Like a wary traveller suddenly at the door,
she’d ask about the corncrake
and if I ever heard its call.
It was, I used to think, a simple question –
nothing cosmic, deep or existential –
she was, I just assumed, adjusting to the time
to which she had returned.
To tell the truth, she might as well
have asked if Victoria was on the throne,
if Hitler was the Chancellor, or if the border
at Blacklion was now some kind of fact.
It’s a wonder that she never asked
if we were, the two of us, by any chance related.
Was I perhaps her father, her brother
or her son? And did Mulhern still have the pub?
This summer’s day, with a son of my own,
I’m asking if he’s seen or heard the swifts,
for I’ve spotted only three or four this year
and I remember when they screeched in numbers,
hurled in the hundreds by the Gods themselves
as, mesmerized, I stood on Darling Street.
But then when was that? And who was I?
And was I myself at all, stock still
on The Brook, Hall’s Lane or Paget Square?
I know it must have been
before they tossed the backs of things – the beautiful,
imperfect brick of outhouse and stable,
the blacksmith and the bakery,
the guttering; the tiny gaps in townie rooves
where the swift-admitting slates had slipped a little.