Owen Gallagher is from Gorbals, Glasgow, and lives in London. His poems have been published widely in the UK, Ireland and abroad. He has awards from The London Arts Board and The Society of Authors. He has won poetry competitions and his poems have been displayed on London buses and in public places in Ireland and on the Listening Wall, Southbank Centre, London at the Poetry International Festival, 2014.
The Peat Door
Take this door, carved from peat,
to hang on your key-ring,
it leads to a blanket bog,
housed in wind and light;
acres of peace.
There is turf to build an igloo
cotton to dream on,
a stream to sup.
The bog protects and preserves
and serves as a filter,
it absorbs darkness,
On leaving fill your pockets with heather
for the lapels of strangers,
moss as an insole
for your journey.
‘McAlpine’s Fusiliers’ *
When father collapsed into his chair at night, he stared
into the fireplace of himself. What stoked or doused his fire
we never knew. His tongue and hand was rarely raised.
The heat went out of the house when his heart gave in
Our street was lined hundreds of men who stood awkwardly
in suits. I half-expected them to shoulder picks and shovels,
flank the hearse, and march like a regiment behind, singing
that Irish navvy song, McAlpine’s Fusiliers.
An old ganger told me later that father could out-dig
any man and square a hole so plumb it could be tested
with a spirit level. ‘He cemented every gang,’ he said,
‘and was always horsin’ about.’
The old fella broke into song: ‘As down the glen came
McAlpine’s men with their shovels slung behind them,
‘twas in the pub they drank their sub
and up in the spike you’ll find them…’
Those who could sing, sang, and those like me
who marveled at their camaraderie, were angered
that they were sweated to the bone and their throats
were set with concrete by the time they got home.
* McAlpine’s Fusiliers’. A famous Irish ballad regarded
as the anthem of Irish construction workers in Britain.
‘For Your Penance Say Ten Decades of the Rosary …’
Some penitents feared voice recognition, queued in pews elsewhere.
Most were like sprinters, in and out of the confessional box
before you could finish a Hail Mary.
Youngsters like me eavesdropped, failed to comprehend;
‘And did you come, my child?’
‘And did you do in return?’
There was comfort in this communal act of revelation,
being cleansed weekly from the grime of sin.
I walked light-headed from confession determined not to steal
my neighbour’s pen or covet his bike.
The panels of these booths were sooted with sin.
Confession was the Marmite, the honey,
which gelled church and church-goer.
There were no rulers to beat you with, no missing your playtime,
or writing one hundred lines.
Sins decomposed as you rose from your knees
and you felt you could get ten out of ten for spelling
and just might be chosen for the school team, as a reserve.