In different places apart they lie,
A woman once haunted by her baby's cry
Whom earlier treatment might have saved
Instead of being laid in an unmarked grave.
For the death certificate that gave the cause
Noted fourteen days when there'd been a pause
While meningitis* claimed the child
Before a doctor was by her side.
Perhaps that death had broken her heart
For her life was lived in a place apart,
A place apart that her burial paid
For in unmarked grave with others she's laid,
Where the cemetery records bear her name
Though the site is uncertain even then.
"Postnatal depression", the family said,
But I grew up believing her dead
Until too late to visit the place
Where she had been hidden away in disgrace,
Though I know that my older siblings knew
And made visits to her with my mother too,
A mother who died while I still was quite young
And before my grandmother's time had come.
I think you will understand if I say
Although it is known in the normal way
I have written this poem to give a name
To a woman whose life was hidden in shame.
* cerebrospinal meningitis on 14 April 1907 aged 7 months
Trees slant in the wind
The water serrates.
Round the lake mountains press
Such wildness worships.
Across the gorge I see a figure,
A distant stranger.
My heart spreads out to call him brother.
The valley voids at my pretension.
My heart heavy on his hand
When voices winnow in the wind**
Can hearts do better?
The trees are a gnarled cross
Straining to the valley.
This is the violence of the dying
Who are dead.
* A symbol of the division in Northern Ireland
** Only the chaff blows across
It is here you are meant to be"
a silent voice spoke within
as I reached the door of the church
where worship was due to begin.
In the cool of that morning early
I had trod forest paths alone
and powerfully felt an assurance
in a way I had never known.
Light through the branches was dancing
with shadows on the forest floor
where fallen leaves were hinting
that Autumn was beckoning once more.
I looked out from the edge of the forest
on a vista of meadow and hill
and there on a bench I was tranquil
as I sat for some time and was still.
Then with canopy of leaves above me
and a carpet of moss beneath
a prayer of thanks I breathed softly
walking back in that sanctuary of peace.
But a tempest raged within me
that was far from a feeling of calm
after entering that other sanctuary,
the church where this poem began.
Nothing I heard in the service
could explain the trembling I felt
but the previous week had known traumas
and places where terror had dwelt.
For this was the week when Internment*
had unleashed the demon of dread
with riots where twenty-
and seven thousand people had fled.**
My father had Catholic neighbours
who were threatened with fire to their home
and this mother and daughter he sheltered
till the husband from England could come.
I sat with them that night long after
midnight had come and had gone
to secure some semblance of calmness
and assure them they were not alone.
This was the start of a sequence
that ushered in difficult days
when leaving known paths of perception
I journeyed in uncharted ways.
But I never once felt abandoned
having loved ones in whom to confide,
and the presence I sensed in the forest
a sanctuary safe did provide.
* Detention by army and police of suspected IRA members
**See Wikipedia article on 'Operation Demetrius'