A Belfast sink, sheer-sided as a granite cliff-edge,
turnt frozen by the hard light
through narrow-knackered drumlins sat squat as a throne
in my mother’s kitchen.
Morning would open like a letter,
and as surely as light twisting its squint
across the marble acre of worktops, stovetops and burnished metal.
Pristine, blue-flowered earthenware clung flat to the four corners
of that little room,
for my Mother’s kitchen was the world when our barren bellies,
legs wrung hollow from hoaking, as bogging as the hills
would come hurtling, skiting into the sanctum, shaking the crockery
with howls of the morning’s shenanigans.
With widening eye and ravenous hand we would devour
white whole loaves of soft bread, stuffed to the gills
with spilling jam, the tang of misremembered berry,
or some off-cut, rich in fat that bubbled
like tadpoles in rivers of meat.
We decapitated eggs with the curved edge of swords,
poured slivers of salt on the uniforms of buttered soldiers,
none stood a chance against us, the plundering usurpers
of this potter’s field.
Out polooped our five tubby beakers,
their stout lips scrubbed within an inch of life,
shoehorned from their wooden hut replete with brittle china,
shimmering glass. The splash of silent valley water,
soft as angel’s feet, signalled squash, in sticky excess
stood ready to slake the raging throats of boys who grew too fast
My mother reigned here. Amongst the urchins,
their eyes like pallets as she brazenly chided
their softened glottals, corrected the saying
of words she never learned.
That time seemed short. Mouths stuffed
full with laughter from the craic. Food and friendship were yoked
but tacking, leeward, with no notion of what lay
over the swollen ankles of crannogs, drumlins.
Our echo would linger long after the dust settled
on my Mother’s kitchen. Neither use nor ornament
she scolded at our backs. We left her to potter
in the twisting light of the foundering room,
amid the clatter and peal of blood tanged cutlery
the thunder and plash of stinging water on the cliff-edge
of a Belfast sink.
I imagine you there,
swaddled in your womb.
Nestled in the folds of tender flesh
as you came undone.
First, the umbilical cord.
Your link to us dissolved.
Then your little feet
in their protective curl
went toe by toe.
Your tiny arms and legs
Fibre by fibre you faded.
You were never here she says,
but you’ll never leave.
Not even a headstone for you
for me to run my fingers through your marble name
and someone else’s work carved out
piece by tender piece.
Line by line
and inch by stitch
with that horrible delicate slowness.
Unspun unmade undone.
Your tale untold.
With a foot firmly on each side of the Irish Sea, Alex Smith was raised in troubled Northern Ireland during the Eighties before moving to the slightly less troubled south coast and later the midlands of England for the Noughties. Educated in all things English and Spanish at the Queen’s University of Belfast and in all things educational at the University of Chichester, Smith comes from that stable of pared-down, plain-speaking poets such as Muldoon and Armitage. His work has taken him to some of the most socially deprived schools in England. His poetry has been published in ‘Twyckenham Notes’, ‘Tammy’, online at ‘Clear Water Poetry’, ‘ABCTales’ (where he also edits) and in ‘The UK Poetry Library’ and has a collection entitled ‘Home’ coming soon through Cerasus Poetry.
Our JustGiving page is open for donations to the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund – no amount is too small if you feel moved to support.