Facing the Public
My mother never asked like a normal person, it was
I’m asking you for the last time, I’m imploring you
not to go up that road again late for Mass.
She never had slight trouble sleeping, it was
Never, never, never for one moment did I get a wink,
as long as my head lay upon that pillow.
She never grumbled, because No one likes a grumbler,
I never grumble but the pain I have in my two knees this night
there isn’t a person alive who would stand for it.
She didn’t just have an operation; she died in the Mercy Hospital
and came back to life only when Father Twohig beckoned
from the foot of her blood-drenched bed.
She didn’t just own a shop and a pub, she told bemused waitresses
that she was running a business in the country, urgently
when she insisted that we were served first.
She didn’t do the Stations of the Cross
she sorrowed the length and breadth of the church.
And yet, she could chalk up a picture in a handful of words
conjure a person in a mouthful of speech; she took off her customers
to a T, captivating us all in the kitchen,
drawing a bigger audience than she bargained for.
How often we became aware of that silent listener
when he betrayed himself with a creak, a sneeze or a cough.
How long had he been standing, waiting in the shop?
We looked at each other with haunted faces,
and I, being the youngest, got the job of serving him
his jar of Old Time Irish, his quarter pound of ham,
writing his messages into The Book, red-faced and dumb
before his replete and amused look.
Meanwhile, inside, my mother held a tea towel to her brow.
Never, never, never would she be able, as long as she lived,
even if she got Ireland free in the morning, no, no, no
she would never be able to face the public again.