Untumble the walls of the house.
Uprise its lintel from the overgrowth,
like a calf-skin psalter lifted from the bog.
Unlatch the door.
Unsmoor the fire
Updraught the embers waiting there
all the while you were beyond the whale-way.
Untether its glow.
Unsour the fields.
Uproot the dock, the poison ragwort, scutch.
Ease the clay back in beneath your nails.
Unhang the rust-gnawed gate.
Unsay the words you felt you had to say:
upsticks, the leaving and the coming back.
Ring the rhyme of scythe along the day.
Unbreak the heart.
Father steadies me while I step into the white protective suit. It’s so big for me it’s like I’m being swallowed in a gulp by one of those huge gigantiums that are in our Cosmology game. I roll up the sleeves and the trouser cuffs so that I won’t be engulfed altogether, then zip myself up. The hood scritch-scratches the side of my face as I tuck my hair in around each side of it before tightening the toggles. That’s enough to get the wobblies doing somersaults in my belly. Father calls them butterflies, but I’ve never seen an insect of any kind, let alone know what it feels like to have them inside me. Esper would call me a dizzard if I told him. The Sagittars have warned us not to waste energy on feelings, so I keep very quiet.
Before I know it, my brother is zipped up too and we’re ready to go.
‘These are my sons, Starn and Esper,’ Father says to the workers who are filing into the pollination station, pulling on their suits, just like us. I’m happy that Father introduces me first. My brother isn’t. He scowls at me. Twins are like that.
The morning after his wife’s ashes were brought back home, Bernard Curran took a sledgehammer to the hunting table, out there in the yard where the air was still enough for snow. He grabbed the end of it and dragged it across the stone tiles, the door slammed behind him and the commotion woke the house. Keeper started barking. Hansie was down the stairs first because that’s where she spent the night, asleep on the third step, refusing to budge when her father didn’t come back from the fields. Carmel was fast after her.
The weather hit Bernard as soon as he touched outside. The children came out after him, crying as the cold came up through the soles of their feet. Colder than the day before, and the pain sliced across his forehead. He shouted at them to stay back so they all stood some distance from his rage, shivering. He swung the hammer in an arc above his shoulder and brought it crashing down. Keeper whined, straining at the bit of baling twine that Bernard had tied him with to the barn door. He took no notice of them as the hammerhead struck the beautiful wood, gouged into its sheen.
Then he struck it again.
All night the wind has fought with our cottage.
It wakes and unnerves a part of me
that is unsettled by such noise,
as it is by all the colours of grey
we must live with throughout these summer days.
But your country has weather big enough for both of us.
It tumbles an outermost house into the sea
to careen on a foreign beach in Chatham,
or a tornado whips up Dorothy into another state.
Hurricanes with names benign as dimpled grand-aunts
come to tea and scones,
but leave you stranded in their wake,
flood you with their grief.
A man once told me about the wind in Oklahoma.
It flung their screen door into Sam Weller’s garden,
whipped one blade of straw from the barn
and drilled it right through the glass
of their kitchen window.
It held there, needle-straight, the pane intact,
lights blown, food in the icebox melting.
Before its contents folded onto the floor
they were allowed eat all at once:
pistachio, dark chocolate, black cherry,
while the straw lodged tight in its place,
breaking their mother’s back.
Our lives are built on vagaries of weather,
one well-aimed gust and the sandbars
of memory crumble at our feet.
I have spoken to no one for days
but the small bird with the black band
of neck as it bobs its way in front of me;
itfeigns nesting in the torc of wrack in the sand.
A man in a scrapie wool jumper
picks broken teeth from the strand;
if he opens the black cavern of his mouth
and utters three, two, even one word
I’ll be gone with him.
The day comes when you can no longer
squeeze into the old coat of yourself.
Slievemore stays where it is,
has never moved its whole old life.
It waits for the farmers to shift
their animals up and down with the seasons.
My bones know change the way birds know sky,
the way they let go of the light over the deserted village,
the way the grass knows it, bitten down to the quick.
A man fell out of the sky and into my garden. I found the slump of his body by the pomegranate tree when I went out to water the terraces. The evening burned itself into the mountain. There were feathers all around him, some stuck to his arms, some to his legs, a golden syrup of wax melted on his face. I thought he was dead until I touched some part of his shoulder and a low groan came from his cracked lips. It took all my strength to half-drag, half-carry him into the kitchen. The room was cooler now and dark too, because I had kept the shutters closed against the sun all day. I heaped him as best I could into the chair by the door and he toppled there, his clothes torn, the wax making his arms look all smooth and hairless. I brought him a glass of water and lifted up his chin to drink. The evening closed in around us and I could read grief in the heat that radiated from his body as his head flopped onto his chest. He drank nothing.
I am sweeping myself into the dustbin. Every day I take the brush and run it along the wooden floor-boards honeyed by age, marked and pitted by pots dropped in moments of un-coordination. I inch it into corners, sidle it around the legs of furniture, so that when I arrive at the door, my brush has rounded up another day’s gathering of myself. Little piles of dirty grey dust that cling to the sides of the plastic white bin liner. And what is it? Sloughed off skin cells. My skin cells. I cannot tell when I sweep up the bits whether it’s an arm cell or a nail cell or a brain cell for that matter. I seem to gather into corners, in little puffballs that stick to the bristles of the brush which I have to comb off at the end of my sweeping, like a weaver carding wool. I am already half way towards burial.
The grit that found
its way in under her nail
turned the finger septic
as a young girl sent over
on the boat with her brothers
to toil the dark harvest,
pickers bent over like question marks,
trawling the ridges for tubers
only fit for sleep
after bowls of what
she’d picked, boiled,
sleeping on straw in the women’s bothy
to dream of gloves
with jewel buttons, necklaces.
What happened after that
is gone with her except the nail abscessed,
the bed of it infected;
no oyster way to mantle it layer over layer
of nacre, reverse its taint to lustre, pearl.
Instead, lanced and lanced again
it lost its memory to grow straight
but ridged and beaked like abalone
grew a further eighty years
among the perfect others of her right hand,
and funny how laying her out,
the undertaker painted it
mother-of-pearl, lustrous, reflecting light.
Pearl is included in Geraldine’s second collection of poetry Toil the Dark Harvest
(Bradshaw Books, 2004).