The Playwright’s Daughter

I was one year old when my nanny went away
leaving no memory of a face that watched,
arms that held, hands that fed and cleaned me,
left no record of her voice or name. My father
died, leaving wisps of pipe smoke for a memory.

My mother went away to write in London,
left me at her home place, Ballyrankin,
a sheltered farm in the Slaney river valley.
I listened to stories from a paralyzed aunt
sitting among sleepy dogs next to the fire.

Statia cooked every day for the dining room,
churned butter, gave sugared bread to me and
her child Bernie, fed outside men in dirty boots
and greasy caps in her stone-flagged kitchen that
smelt of damp clothes, roasting meat, and cake.

I fished for minnows in Shillelagh stream under ash trees
where filtered sunlight made pools of silver water.
On one side horses grazed and swished
their tails at flies, on the far side cows rubbed
their backs against low beech tree branches.

My mother went away to hospital, left me with
English neighbors, the Smythe Vigours’
hairy legs banged on passage floorboards,
my bedroom filled with evening sun.
They warned against crying. I cried louder.

They took my pearl pink rosary beads given
to me by a monk from a mountain monastery.
He told me Holy Mary answered children’s prayers.
A protestant child, I didn’t know the words, but I knew
she’d hear me if I could catch the sunlight on her beads.