“The Mission” by Rita Ann Higgins

The Mission

I think of the last time we met
on the prom in Galway.
A sunny day in May
you looked cool in those shades.
You looked taller somehow.
We talked for ages.
You told me about plans
for your mother’s sixtieth.
I felt lucky to have such a nephew.
Shades or no shades.

You hid your distress well, John.
None of it was evident that sunny day.
The day of good nephews.
A month later you went to Beachy Head.
WTF John.

I think of you
leaving your bundle
on top of Beachy Head.
Your belt coiled around your watch
your wallet with a photo of your daughter
your fire fighter’s ID card
your blood donor card
your bus ticket from Brighton.
Losers weepers.

Margaret, your Irish twin,
was on a holiday she didn’t want to go on.
She had been worried sick,
she had us all demented
saying you were going to do it.
Twins know things, Irish twins know more.
I was at a wedding in June
when some friends of yours called me outside.
‘It’s about John Diviney,’
and something about Beachy Head.

Later we went to the priest
he came down to Castle Park
to tell your mother.
She thought we were there to show her the wedding style.
I wouldn’t mind, John
but I had hired a dress for the wedding.
It was a deep blue.
It sailed when I walked.
Your mother was in a daze.
‘I dreamed of him on Thursday night,’ she said.
‘He went in and out of every room.
Himself and Shannon were laughing.’

We went to Eastbourne to bring you home.
Your mother to collect a son,
Margaret to collect a brother,
Caroline and Majella to collect a cousin.
Me to collect a nephew.
Five women on a mission.

Your mother couldn’t sleep,
she was smoking out the hotel window.
She saw the undertaker
collect your best suit from reception at six am.

Despite all the sadness
we had laughed a lot on the way over.
The girls nearly missing the flight
because they had to get food.
We laughed too at nothing at all.
Declan, another cousin of yours turned up
and chauffeured us around Eastbourne
and later to Heathrow.
Loosers weepers.

You had a photo in your wallet
of your daughter Katie.
I have a photo in my study
of the day we bumped into you
in King’s Cross, you and Katie.
Ye were going to some match or other.
What are the chances?
We were over to surprise Heather
on her thirtieth.

What are the chances of bumping into you now, John?
We weren’t laughing when we saw you in that coffin.
Your Irish twin ran outside and puked.
Your mother whispered things in your ear.
We started the prayers
it was a mumbo jumbo litany
We couldn’t remember how anything finished.
Hail Mary full of grace the lord is with thee…

On the way back
there was a bad storm.
We were at the airport for five hours.
Your mother kept going back out for a smoke.
Each time she went out we worried
that she’d never get back in.

You were in the hold,
in your new suit
your designer shirt
your best shoes.
We forgot your socks.
Losers weepers.

We arrived at Shannon
in the early hours.
The Divineys were there en masse.
So was Keith and Aidan.
We followed the hearse,
a night cortège.
‘At least we have him back,’
your mother said,
more than once.

After the funeral mass
your friends from the fire station
hoisted your coffin onto the fire brigade.
The army were there too.
It was a show stopper.
I never told you this, John
but I love a man in uniform.

I think of you
leaving your bundle
on top of Beachy Head.
Your belt coiled
around your watch
your wallet with a photo of Katie
your fire fighter’s ID card
your blood donor card
your bus ticket from Brighton.
Loosers weepers.

‘It’s about John Diviney,’
the coroner’s office said.
‘Some young people found his things.
His belt a loop around them.’
He flew without wings
off Beachy Head.
He landed at the bottom
his back against the wall
his eyes looking out to sea.

The Mission is © Rita Ann Higgins

Poet Rita Ann Higgins(1)Rita Ann Higgins was born in Galway. She has published ten collections of poetry, her most recent being Ireland is Changing Mother, (Bloodaxe 2011), a memoir in prose and poetry Hurting God (Salmon 2010). She is the author of six stage plays and one screen play. She has been awarded numerous prizes and awards, among others an honorary professorship. She is a member of Aosdána.
 
Rita Ann Higgins’s readings are legendary. Raucous, anarchic, witty and sympathetic, her poems chronicle the lives of the Irish dispossessed in ways that are both provocative and heart-warming. Her next collection Tongulish is due out in April 2016 from Bloodaxe.
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