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Poetry Magnum Opus

On the Death of a Deeply-Loved Aunt


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( a poem primarily for my 15 surviving Dublin cousins)


Lift up the latch on the creaky gate,

once flaky green, now painted silver,

and it’s fifteen steps on the narrow path

to the stained-glass door of 34.


To the south, once, was a trellis of roses

just at the top of the slope of the garden

in which Pop-Pop planted a crop of potatoes

in the long summers of the "Emergency" --


an event never quite acknowledged

by the new Irish nation, although

over the waters east beyond Clontarf shore

people have called it the Second World War.


Then the house stood solid, square and new,

a redbrick perched on the brow of a hill

looking down on the long broad valley of Dublin,

on a turbulent old city hugging an ancient river.


This semi-tragic city full of cheerful ghosts,

appears snug and light-grey, quietly pretty,

and beyond it rise the blue and lavender hills

of Wicklow, where the rest of Ireland begins.


Stand on the green and now potato-less lawn

(mowed by Uncle Thomas over so so many years),

or even better leap up to the grey stone wall,

and you can see this same oddly soothing sight


as the children, our parents, did before

when they stepped out the door of 34.


Abundant life and voices seeped slowly away

as it begins to do, and must do, in all large families;

there were the two never-known uncles who died of TB,

two laughing young men who never grew old


in the natural way that our own parents did

and over whom our Nana wept scalded tears,

inconsolable, remembering their eyes and faces,

by the black fireplace in the sunken scullery.


But then there were the courtships and marriages,

the setting up of new hopes on low wages

(“Sure, won’t we drop in to see you on the weekends!”),

and poor dear Lily going off to God-knows-where


and with her children barely known to anyone.

Soon there was only Pop-Pop, Nana, and Kathleen,

and then there was only Nana and Kathleen:

after that, for many years, only Kathleen.


Now there is … what? A silent sturdy old house,

familiar to us all, once a symbol of permanence,

but also an impermanence we should have seen coming,

and which we did see coming, but turned aside from.


Where now is the spirit of that house on the hill?

Four -- and now five -- generations of our family

have been loosed from the moorings from whence they came

and only an emptiness, an absence, and silence remain:


No more come the excited shouts of young children,

Auntie Cack’leen, Auntie Cack’leen!!

Well, I might just find a few sweets and chocolates,

I might, only if you promise to be very very good.


No more come the hurried calls from the Airport,

It’ll only be two weeks and we’ll fend for ourselves!

Well, ye’ll blutty well have to! I’ll put on the tea now,

but I’ll not be doing the cooking for the lot of ye!


And yet there’d be Irish rashers and sausages galore,

(not the very items, I confess, I’ve seen Kathleen enjoy!)

and not only for the arrival but for every morning after

because there was no boundary, no limit to the kindness,


and no limit to the love. Then, of course, there was

that bouncing little cutie from Japan, Brendan’s child,

all of six-years-old, a self-important miss at Marino School,

who set out, strictly, impatiently, to teach Kathleen Irish!


Immense progress, I’m told, was made.

Yes, immense progress was made in many many ways,

and perhaps it’s only now we can come to realise

how central she was to us all.


For how can you say that you’ll “miss” a river,

or a mountain, a valley … or even a whole country

that no longer really seems to exist without that

central someone? You do, though; you carry on.


The family is large, active, supremely vibrant,

quick-witted, quick-speaking, in the good Dublin way,

but the house we all came from lies so cold and empty

behind the stained-glass door of 34.

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Enjoyed reading this narrative poem, Bren, the history of the big family, the memories, the characters, the emotions. You are very good at this kind of poetry, writing with such precise detail that creates a vivid scene and atmosphere. There are moments of happiness, tears, humor and longing... The line "This semi-tragic city full of cheerful ghosts" is one of many I like. And the ending is so touching.


I don't know why but John Steinbeck's " The Grapes of Wrath" comes to my mind.


Thank you for the write.



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This honest, heartfelt poem is as much a family chronicle and tribute to the family home as it is an elegy. That dearest aunt, a fixture in that home, was like the glue that bound together a widely dispersed family.


This part is absolutely charming:


... Then, of course, there was

that bouncing little cutie from Japan, Brendan’s child,

all of six-years-old, a self-important miss at Marino School,

who set out, strictly, impatiently, to teach Kathleen Irish!

I've got someone in my life (older than six) who's like that, too. Still, it makes me smile.


I think the poem has universal appeal. It does to me anyway. Wherever I may live, the house where I grew up (where my parents still live today) will always be home.



Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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