“Constancy” by Denise Garvey

Denise Garvey


My grandfather knew how to share
iron and leather with a horse
sweat turning the earth, the fertile smell
the plodding, the slow prayer.
Knew the seed he planted
back bending the long field.
A man that would listen to the Clare match
swathed in sweet pipe smoke
the fob watch checked by the Angelus.
Granny had a coat made for herself
from the fine worsted bolt that made his suit.
Carefully pinned a pearl in her soft green hat
as he pinned a rose on his lapel and
clasped the silver head of his walking cane.
The one before was shot to just silver in his hand:
Bloody Sunday, Croke Park, the Black and Tans.
He saw Wild Bill Cody in London 
with his stagecoach, saddled a Model T himself,
drove tillage laneways of sugar beet for 
The Great Southern and Western Railways.
In the war, he parked the car on blocks
saved the tyres, like seeds.
He was stern to his sons
who smoked Woodbines in goods carriages,
fell asleep, woke in the darkness of wild Kerry,
trudged to a mountainside nugget of light
traced relatives, hospitality
and a safe train home.
I saw my grandfather, old,
to a very young girl
pull my granny closer,
kiss her on the lips
and I knew constancy.
I saw granny smile remembering 
his intention to give up courtship for Lent
abandoned, with his bicycle, in the bursting spring.
The home they built is beautiful, substantial to this day,
nestled at the Crossroads in Clonlara,
paid for, by both, working to the bone.
She had six living children, and like me, lost one.
I didn’t know then how the loneliness would be
the crying, bereft mysteriously, of the unknown.
Granny, in the dying pain, 
took the cross from the kitchen wall
wrapped it in tissue, stuffed it in an envelope
wrote on it my name, closed the drawer.
My grandfather fished trout
cleared the Glen for a playground of sky blue,
taught me the habits of the trees, showed me foxgloves 
guarding rabbit burrows. Talked of ferrets.
Put glory from his garden in vases
and in the end, climbed up the valley
into the meadow of the evening sun.
This is the constancy on which I stood naked
in the bath, faced the tirade of my husband’s torment
claimed, for the first married time, my own space.
Waited for the fist to smash through my face.

from Rattle #79, Spring 2023
Tribute to Irish Poets


Denise Garvey: “I live in the West of Ireland and run a study centre for students of all ages and abilities. Severely hearing impaired since birth, my childhood world was mainly lived in books and poetry has become an important means of self-reflection and self-expression. Born in Ireland and Irish back to the Norman invasion at least, I am interested in how the traditions of our country, previously so rooted in the extended family, support us, or sometimes undermine us, in our commitment to living full and powerful lives.”

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