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Wednesday, April 13, 2011


the last time i’d seen him
he was whipping away
at the new summer grass
tall and heavy
where it always came
on the north side of our property
mrs. gould’s cows
standing at the fence
waiting for him
to toss over
the next bunch
of new mown hay
he was talking to them
like he was standing on the stump
pitching his spiel
for the upcoming election

croghan always came
at the end of spring
looking for work
me mam would employ him
and feed him
i never knew if it was his first name or his last
it was always just

i could never remember
a birthday without him
he would always pretend
he had nothing for me
after a fine meal of boxty and cod
and mother’s fine treacle cake
he’d search his
long woolen coat
and out would come
a hand-whittled penny whistle
or perfect wooden canon
i could hold in my hand

the best thing about him
was not that he could
chop or paint
or carve the finest of toys
it was his true vocation
official appointment
as the seanchaĆ­
of ballybunion
and every town
east and west

he sat at our table
on long rainy nights
recounted the stories
of all that i was related to
and some that i wasn’t
of mayors and fishers
swimmers and thiefs
had us laughing and crying
and singing old songs
and i never knew
he was not
a member of our family

he’d leave in the fall
when the barn was painted
the hay was mown
drain pipes repaired
and fences mended
i never quite knew
where he went
my mam would just say
he’s gone, sonny
he’ll be back in the spring

last year
april had come
then may and june
i nearly got me hand slapped
for asking so often
when he’d come
then came the day
i saw me da
whipping the hay
and not talking to the cows
nor feeding them
it scared me so
i asked no more

my birthday came on a thursday
the mood was not high
even though
uncle alan and aunt sheelagh
had come all the way up
from allihies
and gave me
the sleek new sailboat
with the radio control
mrs. gould’d brought
the fine setter puppy
i’d been wanting for months
the house felt empty
amid all the craigh

after we’d eaten the treacle
ma gathered us
‘round the crackling bright fire
at the hearth
da brought
two drams of jamesons
one for himself
set the other one down
at the table
in front of the empty chair
where he’d sit and tell stories
of the world

raising his glass
my father choked out the words
through the only tears
i’d ever seen in his eyes
“god bless croghan”