Tell Mother

by Marion Cox

I come from my grandmother, Agnes Bourke.
Sitting on the narrow stair; long brown ringlets,
motionless, as soldiers ransacked their home.
Her nine-year-old self rooted to the spot, the weight
of bullets in her pink, cotton bloomers.

Her brother, Charlie, one of ten children,
jumped out through the bedroom window,
a room he shared with his Free State brother,
no cross word between them, ever.
She told us how Charlie escaped that time,
to later starve inside Cork Jail.

Agnes lived in Bandon Lane.
Strawberry beds were magenta dots on the wall of her cottage.
My grandfather, Michael, hailed from a dusty, Cork street,
blocked by soldiers acting as men
when they pushed boys into open lorries.
His sister, May, passing,
on her way home from work in Elvery’s,
a confused look on her face.

Michael leaned out of the lorry,
‘Tell Mother I won’t be home for tea’.
They found his revolver in a paper bag,
he returned three years later
to the street that remained the same.

In Kilmainham, Michael watched drunken soldiers
celebrate Easter. A poet, dragged out,
with long hair, long ears. They joked, tossed a coin,
his hair or his ears?

Michael never told.

This poem was composed during a series of creative writing workshops for Comhrá na mBan Centenary Writers Group led by Emily Cullen at Westside Library, Galway during September – December 2023, as part of the ‘Reflections – A Commemoration of the Irish Women of 1923.