Caryatids

Aidan Mathews

For my mother

Lie down beside me
As you had to once in a West of Ireland cottage
The night the fetch from Newfoundland flipped the storm-window
And the sea went mad at the sight of itself. Spray fled from it howling
Like a naked file of reprisals being bullhorned into a quarry –
The stencils of sock-elastic, the pinch-marks of tortoiseshell glasses!
Water-rats wolfed a punnet of poison above my worst asthma.
Wind in the rafters whined for a steroid. Behind my medicines –
Tablets, capsules, ampoules; the drooled, useless nebulisers –
I could scent you beside me all that time in the darkness,
Not the talc and toilet-water, your chapped wrists rooting in basins
Till your hands smelled of ammonia mixed with atomisers,
But something before that, some more ancient enlistment,
Intended, tender, a presence hidden by firelight
With a Mesopotamian shadow that soared to a height behind her
And would not stand for less.

Lie down beside me
As we did in a garden later between two flowering territories –
Beyond our apricots the lawn belonged to France the fatherless
Where the war graves crisscross endlessly in a knitting pattern;
And over the raspberry bushes of a heat-haze in Donnybrook
Soviet tom-tits intercepted all alien greenfly
In the only part of the motherland that was not flesh and blood.
Ambassadors in chains. Our commonwealth of littleness.
We were dressing a washing-line, a pavilion of white flags,
Old-fashioned underwear, blouses, slips and pillow-slips,
The clockwise windings for wounded heads, a breathing-space.
We were talking about our dead and the Resurrection,
As if there were nothing between us except our bodies,
As if we were two distinct persons taking the same singular verb
Like God the Father and Jesus in the weird Greek of Saint Paul’s
Shalom and Amen to the mammals.