…the furthest distances I’ve travelled
have been those between people
………………………..– Leontia Flynn
(at the Forty-foot Gentlemen’s Bathing Place)
Seven thirty a.m.
and I love that men
leagues of seals,
rapturing the air.
I’m glad the water’s cold.
And though my father
taught me everything
I know about salt water,
for fifty weeks per annum
he remained arms’ length inland.
Not necessarily needing to know
I launch into these buoyant
introductions: ‘Hey Dad, it’s Paula,
your favourite daughter your
beautiful blow-in from Belfast,’
my mother priming him well
in advance, so that I’m a little
deflated but hardly surprised
when he risks ‘Are you married
to one of my sons?’ ‘Father’
I breeze ‘Bishop Hegarty’d
never agree.’ And his smile as he
fathoms the quip soon sinks, repeating
how terribly terribly sorry he is.
Close to the close of your life, you wash up
in a strange house with a woman old enough
to be your mother insisting she is your wife.
Despite your rebuttals she’s wedded to her lies.
You try the doors, her ladyship has them locked.
You spot your father’s shooting-stick,
you’ve really got to fly, you say, and put
a window in. Next thing you la- la- la-
land in some class of hotel where the women
are very much younger with lovely hands;
the exits here, you swiftly establish, are shut
with a hush-hush code. You’ve stashed the stick
and smash a panel in. They belt you in a comfy chair,
to anchor you, they say, and call you ‘pet’.
I don’t think I ever married, did I? This
at the buzz-locked doors as I’m heading, the same day
he’s quizzed me how long this interment (sic) will last.
You did Dad, the Star of the County you claimed.
He grins. And I’ve more to report. Go on.
She bore you six children. Away. It’s true.
Would you like me to introduce you to one?
I would. God. That would be great.
Well Father. We shake.
It’s a pleasure to meet you.
When I leave I am borne
on the keen conviction
he liked me.
Our father one ankle in Heaven
trouser-leg rolled to the knee –
your time not come – the other one
stuck as it is and swollen.
There is yet time in this dry hotel,
as your wide straddle falters the tide recedes
til your greeting’s a watery smile you float
for the baffling hosts of the faces you meet,
above whose static you tune to the sirens –
song with your name on –
well within reach;
though embracing’s beyond us
I’d sing to deliver you
home for the last how long
by Paula Cunningham
from: Heimlich's Manoeuvre
Smith/Doorstop, Sheffield, 2013