beyond the care.
The child’s eyes- blue profundities- met mine,
and I reached out to touch her unthriving hand.
*This poem was shortlisted for the Australian Catholic University Poetry Prize 2018.