Perfume of the soil

Sitting on footpaths in Temple Bar
on pebbled stones at the Royal Hospital
in bare feet on Lough Derg
lying on the ground at Fleadhs,
I see young people in black clothes
making contact with the earth
from carpeted homes centrally heated
taken to school in buses and cars
now yearning for nature and
the smell of the cosmos soil.
In the fifties we walked to school
barefooted along the grass
verges of the stony roads
played on the cracked concrete
of the school yard.
Poulticed stone bruises on our feet
stopped bleeding glass cuts with
cobwebs from the farmyard
sat on clay ridges guggering
potato slits in the spring
rolled with hay laps in summer months
tossed with the oat seed as it
came out in torrents from the thresher.
Came home with wet clothes
from cycling to the store
and smelled the tweeds drying

on the kitchen hearth
keeping us in touch with
the crust of the universe.

Mary Guckian

Ballsbridge Wood

I parked my car beneath the trees
that lined the land behind the library.
Here, I watched the seasons change from
bare branches to full blown buds, opening
out to shimmering leaves before they turned
from sombre yellow to burnished bronze.

Now red bricked houses stand silent
since the developers bored into the earth
with diggers, clearing away the brambles,
trees and all the foliage of a thousand
years, no place for blackberries, the fruit I
loved to taste on my lunch hour feast of air.

Christening this pile Ballsbridge Wood, estate
agents remind us of the beauty of a suburb lane.

Mary Guckian


Did I tell you
how I once set down
my poet's pen
and stood in a soup line?
She knows I did this.
The one

who stood in front of me,
patient while I scoured
her neck and spine
with mindful meditations
about my kinship
with the poor.

It was - and you must understand this part -
a noble hour for me.
Waiting. As she was waiting.
For food. Becoming
like her.

Becoming more and more like her. That was
the noblest part.
Wouldn't you agree?
That, and the fact that
I had fasted all day.

My stomach. Churning
and growling behind her back.
Holy. Holy. Holy.
My stomach. Announcing
this - the good news
of my sacrifice -

to the one
who stood in front of me,
still patient.
What made her turn?
I cannot say.
First, she shrugged

her shoulders
(or was it a shiver?).
Then slowly,
ever so slowly,
she turned a full turn
and faced me, silently,unhinged

eyes meeting eyes.
This part I will never
forget: How in her hungry stare
I saw the shallow
mockery of starvation
and the depth of bread.

I tell you these things
with my poet's pen
while I sit here
remembering her silence
and the rusty sound
of my soul coming

in a soup line

Toni Flynn

The Traveller's Tent

Down at the crossroads,
in the winter months
on my way to school:
I would cycle past the travellers
and watch the steam rise
from the dark brown dusky tent.

It was tiny, shaped like
the last quarter of the moon.
For many years a family
lived here quietly
mended our buckets and made
pongers in different sizes.

We would exchange vegetables
and milk for the useful goods
they provided for us in
simple designs, these vessels
were crafted with a skill
none of us knew.

Sleeping under the canvas
through all kinds of weather,
wakening after heavy rain to find
the sagging canvas sinking into
the tiny space, the only heat the
closely held bodies of the family.

Mary Guckian


At birth,
taken from
his Mother,
reared in the
County Home.
At 14 years
left with
on a farm,
no time for
a life of
abused by
farming men
and women.
Growing old
in his youth,
sleeping in
the loft,
cattle giving

heat to his
tired body
night after
from manual
work and
working at
every job
he was given.
The farmers
he slaved for
know nothing
of his
At last
a holiday
one week
paid by the
St. Vincent de Paul,
time to

form female
he is overcome
with emotion
when he is
given a book
as a present
and a woman
asks for his
address, never
getting a card
at Christmas
this old man
seems cared
for and happy
in Knock.

Mary Guckian


Years of ironing
starched shirt collars
for my Father and
aprons that we wore
for the cookery
class in school
had given a polished
surface to the
clothes iron.
The end opened like
the lid of a box
and out came the
large stone which
we buried in the
centre of the open
fire until it
turned a pink
red colour like
a slab of jelly.
With the tongs
we lifted the
dangerously hot
stone from the fire

transferred it to
the iron and started
working on the clothes,
getting rid of the
creases as we moved
it over and back
on the garments.
To keep it hot
the stone was put back
into the fire every
fifteen minutes
until all the clothes
needed for the seven
of us were neatly
ironed for the week
by my Mother.

Mary Guckian

Autumn in Oxford

Walking into the meadows
we wandered across the
steep bridge and watched
the students rowing.
The narrow boats moved
smoothly under the tall
trees and the oars glided
gracefully on the river,
as the instructor called
out, from time to time.
Keeping their movements
in tune with nature, they
floated into the landscape
and we moved further into
the rich carpet. Rattling
sounds filled our ears, the
burnished leaves falling
gently at our feet, our
time together evaporating.
Years later, the memories
stirring in the landscape
of our drawn out silences.

Mary Guckian