Under the gaze of the Sacred Heart,
yawning and fidgeting on sore knees,
our living room congregation
balanced elbows on settees
and kept our eyes screwed shut to staunch
the giggle spill from a false cough
or a twitching lip. Mum’s reproach
was an inflexion on the ‘Holy Mary’.

They slipped between my fingers like ball bearings.
The rhythm of their imposed order
slowed each moment until it looped
back on itself, and in that atmosphere
my prayers were heckles. I never thought
that I was feeling my way to the cross,
of each lash levied on a bead,
of a scream on the eleventh bead’s full stop.

They were shackles on the nubbed fingers
of old women in black mantillas.
Once I ripped a pair apart
and smiled as I watched the beads spill.
Then I found your rosary ring in your uniform,
imagined you slipping it on for each call,
whirling it round your finger like a charm.
I’ve hung it beside the crystal hearts

and the plastic pair Father Darragh pressed
into my hands when we knelt by your bed.
You were moaning with your eyes closed.
I was holding back a scream. I clutched them
so tightly the cross punctured my palm.
My blood spotted your sheets. I prayed
you’d move your lips, and almost giggled
when the morphine feeder clacked again.