Bloated following the birth, a beached mammal,
my mother at low tide exudes the Elastoplast smell
of maternity ward;
the three of us handled into life by slim-fingered Mrs Hayes
from over the road; a turf fire in the bedroom, gossip.
Wisdom of belladonna, ergot.

I still see my mother in the shop-bought sky-blue nightdress,
almost glamorous, her Moorish eyes hunting
for midwife-neighbour familiar with the odour
of her blood, the passion calls of her labour,
who’ll name her over and over,
Nora, Nora.

She hides the pot of nappies boiling on the range
from Nurse Begley, who calls on Tuesdays
in her expensive skin, an omen of power
in her big black handbag,
neither of them quite sure how to hear each other
in the speechlessness of the washboard,

the sound of soda bread cooling at the window;
my mother’s hair neatly combed
as though she’s going somewhere, her straw basket
ready to be betrayed, like a drunk taking to song
on a street corner, tranquil, tender in his realm
of tongue-tied loneliness—

my mother confessing the sins her bowels,
as though she halves the secret
of the days when she does not get up,
of the hours she argues with the mirror,
of the nights she ignores the baby’s cry;
lace curtains shifting at the parlour window—

a white flag in war.