Both are beautiful, black, dressmaker made, dancing frocks,
knee length; one silk, scattered with ribboned blue flowers,
narrow, tight bodiced, the other spins with pink and white
lily of the valley curling a flarier skirt, taffeta sash.
Long back zips whisper America, confident, generous,
safe and smiling, blown kisses and brave waving
from decks of ships leaving behind a cold island, a colder
Europe. Eight siblings out of nine gone, watching from
the heaving decks mountains they will never see again.
Clooneigh is evening dark and furniture glows, deepens,
glows in the turf warmth. A suitcase lies across a chair;
two young women are going through clothes; a little girl
watches and listens to the ticking, ticking of the clock
above the fire. She loves this clock, the American clock,
sent proudly back seventy years earlier. Later in her life,
someone in England will try to mend it, fail, her last sight
of it will be in silent pieces but that night in the gold light,
glass case gilded with ducks and bulrushes, it speaks
as her mother and her aunt shake dresses into
straightness against themselves. The child thinks these
film stars’ frocks, so dark and pretty, unfolding from
their ocean voyage and breathing perfumes she is too young
to name. She feels the distance, the Atlantic
drift of homesickness and loss touch her face and the black
and flowered fabrics open out like weeping; she knows
the journeying girl who wore them often cried herself
to sleep. Over the years hips and midriffs widened.
The frocks stayed slender, reeled to yet another country,
into her life, ready for more dancing, more heartbreaks,
quarrels, perfume, after dark behaviour. She kept them safe,
remembering how long a journey they’d made, still
East Coast beautiful, sad ghost scents of powder compacts,
vanishing cream, patterns knotted and intricate like a family.
In her wardrobe they hang for ever in that first evening,
the fields quiet, the cattle brought in, lights in the window
of the sleeping farm and Philadelphia so far, so far away.