Tim Cunningham is Limerick-born, and has worked in education in Dublin, Delaware, London and Essex.
His sixth collection, The Lyrics to the Nightingale’s Song, is due out with Revival Press in April.
(‘Lord, You are hard on mothers’, Padraic Pearse)
There is blood at the birth of a child
And blood at the birth of a nation.
The blood in a country cottage was discreet
As a young woman’s waters broke
And my father slipped from bow
To stern down the deck of her body.
Beside the Liffey, a nation’s waters broke
And the river ran red as if
Blood was the currency of freedom.
Outside the whitewashed cottage, a mother
Proudly pegged white napkins to the line
Where the plover’s splash was golden,
Bog myrtle perfumed the air
And slanes sliced softly into turf.
Outside Dublin’s G.P.O.,
The tricolor fluttered its pride,
Startled starlings scattered,
The stench of death polluted air
And bayonets dug for seams of flesh.
There was no massacre of innocents.
The baby smiled and cried, as babies do,
And Moloch, knowing that war,
Like the poor, is always with us,
Deferred to the voracious jaws
Of World War Two’s Italian front
In nineteen forty-four
When, outside sheltered cottages, mothers
Still pegged white nappies to the line.
SNOW ON THE SHANNON
Snow brings its own light,
Like on that February morning
By the Shannon when the softest fall
Was white confetti blessing
The marriage of heaven and earth.
Not a dog barked,
Not a church bell rang;
Even the faintest echo
Of a longship’s oar
Was confederate with silence.
Serried gulls perched,
Facing the breeze,
On invisible railings –
A fairground shooting gallery
Without the guns.
In the distance, Thomond
Bridge and King John’s Castle
Ghosted on the river.
A bank of cloud thought itself
A backdrop at the Abbey.
Was I part of the scene
Or a spectator?
A single curious daffodil
Threw on her yellow shawl
And peeped out to enquire.
Only my footprints left a mark.
I felt I should apologise
As if I’d smudged
A masterpiece of white
On white Seurat dots.
Birds fly; fish swim; travellers travel.
Like migrating birds, they flocked
North west from India, sans frontieres,
Bringing their soulful music, dance and song.
Horse whisperers, they also tinkered
With tin plates and mugs, sold lucky
Sprigs of heather. Gypsy Rose Lee
Was ubiquitous. At any fairground,
Cross her palm with silver
And her crystal ball would conjure
The tall, dark, handsome stranger
Of every girl’s desire.
Did she foresee the Great Devouring?
Did her crystal ball show Hitler stitching
Black triangles on her people’s clothes,
Tattooing ‘Z’ for ‘Zigeuner’
Before camp numbers on their skin?
Did she foresee his magic trick,
Making them disappear in clouds of smoke
Congealing to black triangles above Auschwitz
And Dachau? Pyramids unfit for pharaohs.