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‘To My Mother Who Never Touched a Drop’

When I meet her in Hourican’s Bar
I will bring the picture resurrected
from the derelict farmhouse, last summer.

My great Uncle Phil will offer me a glass.
I’ll reluctantly sip the bitter-black and lick
the froth from my lip.

For once my mother will sit in silence –
but not out of spite. When I lean in I’ll catch
the Jameson’s on her breath.

I’ll unscroll the picture and watch
as she scrutinizes the haloed St Patrick,
in his emerald gown,

stationed on the top of a mountain –
a shepherd’s crook in one hand,
pointing at the ground with the other.

And because she is tipsy, my mother
will not recoil at the nest of snakes
gathering around his naked feet.

When the bar empties, I will quietly slip
into the dazed-dark, with a box of matches,
a miracle of sobriety.

Maggie Sawkins’ live literature production, ‘Zones of Avoidance’, which grew out of a sequence of poems inspired by personal and professional involvement with addiction, won the 2013 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. Maggie runs writing projects in community and health care settings. www.zonesofavoidance.wordpress.com

“This poem was a response to an assignment on Kathryn Simmond’s engaging online course, Secrets and Lies. The idea was to place someone we know well at the centre of the poem, but to fictionalise the way they’re presented. My mother left Ireland when she was twenty-nine and never went back. Last summer I went on a quest to find the tiny hamlet of Dunbeggan, the place where she was brought up. Although the family farmhouse was derelict, I managed to scramble up the ramshackle stairs where I discovered an ancient framed picture of St Patrick. In the poem, I imagine meeting my mother in the family pub (which is still there) and showing her the picture. My mother had an abnormal fear of snakes. I often think she would have found life easier if she had taken to the drink.”

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Image Credits:

Ariel Dovas