The Rattled Cage

by Aileen Sweeney

The shoe on the last, rasping, tapping, holding tiny nails between his lips
His bespoke crutches resting to one side
Visitors treated to a flight by Joey who would land on your head
A little sprig of goundsel poked through the bars enticed him back to the cage,
chirping. Granda convinced us he was saying ‘Joey’.

Half asleep, hearing notes plucked one by one by Granda on his guitar,
Voices humming to the last line “… the old rustic bridge by the mill”.
They all knew that bit.
He loved literature. Especially The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
In Belmullet. In the 60s.

Nothing rattled his cage until his father’s murderer died in 1969
Tremendous eulogies
Glowing accounts of heroic deeds
“Let us hear no more of this hero worship” he wrote in the newspaper
About something he never voiced. Ever.
His father nearing retirement, was shot in the back
On the day of the first Dáil
Granda left it to God to judge this noble deed

And returned to his workshop.
The last.
The rasp.
The guitar.
Joey chirping.

Reproduced with kind permission of the author. Aileen Sweeney participated in Poetry as Commemoration workshops in Leitrim County Library, Ballinamore, facilitated by Mary Melvin Geoghegan in October and November 2023.

Sweeney’s great grandfather was James McDonnell, an RIC policeman shot during the Soloheadbeg Ambush, Co. Tipperary, in January 1919.