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LETTERS TO MY MOTHER AND OTHER DEAD RELATIVES (no 5)
The night you died you had been dancing with my mother – a slow waltz I expect – when your heart gave up, and you died right there on the dance floor, in full view of all your friends and neighbors.
I, who had been drinking heavily some seventy miles away, learned of it when I was awakened in the early hours of the following morning by a member of the local Gardai. I can still recall it; fuzzy-headed from the effects of the alcohol, and wondering what kind of country it was that had the police waking up people in the middle of the night to tell them their father was dead.
Later, sobered up, and in the cold reality of daylight, I realized that however little we had said to each other in the past there was no chance of expanding on it now – or ever again.
Much later, I wrote this poem about it
The Night the Music Died
He lay in the box quite comfortably
His waxen face staring into infinity
Looking much better in death than he had ever in life.
And all I could do was peer at him through slatted fingers
From the back of the room.
The ever-present smell of tanning and leather aprons was absent now
More than forty seeping years of it
Scrubbed away one last time.
The Moped, which was a natural progression
From pedal-power when his legs gave out,
Lay discarded in the coalhouse.
No driver you see; and mother still had her shopping to do.
He dug turf, cut down young Sally trees,
And turned over his bit of stony ground
In summer he clipped sheep slowly
With a machine bought by post from Clery’s,
Carefully stowing it away in its box when the shearing was done.
The chalk pipes he sucked on,
Their stems held together with blood pricked from his thumb,
And his three bottles of Sunday night Guinness,
Standing corked still under the counter,
Were redundant now.
Who would dance a half-set with her now?
My mother enquired of no one in particular.
The smoky saloon bar stunned that the music had felled him,
Knocked him to the floor in the middle of the tune.
He lay there with a smile on his face,
Knowing it was over.
And I never got to know what was on his mind.
Later, we put him in the ground
And sadness trickled down me like dust through my fingers.
While afterwards, everybody stood around
Saying what a great man he was.
Slapping the back of my overcoat
Sure he gave forty years to that tannery
And what did it give him? I wanted to shout to the throng.
A gold watch and a tin tray
And both had his name spelled wrong.
Your loving son