Geography and Sweetshops
Lisfannon, Buncrana, Bunduff, Mullaghmore, Rossnowlagh.
The best places to swim were always over
the border. In the car killing time
we played I spy with my little eye…
and Spot the soldiers, their camouflage
too dark for August grass
…something beginning with
h… The wee white house, windows for eyes
one either side of the thick red line on the map.
We imagined the little old woman –
she was always little and old –
waking each morning in the
South and having eggs
for breakfast in the North
and maybe crossing
again to clean her teeth
and check her hair
in the big old bathroom mirror
in the South.
What accent would she use?
Did her cattle favour
Southern or Northern
grass? Where did they give good milk?
And where did her children
go to school and did they like to change
their accents too and did they ever
The sea and Southern bread, and sweets we couldn’t
get at Auntie Maggie’s shop. Skittles, Golden
Crisp, and ‘richer, smoother, creamy’ Dairy Milk.
In the sweet-shop in Buncrana, women
smile at us and call us refugees. We learn
to use our strongest
and look sad. This guarantees
free sweets at the beginning.
Back home, we never knew
when Auntie Maggie’d come to stay.
We knew to open the windows
when the siren went. We knew
if an inspector called that this
window or that door
hadn’t been broken before.
We knew that Auntie Maggie’s blood pressure
was bad and that it blew sky-high –
she’d get bloodshot eyes –
each time an unattended car
appeared outside the shop
but that mostly people forgot
and it was nothing,
a scare. And then it wasn’t
and she’d come to stay
and her Maeve didn’t eat gravy
and she didn’t have to
and Auntie Maggie’s boys could say bad words
and nothing happened
and they could eat sweets all the time
and she’d say nothing
and they were ruined.
And when the windows came in all the sweets
in the shop would be ruined too
and even the ones buried at the bottom
and even the ones in the store-room that didn’t have
would have to be destroyed
but we would have eaten them anyhow
and we could have cried
at the thought
of all that waste.
“Geography and Sweetshops” is from Heimlich’s Manoeuvre (Smith Doorstop Books, 2013)