Poetry by Margaret Galvin
I Come From
(after Robert Seatter)
I come from the dusty theatricality of velvet drapes
in Johnson’s Photography Studio,
shy, formal poses in ringlets and patent shoes
pivotal moments recorded,
the first school uniform,
the blue-white fragility of communion lace,
the confirmation coat and frock.
I come from schoolbooks covered in corrugated brown paper,
spines reinforced with hairy twine.
Run Peter run, run Mary run, run Spot run.
From ink wells and blotting paper, forked nibs
staying between the lines.
Wimpled nuns in men’s shoes, patrolling.
Dropped stitches and the curly tangle of ripped-out knitting.
From The Big Ship Sails Through the Alley Alley O,
the crunch of bulls’ eyes and conversation lozenges,
Willie Franklin’s sweet shop.
From pennies for the black babies, thrupenny bits and sixpences,
the solemnity of occasional half crowns.
I come from the grocer’s ledger, Green Shield stamps,
the clean slate, owe nothing to no one.
I come from the gutty tangle of putrid meat and bone
in the factory, bluebottles and horseflies,
the door closed against the stench.
I come from the mewling gauze of kittens drowned
in nylon stockings, the clang of the galvanize bucket,
from a biscuit tin of old photographs,
the expressions of my people, caught variously
in sepia, black and white, colour.
My Father’s Handwriting
He never went to school, ‘but met the scholars coming home’.
Knew whose son was earmarked
for the land, the professions, the church,
used whatever bit of snatched time was spared to him
between thinning beet or picking stones in the Colonel’s drills
to achieve his magnificent copperplate.
His was a deliberate and skilled hand;
his pen moving with the fluent ferocity
of a man determined to make his mark.
He was a monk in a scriptorium
when, tongue out in concentration,
he applied himself to decorative capitals:
flourished each word with elaborate penmanship
as he wrote shopping lists on discarded envelopes,
itemising the sliced pan and quarter pound of tea
from Butler’s in Barrack Street,
the pig’s-head from Irwin’s.
On Fridays, he signed his pension book
with particular gusto,
knowing that Ernie Alton, the post office clerk
would take note and comment on the refinement
of his ornate and noble hand.
Margaret Galvin grew up in County Tipperary but has lived all of her adult life in Wexford. She worked variously with the library service, as Editor of the weekly Ireland’s Own magazine and latterly in intellectual disability support. Her collections include The Waiting Room (doghouse) and The Scattering Lawns (Lapwing). She is currently putting together a collection of new and selected poems devoted to her experience of growing up in the Ireland of the 1960s.