In the Mountains of Mourne near County Down
We turned off down a narrow winding lane
Between pocket handkerchiefs of stone-walled fields,
Too small to support a family, deserted
Since the Great Famine, dotted with ruins,
Reclaimed by moss and mountain, moor and bog.
'Rare Breeds' the hopeful tourist sign had said,
But the lane petered out in a dead end wall.
Nettles, ragwort, ivy, smothered the verge;
Spleenworts and toadflax spattered the grey
With lime-green tufts and violet cascades.
Steep steps led up to a tiny house.
Very carefully but in eager haste
An old man scuttled down the concave steps,
Purple face a mass of capillaries,
His nose a bulbous ruin, his teeth stumps.
He gripped me by the arm and held me
Much too close within my personal space.
His brogue was as rough as his hob-nailed boots;
His peasant vernacular uncouth,
But his eyes were as bright as a robin's
As he told me of his wife ten years dead,
His unseen daughters married in Belfast,
His son killed in a railway accident.
His shiny-knee trousers with button flies
Had a smell of piss I could not avoid,
But he shook me by the hand, horny palm
And cracked yellow nails. He was amazed
When I told him we came from New Zealand
And not Ballyvally or Colligan Bridge.
I pulled free and guiltily drove away
To leave him to his daily loneliness.
As soon as we were round the bend I'm sure
He slowly climbed again his footworn flags,
To sit on his stool outside his kitchen door
To wait and watch, look down the winding lane.