Yesterday they pulled my first cousin from a canal in Manchester. They
identified him by the sodden memorial card of his father, found in his pocket.
When I was ten and a half
we sat side by side on big stones painted white
in the front lawn of my aunt’s house.
He showed me a cow’s horn up close,
the hard grey threads laid down very tightly,
round and round and round.
You can only tear off bits at a time, he told me.
I showed him my twenty-one bruises,
including the one shaped like a pair of sunglasses.
He showed me the weals
on the backs of his legs he got in school.
He twisted and turned a buttercup under my chin,
Do you like butter?
In the kitchen the adults swore at the wireless,
Offaly was losing by three points.
The smell of hot rhubarb tart and John Players Blue
stole out the propped-open door.
Down the fields my first cousin spiked the crusts
of cow pats with a big stick.
We watched the million tiny black flies zoom out,
they had been in under there all the time.
He dropped a handful of hazelnuts
down the back of my shorts
and ran off ahead shouting,
Follee Me, Follee Me.
The wind made all the elm trees lean over to the left,
and then all lean over to the right,
as we flew by.
At the bottom of the field we crawled
into the shallow gravel pit under the railway sleepers.
He said Cover yer ears
just before the Sunday evening train to Thurles roared over us.
The day of my graduation we came on him drinking milk from a bottle in a
doorway on Bachelor’s Walk. Salmon bones were caught between my teeth,
pink from hotel Merlot.
I’m going to England in the morning, sir.
My father took twenty pounds out of his wallet.
My mother lowered her head.
I wanted to speak to him.
But I just stood there,
wearing a borrowed summer dress,
I looked but could say nothing.
Years later a man who was home from England to settle a boundary dispute told
my father that my cousin’s address was Cardboard City.
That man had no ankle bones, my mother remarked.
I seen him dance at a wedding.
He never said a word to one his whole life,
so he wouldn’t have been pushed.
Maybe he just slipped in going home one night.
Just slipped in.