Against the victories of age
Would not concede defeat
He dyed his hair
And when my mother called
He said he wasn’t there.
My mother, too
Fought back against the years
But in her Sunday prayers
Apologised to God.
My father said there was no God
“And that one knows it to her painted toes”
My mother smiled.
She’d plucked her eyebrows too
And wore a see-through skirt
With matching vest.
“He likes French knickers best,” she said
“I’ll have them blest.”
My father raged.
He liked his women young, he said
And not half-dead.
He bought a second-hand guitar he couldn’t play
And sang the only song he knew –
When summer came
My father left the house
He tied a ribbon in his hair
And wore a Kaftan dress.
My mother watched him walking down the street
“He’ll break his neck in that,” she said –
“As if I care.”
He toured the world
And met a guru in Tibet.
“I’ve slept with women too,” he wrote
“And they not half my age.”
My mother threw his letter in the fire –
“The lying ghett – he couldn’t climb the stairs
With all his years”
She burned her bra
And wrote with lipstick on a card –
“I’ve got two sailors in the house
They’ve got your children’s eyes.”
My father didn’t wait to answer that
He came back home.
And sitting by the fire
He said he’d lied
He’d never slept with anyone but her.
My mother said she’d never lied herself –
She’d thrown the sailors out an hour before he came.
My father’s heart would never be the same –
Plaisir d’Amour .
Through autumn days
My father felt the leaves
Burning in the corners of his mind.
My mother, who was younger by a year,
Looked young and fair,
The sailors from the port of Martinique
Had kissed her cheek
He searched the house
And hidden in a trunk beneath the bed
My father found his second-hand guitar.
He found her see-through skirt
With matching vest.
“You wore French knickers once,” he said
“I liked them best.”
“I gave them all away,” my mother cried
“To sailors and to captains of the sea.
I’m not half-dead
I’m fit for any bed – including yours.”
She wore a sailor’s cap
And danced around the room
While father strummed his second-hand guitar.
He made the bed,
He wore his Kaftan dress
A ribbon in his hair.
“I’ll play it one more time,” he said
“And you can sing.”
She sang the only song they knew –
My mother died
Comment from a neighbour
Who was there:
“They’d pass for twenty.”
© 1979, Patrick Galvin
From: New and Selected Poems
Publisher: Cork University Press, Cork, 1996