This is not a confessional poem

By Paula Meehan
Read by Clare Dunne

I write it in the light of Ancient Greece
or in the ancient light of this mountain.
I write in the shadows of the myths
or in the shadow of the people who made them.
I do not know that I’ve the right to say such things.
I only know I must.

I found her in the cold light of Finglas,
my mother curled to a foetal question
in the backyard. The stars were glittering
eyes in the night. The grass was rimed with frost
and crunched underfoot.
I remember
thinking how ill clad she was
for the night that was in it.

Her brushed nylon pyjamas, her thin bare feet
ill shod. Not a sound to be heard
in the sleeping estate. Far off a dog.
Then another. A car starting up,
the engine having trouble catching.

I had woken from a dream of summer,
my first lover, to shouts and doors banging.
I had woken to my father calling out
my mother’s name. Again and again.
And dear sweet jesus and o christ.

The downstairs windows were all open wide.
It brought the frosty air inside.
You could still smell gas.

I found her with her head in the oven.
I dragged her outside.
Was all he said
then, and ever after. As if to allay accusation
or set his own story straight, or give the only facts
worth recording. He was not a man for elaborations.
Stoic? Or cynic? To this day I’m still in doubt.
Laconic for sure: though far from Ancient Sparta
he was reared, he would have fitted in.

We thought she was dead.
Her feet were like ice in my hands. Were
it not for the night that was in it
we might have missed her breath—
the thin reed of it rising, her sad tune to the air
proof positive she was still there.

We carried her in between us,
my father and I, never again that close,
or complicit. Never again the same as we were.

The doctor when she came was drunk
and worse than useless. Prescribed more
sleepers and downers, pocketed her fee
and stumbled towards her car.

The sun was coming up, the children
were whingeing for their breakfasts.
The older ones were rushing off to school.

And that is how I leave them now:
I pull the door behind me firmly closed.
The past is a lonely country.
There are no charts, no maps.
All you read is hearsay, as remote
as the myths of this Greek island
where one small boat putters out to sea
in a blaze of morning sunlight
dragging my attention in its wake.

Credits

Directed by Matthew Thompson.

Part of the second Coole Park Poetry Series, co-produced with Druid and curated by Colm Tóibín.

"This is not a confessional poem" by Paula Meehan (Painting Rain, 2009) is reprinted by kind permission of Carcanet Press, Manchester, UK.