She chose the dress. She got the flowers. It was a special day.

For the first time in months she was going to visit her mum and dad.

There was hugging and food and giggling with the auntie, and then they all headed off. They wrapped up warm, and squashed into the car.

She touched up her lipstick on the way.

As if they were actually there.

As if she could hold them, or feel their warmth.

But they are long gone, and know nothing of the lipstick, the wintry wreath or the stones she has carried faithfully from the beach.

Back in the car, heat made its way back into their bones and they told tales of the parents. Gone too soon, but gone. Living on in us.

when the auntie was a girl

In the 1960s, when she was a young woman, and he was ‘just a cub’, the auntie met Seamus Heaney. Known for keeping things safe and well hidden around the house, she has no idea where the poem is now. The typed poem, the shape of the letters texturing the page, the puncturing force of a full stop. The sheet is signed by the unpublished poet.

We spent part of Friday night on the phone, auntie and I, talking of family things and poetry. Sharing the news, the loss and Heaney’s words. She remembering that night, me remembering previous tellings of it.


Fishermen at Ballyshannon

Netted an infant last night

Along with the salmon.

An illegitimate spawning,


A small one thrown back

To the waters. But I’m sure

As she stood in the shallows

Ducking him tenderly


Till the frozen knobs of her wrists

Were dead as the gravel,

He was a minnow with hooks

Tearing her open.


She waded in under

The sign of her cross.

He was hauled in with the fish.

Now limbo will be


A cold glitter of souls

Through some far briny zone.

Even Christ’s palms, unhealed,

Smart and cannot fish there.


Published in Wintering Out (1972)

731 days

Well, get us. We’ve made it thus far, just by getting on. Putting one foot in front of the other.

family b&w

You knew we’d manage.

You knew the pain would dull around the edges, that the physical pain would fade from my chest.

You knew that there would still be days when I’d waken, lost and confused. Still be days when I’d cry.

But then, we’re criers- you’d expect nothing else. I never did learn to drip discreetly, in an unblotchy fashion. I sniffle and snort, and scare the dog.

You’re still pushing me on- upward and outward.

found at:
found at:

Thanks, Ma.

(2012 was a leap year)

all around us

Today was Cemetry Sunday. The Blessing of the graves. Time for the annual clean up. Show up with fresh flowers, say many and various prayers and catch up with all rabbit’s friends and relations. Remember why we don’t normally park in the carpark for this event- 45 mins to leave.

The priest reminded us that God is everywhere; the dead are with God; therefore they’re all about us too. Our loved ones haven’t really gone away, they’re all around.

Well, sometimes I wonder about God, but I know my loved ones are around. They’re in my head and my heart, in my stories, my laughter and my tears.

As we looked at the spot where our parents and grandparents lie, Cousin wondered aloud about how things would change in the incoming year. Bad move, Cousin. I’d rather not think about imponderables. When I’ve something to worry about, then I’ll worry with the best of them, but I haven’t the energy to spend thought on vague nothings.


Then I came home to discover that the horror Helen was talking about affected a family I knew. Folk I haven’t seen in years, but always think of fondly. People I spent a long summer with in New Jersey. The people who helped me discover that whiskey isn’t good for me. The young woman who showed me that it was possible to be feminine without fear of losing brain cells. A young woman I was a little in awe of- she had a career and a relationship and poise and skills, while I was still a daft mess. The young man who refused to wear his glasses, and who made me laugh. The young man I knew to be a great teacher, an inspiration and a friend when I needed one.

Today, that couple buried their son. He was 18. Not that much younger than they were when we shared an apartment on the Jersey shore. His parents are fine people; I hope they relearn the ability to laugh and to love the world. I hope they find their son with them, wherever they are.