For Mother

When evening light the garden fills
And shadows fall across the lawn
Beneath the oak,
Down the long path
With trug of windfalls
And a bunch of mint,
I see you coming,
Smiling, to greet us.

March 1993

Shooting stars in Autumn

Where are you now, dear hearts, from what far bourne
Do you survey the lives of those who mourn?
Too soon, in quick succession through the night,
Your tired spirits took their final flight,
So stars in Autumn shoot across the sky
And in one moment fall to earth and die.
But on your journey, loving, brave, upright,
You shared with us the burning of your light.

For Granny and Bumpah
April 1993

Tiananmen Square

The Student’s Poem

Last night as I slept in Tiananmen Square
I dreamt a new age had begun.
White peonies bloomed in forests of jade
And a bridge joined the earth and sun.
Our bicycles flew on butterfly wings
And they carried us far and high,
On currents of hope we floated along
Like kites through a cloudless sky.

But daylight breaks early in Tiananmen Square
And our time for such dreaming is done.
The tanks start to roll with the first morning light
To the crack of truncheon and gun.
A blind man cries out: “I can hear rifle shots
And I smell the smoke on the air.
Oh, tell me, please tell me, what do you see
In the vastness of Tiananmen Square?”

How blessed the sightless! “The smoke pall hangs thick
On the bodies of wounded and slain.
The petals are bruised and the peony heads
Are bowed down to earth by the rain.
The butterfly wings are crushed in the mud
And our blood flows away to the sea.”
Oh, the tears are flooding his sightless eyes
And my own bitter tears blind me.

Deng’s Poem

When I was their age
I was crossing mountain passes
Deep in snow,
My feet wrapped in straw,
Doubled up at night
With cold and hunger,
Soaking
my swollen chilblains in urine
To relieve the pain.
When the thaw began,
We were all captured
And the Nationalists
Clubbed us black and blue.

Now from where I sit
On my lacquered chair
Upholstered in saffron silk,
I hear the gunfire
In Tiananmen Square.
In fact, you should know
My hesitation
Was short-lived,
For the choice between
Men and orthodoxy
Is not difficult to make.
We, too, paid a price
For all we conquered.
We turned the country
Upside down but now,
At my age, I don’t
Really want to live
Such turmoil again.

In the dark, still pool
Below my window,
A giant carp swims
In constant circles.
He was there before
We began our march,
He will still be swimming
When I am gone.
Give me your arm
And walk me to the pool,
And bring some pieces
Of rice bread with you.

The Mother’s Poem

I begged him not to go
But how could I
Expect him to obey
When all around
The youthful current flowed
So swift and strong.
Last night on my old sheets
He wrote in black
His hopeful testament
And by sunrise
This morning, he was gone.

This is his only
Picture I possess,
Taken by the Gate
Of Heavenly Peace
In last winter’s
Early snowfall,
Not far from where
He fell and died today.
They cradled his head,
Red as a poppy,
Then bore him away
On a builder’s cart.

He was my only child
Which pleased the Party.
Now they have taken
My one child away.
Alone, I hear
His footfall at the door
But it is only
The night wind
Trying to enter.

Reciting the poem in Tiananmen Square in 2005. Celia Cummins, Judy Smith and Victoria Smith

Reciting the poem in Tiananmen Square in 2005. Celia Cummins, Judy Smith and Victoria Smith

 

 

Lichens of the mind

I come each year to where my father lies
And read again the polished granite stone,
Which tells me that he died on such a date,
At such an age and may he Rest in Peace.
The formula is bare, so much unsaid,
And with each year becomes more indistinct
As images I hold become concealed
Behind eroding lichens of the mind.

August 1985

Demolition

The pavement is empty where once the men
Assembled after Mass to chew the cud
And roll a stringy cigarette or two,
Exchanging incense smoke for nicotine.
The women chatted homewards in the wake
Of hungry children, full of Sabbath grace,
With all the hours of Sunday yet to come,
Spread out before them like a wedding feast.
All that is gone. Where once the altar stood
And candles burned before the Lord of Hosts.
The magpies stalk and heavy builders’ trucks,
Removing rubble, send up clouds of dust.

The demolition of our parish church.
Poem finished 27.3.89

Adult Shores

Poem for Bridget

So softly in the summer night
Your fragile vessel has set sail,
Back through your Irish Infancy,
Bound for the Islands of the Blest.

We stand upon our adult shores
And through the curtain of our tears
Perceive at last, in all its grace,
Your loving presence in our lives.

Now comes the gathering of our years,
the harvest of our childhood days,
And in the barns of memory
We store the blessings
of your love.

For my brothers and sisters
In loving memory of our Mother 1903 – 1992

Lost and Found

Granny bought me a lavender bag
Of pink with a white silk bow.
I lost my precious lavender bag
And they hunted high and low,
In every room, beneath the chairs,
Behind the pot plants on the stairs.

Among the slippers, shoes and toys,
Beneath the settle in the hall,
Between the books on every shelf,
Inside the clock against the wall,
In each dark corner, pink and round
My muslin bag could not be found.

They searched all day and half the night
And still they looked in vain,
On every path around the house
And up and down the lane,
Behind the hedge, along the track,
Among the flowerpots in the back.

The days went by, the bag was lost
And no more called to mind,
But then by chance in a tiny drawer,
My treasure did I find.
The joy they felt was clear to see,
But happiest of all was me!

For Bess