Nobody warned me that life would contain
Swearing and scenes of violence and nudity.
There may have been references to the poor
And of course there were children without shoes
Around Gardiner Street and Mountjoy Square;
There was also a time called the Great War,
Whose after-effects could be seen on crutches;
And sometimes the Inquisition was mentioned,
As was the influenza epidemic,
In which my Uncle Reginald had died.
But none of this fitted in with the noises
I could hear in that hotel in Duncannon,
Audible through the lath-and-plaster wall,
The crying, the thumps, the half-suppressed squeals.
Who could be hurting whom? And yet at breakfast,
Around the stiff antarctic table-cloth,
Moustached Mr Ganly in his striped shirt
Was genial over the porridge and haddock,
And Mrs G spoke mildly of the weather
As she brushed crumbs off her flowery blouse.
I can see you know what I have in mind.
Today, however, we shall cross the estuary
In a pale blue clinker-built boat and fish
For whatever's there, probably mackerel.
Bags I not pull the hooks from the fishes' mouths
Or do what I have seen them do to eels.
(I'd thought that crab on the quayside was dead,
But a claw flexed and a leg stirred when I looked
And he was watching me through small black eyes.
I do not want a half-dead crab for supper.)
When I shook my head at the tramp, his words
Were tangled up by drink and broken teeth,
But I could tell his wishes were malign.
His threats trailed after me all the way home,
Lingering for days just outside the gate.
And at school, over empty playing-fields,
The autumn's starlings arrived on manoeuvres
While the sixth form stripped for the showers, ivory
Bodies steaming and singing in the stalls,
Proud of their genitals and broken voices.
Funny if it were otherwise, I think,
Example being the larger part of learning.
But there's always the unheroic option
Of watching from a locked and darkened car
As the possessed, beside themselves, take over
All that I tell myself I do not want
(Finding reassurance in the sour grapes).
And later on,within a sterile room,
I could enclose my hands in rubber gloves
And draft a protocol of separation.
'Parental Guidance' from Mrs Power Looks Over the Bay (Faber & Faber, 1999), © Fergus Allen 1999, used by permission of the author.