Alice and her Stilettoes
We always walked faster
past her little house on the brae.
Every so often she’d scuttle out and
snare us, clutching a plastic bag with
the highest heels, scuffed
and peeling, ready for the cobbler’s vice.
Her elfin face powdered,
her fuchsia mouth pursed,
the stain snaked onto her snaggled teeth,
crept over her lips.
She lay in wait,
behind net curtains that twitched.
Her ears hitched to the sound
of the school bus, stalling,
as we stepped off at Charlie Brown’s,
stinking of fags.
Once John got three pairs
of spine benders, for repair,
so she had a choice,
for Mass on Sunday.
I crept the three steps to
your room, which smelt
of musty aged breath
and butterfly panic.
Sandwiched between the glass
and a chink in the net curtains,
a Red Admiral, whose
fluttering mirrored my
I stumbled over slippers
to your jewellery box.
Fishing out pearls and the ruby ring,
that swam off my finger and dropped
back home into knotty chains and
Brooches from another life
paid for, with dollars
to pin on collars of real fur.
Sparkles and hallmarks
piled up, a pyramid displaced
in this fisherman’s cottage.
You called me for lunch,
puffing upstairs, flapping by in a
flour cloud with your
dentures clapping in a slow applause,
making a tumble of your speech.
Waiting for the tart to cook,
bubbling under with
we sat impatient
as cinnamon, allspice and
cloves wafted in droves
from the scullery.
You promised a tomorrow slice
as the Ford Orion arrived
early with your daughter,
to take me home.
Dressing Up was first published in The Honest Ulsterman (October 2015)
He came back this time with hens,
returned with his swagger and
whiskey breath. Crisp, folded notes
released in rote from an arse pocket,
handed over the counter
without a scrap of guilt,
while she prayed the car wouldn’t stall
the red orb on the dash unheeded
and sat tearing skin from cuticles,
the bleed a warm release.
Taking rage out on her hands
that used to knit him Aran sweaters,
in earthy russet tones,
the chain stitch a secret from
a pattern she wouldn’t share.
They stayed in the shed, the hens,
with their downy necks of terracotta.
Plodding with their fearful eyes and
four pronged claws, their droppings dotted
the concrete floor as days whiled away,
egg laying, cackling, pecking for grain
until the day they each made a whimper
as their slit throats bled scarlet streams,
his free range dreams dying with them.
Two days after your burial,
we sifted through your stuff.
Thirty three years worth shifted
from that lonely flat, spilled from boxes,
placed in piles on the rug
where you loved to sleep.
The striped suitcase stood waiting in turn,
its worn zip, frayed from changing addresses.
It held a rackful of folded trousers,
neatly layered like missal prayers,
two sizes too small for your bloated stomach.
I inhaled, searching for your perfume in cardigan fibres.
I found the pretty compact with the rose
and the blusher brush that retained your scent,
dusted those apple cheeks
at a time when you cared.
I clicked that clasp, tried to grasp at memories.
Your thirty three years in plastic bags,
cases and cardboard storage,
a paper trifle in bin liners,
now wafery ash in the hearth’s grate.
Sorry for thumbing through your diary
the emptiness stark in white lined pages,
your slanted name in child-like scrawl
spoke pages of haunted, unwritten words.
Unopened post bound with elastic bands,
sat in my hands like despair.
My tears fell on your name, softly blurred
the letters bled into the next world,
where I want to believe you’ve gone.
Your late present
She came head first as I opened
like a slow flower on your birthday.
A moulded little head, topped with
black ash, remarked the midwife
peering between my legs
as my womb, her frenetic room
evicted her methodically
in 30 second spasms.
Squeezing her out into our existence
and my hungry arms,
as dawn fractured over a pithy horizon.
I stayed silent, gulping in clinical air
to expand the weary rungs of my laddered lungs,
My blocked nerves couldn’t fathom pain,
spiked on a graph and ebbed at random.
I didn’t scream or throw out expletives,
as she entered a sparkly Sunday at a quarter to six
denying me sleep.
My little girl with the mottled face and tiny fingers probing
was wiped, weighed, handed back to me.
The tendrils of placenta, already peeling away
and losing its hue of regal magenta.
This wonder, this sustenance
destined for the clinking bin with the garish sticker,
whilst I passed over our daughter
and my happy returns.
At the Baptism
At the font, the blessed water trickled down.
Raindrops off a kitten’s fur, tinkled notes
into the marbled basin.
The small pink head with its pulsating fontanelle,
cradled in the swell of outstretched hands
then retraced to the nook of his elbow.
The infant squirmed in ancient lace,
the robed Father gesticulated with grace,
this collector of confessions.
A sudden shower drowned out the ceremony,
cleansed the air.
Sun fractions sliced through the jewelled windows.
A rainbow arched overhead, as we shuffled in
pews with pads of blood red.
The burst foam, from split leather
bunched like partying warts.
Sunbeams shone on your suit
as she looked on, with emptiness
and an envy
worthy of penance.
Dressing Up was first published in The Honest Ulsterman (October 2015) and in Quail Bell edited by Christine Stoddard (September 2016)
Alice and her Stilettoes and other poems are © Lorraine Carey