Last night I dreamt that I was 26,
the age my mother was when she married
and shunted from her crowded homestead in the city
into a solitary bungalow built by my father;
looking over the stubbly field she gave up
this last unholy qualm: what have I done?
My father still lived in a village in County Down
at – for him – the adolescent age of 26.
There was a long tot machine which could add up
and subtract accounts (my grandmother had married
a tradesman) at the yank of a stiff lever:
a gadget charming, he says, in its simplicity.
My parents met at a dancehall in the city.
I see her in a sleeveless dress, perhaps, sitting down
and my jug-eared and inimitable father
considering that he is no longer 26 –
he’s beginning to feel the minuses of the unmarried.
He smokes the fags that later she makes him give up
and crosses the dance floor. Would my mother get up
and dance with him? Outside the city
is in darkness: industrial but unhurried.
A slight, predictable rain is falling down.
My mother, who is not yet 26,
agrees to dance one dance with my jug-eared father.
This is the turning point. This is the father
of all love stories: the moment they give up
the multiple things of life round 26.
The lights in the dance hall shift in intensity;
the mirror ball throws snowflakes in a melt down.
26, they say, is a good age to get married
or to do something momentous like get married.
These are the past lives of my mother and father.
which have come to me in fragments, handed down
like a solvable puzzle – ready to give up
some clue to the possibilities of the city
that my mother left when she was 26.
Last night I dreamt that I was 26 and married
To the city. Under a fog, the voice of my father:
What will you give up? What will be handed down?