We have a special treat for you with this week’s Featured Poem – coming fresh from the latest spring issue of The Reader magazine is a wonderful poem by Bernard O’Donoghue, which presents quite a different ‘counter-nostalgic’ view of life in Ireland through the eyes of a child brought up in extreme poverty.
You can read the story behind the poem from Bernard himself in The Reader’s regular ‘The Poet on His Work’ feature, and a very fascinating and insightful read it is too. But now, sit back and enjoy the poem:
The Mule Duignan
Nowadays it always rains in Bristol,
and every night, trying to get to sleep,
I hear it, looking beyond to the lights
winking over the Clifden Bridge, like the lights
of the shoreline seen from the Irish mailboat.
It helps me to drop off if I go over
details from childhood, like the big key
of acrid cast-iron that shut and opened
the front door. I find it strange to still remember
that it opened clockwise, and locked the way
you’d expect that it would open. Most often
I think back to a December night
when my small sister crept into bed with me,
shivering. We listened to our father’s voice,
emphatic and quiet: ‘if the cow does die tonight,
we’ll have to sell up and go.’ We prayed ourselves
to sleep. In the morning the wind woke us
and we all went out together to the stall.
The cow was standing up, eating hay.
And then for the first and only time I saw
my parents embracing. I hate that country:
its poverties and embarrassments
too humbling to retell. I’ll never ever
go back to offer it forgiveness.
When my father died at last, the place
was empty. I went back to bury him,
then turned the key in the lock and dropped it
in the estate-agent’s letterbox
and turned my back for ever on it all.
The Reader 45 is out now, featuring the accompanying essay to this poem. If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to receive the latest issue and future issues over the course of one year here.