After the Dance

A fool times over,
I knew.
And a man dead.

It wasn’t the girl I wanted.
It was her youth, her grace, her fire!
I lusted after those.
An idiot vow made of wine, longing and nostalgia.

And then,
Out of that lovely mouth,
A vileness!
An unspeakable demand spoken.
And the unspoken question, challenge
In all eyes.
“Well?”

How could I refuse?
Risk ridicule and the shifting sands –
Respect founded on fear
Of me and my word.

And a man,
A terrible, truthful man,
Dead.

And from that day on
I couldn’t stand the sight of the girl,
But kept her close
To spite Herodias.
To make her age with suspicion and fear.
Have them gnaw her hollow to a gourd husk,
While her brittleglitter smiles and laughter
Grated.

But I a fool twice over
And a man dead!
But not gone,
Oh no, no, no, no…

I did not lose face,
But I do not recognise myself anymore.
And I am deader
Than he.

copyright Tina Towey 2019

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The Silence in the Silence

The silence in the silence…
Why so often can I find
Nothing to say
To one I love so much
I would die for him?
Instead
The silence in the silence…

Speaking volumes
A library of self-reproach.
How little do I know him?
How faulty our connection?
The black hole pauses
Pock the ether
Of our distant distance phone calls.
Scrabbling for handholds
Football, politics, foreign language dramas
To arrest the slide into
The silence in the silence…

Why are the debates, the arguments,
Conversational rallies so few, so short?
Trapped in Trappist encounters
Monosyllabic meals
Television repeats to drown out
With familiar character dialogue
The howling hush of
The silence in the silence…

In my imagined ideal
We talk, spar, share
Endlessly, effortlessly
And silences are companionable
Brief oases to refresh
Recharge our repartee.
But instead
There is
What is
The stumbling, inarticulate, ill-expressed love
Between my son and me.
The silence in the silence…

Copyright Tina Towey 2019

Matter

We have a memory
Of the people in our past.
An idea
Of the people who are to come.
But the here and now people
Of our lives
Are neither preserved, nor etched,
Nor unformed, nor edgeless.

They are in our faces,
Solid and sentient.
Hard to ignore,
Even as we try to avoid eye contact.
They
Touch us!
Physically, mentally, emotionally;
Invade our space
With their sticky fingers.

We resist,
But then recall –
We are they.
They are us.

We see,
When we open our eyes.
We know,
When we open our minds.
We sense,
When we open our hearts,
What truly matters.

We matter more
Than the matter we are made of
And
When matter is no more,
We will still matter.

copyright Tina Towey 2018

Tea Dance

In support of a good cause –
The scarlet splash of poppies everywhere in the concert room –
Tea, cake, dancing.
People from a bygone era
Stepping confident, careful
To the music of their time
Well before mine.

Then a voice from the next table,
Still soft-edged with a scots lilt,
Though that land had not been home
For a lifetime long.
“Come on and do the St. Bernard’s Waltz with me!”

Mary on her feet, hand outstretched,
An imperative deafness to my protests
That the St. Bernard’s Waltz or any other
Was a barely retrievable childhood memory
From Junior School Christmas parties,
Partnering Kevin Connole –
My godbrother and classmate –
Taught the steps by our parents and teachers
In a time well before the national curriculum
Decreed no more dancing lessons,
No more cakes and ale, or potted beef or Dandelion and Burdock.

This was shaky terrain for me,
Home ground for Mary.
We took to the floor.
Cast in the even more unfamiliar role of
‘The Man’,
Obeying her sotto voce instructions,
Surreptitiously glancing down and around
To match my steps and keep in time.
We circled round in measured measure.

Getting the hang of it,
I looked up at her face.
Her eyes were dancing nimbly
Over the hills and far away,
Leaving me and the years behind.
Smiling to herself,

Shiny as a gold locket.

Tea cups chinked the beat.
“Ah,” she said, smiling widely,
“I haven’t been in here since Michael died.
I used to come looking for him for his dinner
And they’s say,
‘He’s in playing snooker, Mary love’”.

“And did you ever dance the St. Bernard’s waltz with Michael?”
I asked
“Aha!” she nodded, with a girlish giggle,
“Sometimes.”
I thought, Why look how pretty she is still!

And in the lens of my mind’s eye,
I could see her and Michael
Young once more.
He dark and handsome – party piece
The Gypsy Rover
She elfin mischevious lovely –
Singing Marie’s Wedding with her sisters.

She and Michael dancing together,
Learning to be partners in life.

