Jean Andrews was born in Co. Clare and educated at NUIG and the University of Nottingham where she teaches Hispanic Studies. She has translated the Cuban poet, Nancy Morejón (Black Woman and Other Poems, Mango, 2001) and published a first a collection, In an Oubliette, in 2005 (Arima). Her translations of the Spanish poet, Carmen Conde and her second collection will appear in 2013.
My mother’s was the kind of world
in which something was always to blame.
So, when it came to dying,
without a thought,
she pinned it on us,
swearing we made her climb a huge great tree
when she should have been on her sick bed
and kept her there until she was all out of breath
and the only possible conclusion
was early, untimely death;
that we put her on a patch of green lawn
and made her run on the spot
and jump about until her insides burst
and she fell down
and down into unconsciousness.
She’d change the lock
on the front door when she got home
and that’d fix us,
an alien name
in a Church of Ireland graveyard,
in the walled, portcullised portion
at the back of the church.
Shouldn’t it be with the Catholic brethern
on the sunny slope at the front?
He was a Polish Second World War pilot
But Iris was the wife of Lipoczi
and she had the right to be buried there,
even if her workmates couldn’t come in for the funeral
but huddled on the steps instead,
furtive, grieving, defiant,
half in, half beyond
My grandparents lie behind the lych gate
and my uncles who died before the First World War,
also my aunt, their sister,
who lived to see the American bombardment of Kandahar.
Oh, and my mother was one who mourned from the threshold
with her comrades, all those years before.
I saw him,
younger than I would ever have known him,
in a duck-egg blue, lambswool, v-neck pullover,
slimmer and cleaner of line, hair and moustache
than in my lifetime,
and happier, more open,
alive to a future, perhaps,
before it never happened,
became ossified in irretrievable past,
before he turned into an old cove
in tweed jacket and too many fags,
in a one-room bedsit
with a poster of topless Samantha Fox
on a cupboard masquerading
as a kitchen for a grown, then elderly, man,
trading on a store of jaunty escapades
assembled in an annual fortnight’s
grouse moor, Scotch and pub grub charabanc.
Now in his grave on a bleak hillside,
two decades and more in timber and fabric and bone,
there are hardly any left who remember him.
The tombstone, at his request, reads ‘At Peace’
though most of his life was spent
a long, long way from home.
And yet, this once he brought himself to mind,
safe-conduct from the shadows
one single time:
delivery of a bashful legacy –
from one who proved, to all attempts, hermetic,
unpropagated, while alive.
You take tiny little petal steps now,
thousands of them every day.
You cannot trust the world anymore,
so you must always be wary of attack,
especially from those who say they care, because
they change shape, almost all the time,
and new faces lie, while old ones
find new tricks to get you outside the door,
into the horror which is the one thing
you know for certain
awaits you there.
They say you loved them once.
Really? What was that?
Another trap, perhaps. You can’t be up
to their devious ways. Keep
on your feet, ever vigilant,
go without sleep, don’t eat,
forget you have physical needs,
you can’t afford distractions now,
in this long battle, an attrition of wits,
between you and this sacred cow
they’re calling duty.
Well, they have time
for such luxuries of mind. You,
of necessity, have left such inconsequential matters
long ago, well aside.
And still, on a dappled Easter Monday
it came that you loved me once.
We were standing on a small bridge
while the dog capered on the riverside.