Anatomy of a wake

Caoineadh for C. S, 1994

four weeks after we buried you

Burrowing fast as starved maggots under skin of
dead horses; bloated hide rising and falling,
like she’s still breathing.
An odd lurching, not quite heaving.

Her lips tell you otherwise.

burying you beneath the sun

Shadows brush us over; sift moods, lifting the stain of memory.
Sheathes the bones; each one captured, never to lash air for the
swathe of skin jigging on a puckered tongue.
I could always see that there was some alluring patina of leaving.

Just like the world before the bombs began to fall,
you must have been a beautiful baby, for I once asked your father —
‘When you held that wet, screaming bundle with its
crushed face and cottage cheese body, didn’t you smile just a little?’
He’s not Jesus, but he’s a gentleman.

Barely a hatchling, solemn of face, swollen of neck,
mol an oige agus tiocfaidh said
(praise the young and they will flourish).

People offer soft promises, welcoming you to the room of return, and as
history repeats, it turns on itself.

Why is it so fascinating to watch disaster unfurl?

The bowed lid of the coffin breathes on concrete coloured veejays.
Fathers, brothers, husbands sink into pews as the sky sulks,
dimpled cheeks and puckered lips whet by half-smoked cigars bulging with tobacco.
Yielding to crooked mouths, fathers, brothers, husbands barter with what they would
sacrifice for whiskey —
something, anything to not live with the ghost of a child who should have been.
But that’s dust on the wind, sugar on the lips. It’s air to gulp,
smoke to breathe, whims to flaunt, scotch to swig.

It’s where bones intersected by a dying river spread themselves thin,
breaking the keel of the eventide, where the indignity of death
waits for those who saw through woods of time lost.

Rolling heat clots my hair, and heavy fringes of lightning
bruise the sky as a storm skulks across the welkin.
We swim through the humid silence with locked fists,
where the salt of living is never matched by the sweetness of memory;
the brain all but a rippled knot of muscle peeled away by a brush of wind,
not torn like rough paper with unsteady hands.
Beneath a fuselage of memory, you’re the guest in this side show, so
sew your seed and cry what you reap.

putting you to bed

From eyelash to elbow to veined foot,
tucking you into bed as a father would;
corset tight,
stoppered to your hospital bed, fenced by white sheets.

Your wispy sack of a body couldn’t even make a ditch in the mattress.
How did I know that you would rest the just as awkwardly in your death box?

So you’d cough in the night-time —
pebbles in your throat,
blonde head hopping over the pillow
like a flat tennis ball.

The night would cut you through
‘til you had pebbles in your mouth.
That sick had you in its jaws and I
had not a string of frayed rope.

Aching to the roots of my molars,
I fumble for a stare; try to crank up a smile,
lips a concertina, voice a gramophone with a split needle.

Colours swept across cards seem like a dead man’s hand.
From where I stand I can see your eyes;
or how they used to be.


It’s that cleave of a canyon.
It’s the flashes of you in front of my eyes.
It’s the rushed goodbye, the crack of hearts splintering;
it’s the bone crushing echo of a fading breath.

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