My mother’s bones are like the bleached carcass of a cow whale
who confused by signals in the Sound could not find the way to the open sea –

nature has no pity
all things are born, live, grow to maturity, die and rot

the gulls and crabs feed on the still-living flesh
the organs flop like large jellyfish onto the stained sand

and the embryo bristles and crusts in the sun and salt wind:

are memories still pregnant in the organism
a magnetic tape-recording of ultrasound waves
leading us through oceans and rites, and pain?

over and over like rolling sharks tearing of chunks of flesh

or does it all stop on a primeval shore
beneath a merging sky and barren rock?

my mother moves from point to point as was expected
sometimes losing her way in self-doubt and delusion
but always finding a passage through illness and despair

achieving only that which a living thing can truly achieve
and yet her greatness was not found in greatness
but in the biological fact of the life itself.


All the animals are safely sleeping in their glass cases
neatly laid out in rows with the Roman soldiers

and the farm machinery

the lion bedding down with the Friesian cows
the oversized hippo with the giraffe

the low lights along the counter
and the streetlights from the Broadway

giving them shadows like the transmigration of souls
from the disused churchyard across the road

in my hand is the exact money for the evening pink sports paper
as I run faster than any cheetah
along the stone wall that locks down the sunken graves

there is no one about –
the summer seats at the bandstand are empty
the doors on the banks are locked

the rain on the Tarmac gives the illusion of a river
flowing past the nude androgynous mannequins
in the clothes shop window

as the bank clock calls time on a time that is frozen
like the manikins in the living room of a council house
like the men drinking out time in brown and cream bars

like the boy wide eyed with wonder
looking at the unaffordable array of animals in a toy shop

a wind-up crocodile snapping at a dragonfly on a wire
that is always just out of reach.

Dixon of Dock Green.

Dixon of Dock Green was like my grandfather,
he never did much, but even the criminals respected him
his moody quietness, yet self-assured wisdom

and everyone knew who really was in charge of the station

like my grandfather talking to the men hunkered along the wall
at the back of the terraced houses

he reasoned that rashness led only to violence
his voice dulled and monotonous among the wire lines of washing
echoing in the arches of the entryways –

these were times of dread and unpredictably
men on rooftops firing indiscriminately into crowds of workers
coming through the shipyard gates and across the bridges

Dixon of Dock Green, black and white in his black and white uniform
stepping out of the London smog on a Saturday night
with his common-sense warnings and morals

into the living room and soon-to-start beginnings of our own Troubles:

my grandfather died in the house he lived in all his life
and said that words mean nothing, that words mean everything
that his generation created the history that would consume his grandchildren

like overlapping waves coming in from far out on a dark ocean –
and Dixon of Dock Green steps with his hands clasped behind his back
into the Goodnight, all, of personal histories.

The disappeared.

They look at you from makeshift notice-boards
on the walls of school assembly halls
temporary city halls, street hoardings

so many faces and sizes and fits
you try hard to focus on the individual

the young smiling student girl who is a lover
the set jaws of a petty civil servant
the grinning face of a highland peasant with broken teeth
pleased at the attention without understanding

the tough city hood who is resigned with knowledge –

so many eyes, they seem to say as one,
You have forgotten us already.

Relatives have given-up scrutinising official and unofficial records
for names and occupations that are still there
but left to mildew and fade like names on thousands of wooden markers

the smell of blocked drains
the polished marble of new public buildings

where, if you ask, they tell you with a shrug,
It’s impossible now
we’ll leave it open for time to forget if not heal

the Government needs to put a line under it all
instead of leaving it raw
not least to spare the whiff of collaboration –
the people need to learn again to forget

in the re-cropped paddy fields they bend to work
wary of each uncertain step
and tell with a grin and nodding heads
how the pig meat has a peculiar taste.

The wait.

And it came underneath the double barrier
keeping to the middle of the road
the kit pinched from its warren
hanging by the scruff as if already dead
its legs dangling loosely.
The taste of warmth, of dung, and urine, and fear
the cat slowly climbed the steps
to a flat area in the front of the public toilets
where it gently left the kit where two walls met
then it lay a little distance
fully stretched on its back in the sun
one eye on its prey
the taste of hot brain, heart, and liver in its mouth.
It took three prods of my boot before the kit took flight
and as I stood in the doorway watched by a prowling cat
I was back again for the first time
the grey wet morning street
the thin railings round my grandmother’s house
a boy of ten, a covered saucepan of broth in my hands
looking down upon a shrunken head
under sour sheets.

Monday afternoon.

In the living room of the dying woman
the dull lamps are switched on
though it is only the afternoon –

she doesn’t know she is dying
she is sleeping the half-trance of the dying

she is aware of them walking around her
as though she were already dead

the tight bandages on her swollen legs
have not been changed
the pus seeps down into her socks

and she hears things slowing down
the hum of the fridge
the water in the cistern
the dull thump of her heart.

It is a grey bloodless afternoon
in the housing-estate she grew up in
someone slams a delivery door
a dog barks like an unattended child
a mobile phone jingles like the future

but she is sailing away
down channels of memories so thick
that they cannot be penetrated

and the young slip of a home-help girl
is filling in forms
looking at her watch
as she has a sly smoke

while her daughter is screaming
at the children in the car
and her son is comatose at work

she sighs three times
and leaves it all behind.

Gary Allen is an award-winning Irish poet. He has published nineteen collections of poetry, most recently, ‘Bonfire Night.’ A new collection, ‘Wing Walking,’ and a selected poems will be published next year in London. Widely published in literary magazines including Australian Book Review, Meajin, Quadrant, Westerly, etc.