Skunkinroadsday’s Childe

Batteries on desk: 3

Hats in office: 4

Days to Santa Fe: 2

Eyeglasses on desk: 3

Hawk feathers on desk: 1

Books to read: 3

Parent phone calls made: 1

Chapters of novel on desk to edit: 1

Pints of McConnell’s ice-cream bought: 1

Deer seen this evening: 1

Skunks in middle of road coming home: 1

Non-stop lecture time tonight by instructor: 100

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Feast of the Epiphany::

The clouds above the Dublin Mountains are singed cotton balls and the rose bush branches tremble in the North Wind Mam hates so much. The lawn is a frozen square of muck, white frost crusted on the few blades of grass left standing.

We tramp up the Rathgar Road to the shops and pass the orange workman’s shelter beside the primary school I don’t attend because we’re not Protestants. Mam says something about the transients wasting the taxpayer’s money playing cards and supping tea all day long. One of the workmen is fixing some gadget outside the shelter, and she says “Good morning.”

At the traffic lights, a blind man taps his white stick against the curb, and I wonder if there are holes where his eyes should be. She tells me to stop staring. When we get into the gourmet shop, she asks the shopkeeper for some brown sugar, the kind with large granules. He smiles and rubs my head before pointing out the sugar, which is cramped in a corner behind a basket full of stinky cheeses.

“It’s to baste the ham,” she says.

He nods, and says, “Sure you’ll be pleased as punch with a ham covered in that demerara sugar.”

In the ordinary shop, Mam buys a tin of Robin’s Starch, the one with the little bird on the can. When I ask why she needs it, she says it’s so she can whiten the dirty underpants, because they’re getting a bit musty. Da’s underpants are huge things, like ship’s sails, white and wide. There’s a slit where his mickey goes, but mine don’t have that slit. Maybe when I’m a bit older.

After the shops we go to the Church of the Three Patrons to say a prayer for the black babies in Africa who are starving to death. It’s the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and bright yellow and white bunting flaps from the church railings. When we get outside again she tightens the scarf around my throat and pulls the collar of my coat up around my ears. The East Wind cuts into us as we push against it toward home.

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This Year’s Voyage

The still form of the fallen bird, feathers ruffled in place as at the exact moment of death. The world is a private one, the container of secrets and shames, of reputations and damage done over years, of stark landscapes and icy skies. Paper treasures store memories like holdfasts on coastal rocks buffeted by storm waves and wild surf. The toast was to a new year of straight roads and gentle swells of pastureland as far as the eye can see. Home is a broken nose, the ridge offset and the shadow of damage contained in profile. No more to creep the streets, head bowed, shame a relentless badge of failed marriage and crushed spirits. The old clothes of the recently interred year are shed, the soil and insects already working the weave to return the material to compost. This time should be one where to act is the better path to tread, the dead-end of inactivity and passive reply a closed-off street. In the morning light the dead bird is still, yellow beak and feet cold and brittle. The nare contains blood, a speckle, perhaps a byproduct of a hawk’s attack from above. Mothers recede in the dawn, their white hair thinner and washed gold spun in the lamplight. Change is the washrag with which I shall wipe away those sins of past days, the bitterest almonds stinking of deathlove and the peel of a thousand oranges decaying in the barrel. Maybe it is time to let the dog wag its tail instead of the other way round. God and cheap brandy, fur-lined gloves and shorn fields, empty cabins and plump pillows are the watchwords for writer’s tears and dropped phone calls from home. Alive and at sea, the sails billow with fresh winds from the east and towards those distant drumlins the small craft breaks the waves, her proud prow and oiled oar-locks renewed for the voyage ahead.

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