Michael Farry

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Poetry > Samples


1. The letter. April 1921

Father’s letter put it starkly,
stated symptom, coughing blood.
Doctor Moran’s diagnosis,
pulmonary tuberculosis.

Did that hay day in Dromard -
sweating, chilling in the dew -
or the spits, the coughs and splutters
of your Palace picturegoers

allow the bacillus intrude?
I read everything I could
about consumption, tuberculosis,
wasting disease, pale plague,

so I knew what to expect
when I rushed back from college -
loss of weight and appetite,
flushed cheeks, dull lethargy

and the coughing up of blood.

2. Newcastle: May - November 1921

Catch it early, the theory said, and the cure
is simple: pure air, bed rest and healthy food.

We installed you in Newcastle sanatorium,
aloft in Wicklow, the Irish Davos.

Each visit a pilgrimage from Sligo,
a halt in Ranelagh, then a climb

by winding roadway to the windswept,
whitewashed sanatorium, scoured of colour,

home to bloodless faces. You were
wrapped up in your bed on the veranda

or in the ward, windows thrown wide
to embrace the cleansing western wind.

Father narrated news of neighbours,
Meehan’s windows and the latest pictures,

I tried to jig your spirit with bulletin
of concert, ball and bridge. In vain.

You complained, of the cold, the heat,
the wind, the calm; the other patients,

the wait since our last visit. We left,
consumed by guilt, despair, relief.

The journey homeward always the worst.

3. Home: December 1921

At last, wind-weary,
you made us take you home
just before they signed the Treaty.

Father tried to replicate
sanatorium conditions, bed rest,
good food, a separate room,
windows nailed open,
clothes scrubbed separately.
We quarantined your vessels,
boiled your sputum cups,
restricted family intimacy
to prevent contagion.

In the end you ridiculed his care
refusing rest and retirement.
“While I am here I’ll be a part of

this family”. Bursts of elation
balanced dour depressions
as your body wasted

and your grip slackened.

4. Departure: 15 August 1922

I watched you leave,

your slender nose sharpening
your flushed cheeks glowing
your eyes glittering in their deep hollows
your shoulder blades like the wings of birds.

Your harsh cough racked your chest
your breath became foul smelling
your breathing short and shallow
your voice a rasping wheeze.

Your end a relief.

Michael Farry

One of a sequence of poems based on characters and events, real and fictitious,
during the Civil War in Co Sligo 1922-23.

Shortlisted in the Scríobh Sligo Poetry Competition 2006
and published in
Scríobh 2004-2006

Hear Michael Farry read
on Poetcasting website

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