The music stopped.
A soft sigh as she squeezed my arm.
“You’ve helped me lay a ghost.”
But to me, the ghosts were there still
Dancing in her eyes.

copyright Tina Towey 2018

Hot Tea

After early mass on Sunday,
My Dad,
Dispensing mugs of scalding hot tea
And a “kiss from Holy God”
To the sleepyheads of the family.
Leaving me a legacy
Of an asbestos mouth –
Hot drinks quaffed and drained
Before ordinary mortals have dared
Take a sip –
And of the mysteries of faith.

A legacy too
Of playing music by ear,
And constructing harmonies
And twiddly bits,
From a man,
Who could pick up a flute,
Or a tin whistle
In his calloused hands
and dance his miner’s fingers,
As nimbly as a Nureyev.

And the songs!
Sacred and secular,
Sung, whistled and hummed,
Accompanying construction
Of Sunday breakfast:-
Fried bread, eggs, bacon,
Black pudding, tinned tomatoes,
Omelettes!
Anything from ‘Faith of Our Fathers’
To ‘Gimme Dat Ding’.

How many dawns did he see
In a working lifetime of early shifts:
Farm, pit, motorway,
Steelworks, building site,
Flour mill?
Unable to lie in,
Even on days off,
High days and holidays.
“What? And miss the best part of the day!”
Our teenage talent for sleeping
Until roused
Incomprehensible.

Told off once,
by ‘The Kerrywoman’
For singing too loud and too early,
He protested wistfully,
“But I want them to get up
And talk to me.”

The legacy of early rising,
I inherited too late.
The dawns shared,
Too few.
And those kisses from Holy God,
Not treasured enough then,
Can no longer be bestowed.

So I raise my mug
Of boiling tea
In apology and acknowledgement.
Thanks, Dad, for everything.
Here’s to you!

copyright Tina Towey 2019

Shepherd

As a lad,
Eyes peeled,
Ears pricked,
Alert to every telltale
Sight and sound.
Adrenaline and crook at the ready
To ward off thieves and wolves.

The older ones
Relied on me,
Especially in the watches of the night.
It made me proud of my youth.

But that night
I heard nothing;
Saw no sign of approach.
One moment,
The familiar darkness,
The next,
Obliterating light.
Unbearable,
Heartstopping,
Fearful new reality.

An Other
Speaking words to change
Fear to wonder.
A tide of tidings
Awash with joy.
And the singing!
A song I have remembered
All my life.
Caught myself humming
In good times and bad.

How did we dare?
To abandon the flock,
And trot blithely to Bethlehem?
How did we dare?
Breach the privacy of a new mother,
Haltingly tell our excuse of a tale
Of light, of song, of angels?

Just a baby,
That’s all I saw.
Not a creature to interest a lad.
But I knelt because the others did.
Found myself putting my black-nailed finger
Into his little hand,
Feeling his small fist grip me tight.

When we got back,
The sheep were fine.
Hadn’t even wandered a crook’s length
We didn’t talk about it much after.
We never were talkers.

But sometimes I’d catch one of the others
Just gazing at the dawn, or the sunset,
With a tear in his eye.
Caught myself doing the same.
I can’t explain it.

Many years later
Far from Bethlehem –
And me now one of the ‘older ones’ –
The lad came back from town
With a tale of a preacher,
A miracle worker,
A maybe Messiah.
And suddenly
That song
Deafened me from the inside.
I just got up and left;
Just walked
Following that song.

And there was a crowd,
A rough lot mostly.
There was a man,
Just a man,
Talking just in ordinary words
But using them to say something extraordinary;
To say we all mattered to God.

And suddenly he looked right at me;
Picked me out of that whole crowd with his eyes
And smiled.
Then he said,
“Let me put it this way.
Just suppose you were a shepherd with a hundred sheep
And you lost one…”

copyright Tina Towey 2018

 

On Castle Market – Via Dolorosa

A woman,
With a face of collapsed hope,
Flinching along the pavement,
Bordering the ruins of Castle Market.

Grey griefs beyond guesswork
Silted in the many, many lines,
Nooks, crannies, corners.
And only the cold ash embers
Of girlhood passions and desires
In her orphaned eyes.

I saw her only for moments,
Framed in the window of the bus
As it made snail progress
Towards my stop.
And then her defeated feet
Dragged her from view.

But I see her still.
And my body – too,too slow then –
Gets off the bus
And my hand – too,too slow then –
Reaches out to touch her face.
To lift her chin,
To wipe away the unshed tears
And the invisible sweat of despair.

I see
God with us,
Among us,
There on the street!
On her way to her own, private
Golgotha.

And I pray there may
Be a resurrection day
For her.
The woman
With the face
Of a suffering servant.

copyright Tina Towey 2018