It takes you unawares, grief

Oddly so.

It’s in the suddenness of the absence

The no more

A voice gone. Forever.

It’s in the silence that’s left behind

And the nothingness of it

The tiny minutes between living and dying

The same face, but empty.

The same person, but not.

But mostly it’s in the never.

Never again to smile. Never again to laugh.

Never again to be cross, or funny

Or impatient or loving

Or even confused.

It’s the never that takes you unawares.


Small lives

The Celtic sea that I look out on in wonder

at its infinite beauty and power is no different

to the sea that brings only terror and death

to those who have no choice but to flee

the villages of their birth and homes.

And these children, my children, who

I look at in wonder through their birth and growing,

are no different to the children whose small lives

are risked by parents with wonder and love in their hearts,

infinite in exactly the same way as mine.

Yet it gapes between us, this human space, messily cluttered

with fear and loss and different ways of living and dying

A poem for Grouse

I wrote this last year before Grouse passed on from us.

A much loved and much missed part of our lives.



I got to wondering

about the memories inside your lovely old head.

I imagined at first that they were simple ones.

The smells sniffed a thousand times.

The birds chased and the briars catching you

as you charged through, in pursuit of something or nothing.

The leaving and returning of those you love.

Because that I know. You do love us.

The treats and the pats and the rubs

and the puddles and the river.  The rain

and the cracks of thunder that you hate.

The fears and the excitement.

The sorrow and the smiles

The confusion and your endless curiosity.

After all, not so simple.

Not much different to our own memories.

But maybe the difference is

that you do not know you are near the end.

I hope that is so.

You have no doctor to tell you, kindly and solemnly,

that this is, in fact, terminal.

It will end, this life of yours.

You cannot hear it in our voices.

You have not read that the life expectancy of a Springer is

somewhere between ten to twelve years,

 and you are fourteen, beating the odds.

We know that but are grateful you don’t.  

All those memories, good and bad, 

stored away behind your kind tired eyes, as you still walk

down the familiar laneway.

As you still, sort of, jump  with joy when you see us,

and wander off through the same old bushes

in the same old fields.

Slower yes, but no less for it. 


It is a year that’s gone missing.

Day by day, week by week it has left us wondering

where it went , so quickly and so

relentlessly slowly all at the same time.

Measured out in the life-stages of the virus

and our frightened responses; closed, opened, surge, retreat,

half opened, half closed, mutations and variants.

All old words put to new use.  Suspicions,

resentments, conspiracies, piety, and confusion have

tumbled through our streets and our homes.

We are not all the one in the way we greet this.

In how we can greet it. The masked up

and the defiantly mask-less, the resigned and the angry,

the contained and the hungry, the bored and the sad.

Some muddle through clumsily, other are just not able for it,

and the fog of despair creeps in and settles into every small fold

of their being. There to stay. Not counted in the monotonous

daily tally of deaths and infections, hospital beds and ICU numbers,

but there, hidden in plain sight, just as surely.

A Sunday walk along the River Barrow

On a Sunday walk along the banks of the turbulent river,

how easy it is to see why it was named the Boiling Barrow.  

Home to the remains of three fearsome serpents, plucked

from the heart of the impossibly ugly infant born to Morrigú.

Dian Cecht, whose mystical mind should have known better, burned

them down to powdery cinders which he flung across the water. 

The vengeful serpents, their wickedness undimmed by death, churned

and twisted in the murky depths, killing all who dared live there.

And today, without rest, the river still runs deep and wild,

feared by those who know and understand it; those who for

generations have lived so carefully on its banks.

Not a river to be trifled with, even on a Sunday walk.

The Ant Lion

Crouched down in the hot dry sand

she held the twig lightly

and twirled it once, then twice

on the rim of the perfectly formed cone

waiting for the moment when the

spiny, cross ant lion would dart out for a meal.

His disappointment was only temporary

as with infinite patience he would settle back down

and wait for the next unsuspecting creature

to tumble inelegantly down into his lair.

The Rainy Season

Time is not on the side of those who live in a hard-baked land

where rain used to come down, predictably,

in the rainy season.

Time is not on the side of those who wait for green shoots

to push their way through the dry red earth

in the rainy season.

Time is not on the side of those who collect water from springs

and rivers that are now no more,

in the rainy season.


Not one of us are just one word.

Not one of us are only one thing.

Not one of us is a simple shortcut.

Like capital R, Refugee.

A simple catch-all word that catches nothing

of the person other than they left their home

and sought refuge elsewhere.

Other than the fact that they risked everything

to flee the place of their birth, handing over their lives

and their hopes to strangers. To unknowns.

But that part of them, the leaving part,

is so little compared to the whole of them.

To a life lived in full, to parents and grandparents

and graves visited on anniversaries, to celebrations

of days that matter. To food and talk and music.

To neighbourhoods, familiar and easy.

To wonder and knowledge and fear. To the things

taken for granted until they cannot be. To waking up

to a day stretching out, and just living that day. And the next,

with hardship and love and comfort and pain.  

That simple word refugee meant nothing until suddenly it did.

Until it became all that you were, because you had no choice.

Until everything else that was you, up until that day,   

crumbled into the ruins of your home.

Not one of us are just one word.


Home is a different kind of a thing

when you have been at home all over.

When you are not of a place that has always been with you,

a place that knows you almost as well as you know it.

A place where your grandparents and those before them

cried, laughed and loved while stumbling through their lives.

Home is a different kind of a thing

when the trees that you grew up with are far from you

growing old without your knowledge.

Your child memories trapped in your mind and your heart,

not casually revisited every so often by just being there in your adult self.

Home is a different kind of a thing when you do go back

to a place that was once yours. A visitor, half in and half out.

An almost stranger but not. Exclaiming with delight at things

and places, remembered with the sharpness of childhood.

But that’s all OK, because home now is where you are.

New memories joining those from long ago.

New trees growing close to you, tall and solid in the wind.

New tears and love and laughter, new delight at the recently remembered,

as you and yours stumble through your lives. At home.


There is something in the gaze of a horse

that touches us, and allows us to believe

that we know what they are thinking.

Something in their soft whinny  and

snickering rumble that makes us want to protect them

from those who would do them wrong.

But somewhere, right now, a mare is standing

in a stall barely bigger than herself. Day in and day out.

Eternally in foal but never to know one.

Her pregnant urine harvested for tablets and creams

for ageing women, meno-pausing them on their journey through life.

Her foal an endless by product. Never to suckle.

Never to be taught how to graze on soft spring grass,

or to run from an imagined predator.

Never to whinny or snicker or roll or buck.

Just a disposable by product of an industry that remains

untouched by the gaze of a horse.

Here they are

Nothing prepares you

For that moment.

Nothing you have seen

or thought or wondered about

any time before this.

No imagining of what it will feel like,

no reading of books

or listening to others

or learning from your own mother.

Or your own father.


And then your life, as you knew it

and lived it and wandered through it,

disappears. Just like that.

Because now, here they are.

They, who were within you and are now

just themselves. In this world.

But still yours.

That’s when it all changes.

And I feel so lucky to know that.