Patrick Cotter. Illustration: Dearbhla Kelly
(For Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill)
Morning. And the late November sun had finally leapt
over the hurdle of our green, high latitude, cloudless
bright and casting sharp shadows. I was on the speeding train;
fields flew past like fleeing strangers. A straight line of chopped trees
was laid out in one like helpless bodies in triage. Small
birds hopped about, branch to branch, perplexed because the old trees
no longer stood straight in a ditch, forming the great hedgerow
where generations had fledged. At Heuston Station the chef
of the Galway Hooker spooned champignons, white pudding, toast
and ham onto my plate before I headed for the mosque.
I wondered without too much worry whether molecules
of pig on my breath would affront Allah, but wondering
was as dandelion seed in a storm as the men knelt down
to chant, with even the smallest boy fully devoted.
I felt the force of their prayer shudder through me from bone
to sinew; the gleaming coffin of wood as beautiful
as once the freshly-washed body sealed inside, the body
of the man I had never met but knew you loved, who had
loved you, praying now above me in the high gallery
with all the other scarf-covered women like some old scene:
an Irish church you and your beloved were banished from.
Patrick Cotter lives in Cork. He has published a verse novella and two books of poems, Perplexed Skin and Making Music. He is the recipient of the 2013 Keats-Shelley prize for poetry.