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Away for the Week

The woman owned the house we’d rented, and she wasn’t fooled.
Nineteen-year-olds, two pairs of us, two Woolworth’s wedding rings.
‘At least they’ve made an effort,’ said the bubble from her head.
She showed us round. The only things we cared about were beds.
They didn’t disappoint. Capacious, matrimonial,
They promised joys, attained so far in snatches, for a week.

We chose our rooms. In Angela’s and mine, above the bed,
A lighted crucifix hung ready to invigilate.
Mains power. No switch. You’d think that it would put us off our stroke.
Not so. Its purple glow enrobed two naked Protestants
From England, merely grateful for the contraceptive pill,
But far too coy to leave the light on of our own free will.

The novelty of unprevented sex, and playing house,
And drinking proper Guinness at the shop kept us in town
Most of the week, still just believing that such pleasures were.
Our only day trip was a random tour into the west.
Down every empty lane we took, the fuchsias were in bloom.
We found the sea, saw islands, ate our lunch, and then came back.

As we returned, we passed a ruined chapel in the fields.
We stopped, and walked across to look: an ancient graveyard, stuffed
With bones, confused and visible and sticking from the ground.
So Angela picked up a skull and shin bones to take home.
I used weak words to try to stop her. She would have her way.
I was too much in love to veto this unholy act.
Into the Morris Minor’s boot they went, and home we drove.
She parked her trophies in the house.

                                                             We visited Tralee
That night, to see a horror film. It was the Bluebeard myth
As Gothick melodrama: evil doctor keeps a string
Of undead former brides in castle basement; latest bride
Smells rat before her wedding night; calls up her former love
(Discarded by the girl, she tricked by doctor’s wicked lies
And lured by money, which she now regrets); he flies to her,
Kills doctor, ushers former brides into God’s wholesome light
Where magically they come to life again. The End.

The story made a palpable impression on us all,
But most on Angela. ‘The skull and bones,’ — she looks to me —
‘I couldn’t sleep if they were in the house. Please take them back.’

It’s after midnight and I’m trying to reverse the route
We took in daylight. I’m alone. I’m lost. He, she or they
Are clattering in the boot. I find the place at last, by luck.

Full moon on ruined chapel, gravestones and surrounding wall.
Two fields between me and the hallowed ground. I dare not walk.
I swing one gate aside, and roar across the field, then swing
The second gate aside, and roar across the second field,
As fast as ever motor traffic has traversed that land.
Astonished rabbits scatter from my headlights to their holes.

I stop beside the wall, leave engine running, open boot
And hurl the relics somewhere close to where we saw them first.
Then back across the vacant fields, more slowly, less afraid.
I close one gate, two gates, absolve myself, breathe out, drive home.

That night, despite the helping lights from moon and crucifix
Two lovers faced the ceiling, chastened, chaste. On Saturday
Four crossed the country, ringless: Rosslare, Fishguard, London, thence
To places where we were not grown up yet. And she and I
That autumn said goodbye from phones a hundred miles apart.
I closed the callbox door, absolved myself, breathed out, walked home;

No longer in her power, though for ever in her debt.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by the author