Base Camp. Horizontal sleet. Two small boys
have raised the steel flag of the 20 terminus:
me and Ross Mudie are going up the Hilltown
for the first time ever on our own.
I’m weighing up my spending power: the shillings,
tanners, black pennies, florins with bald kings,
the cold blazonry of a half-crown, threepenny bits
like thick cogs, making them chank together in my pockets.
I plan to buy comics,
sweeties, and magic tricks.
However, I am obscurely worried, as usual,
over matters of procedure, the protocol of travel,
and keep asking Ross the same questions:
where we should sit, when to pull the bell, even
if we have enough money for the fare,
whispering, Are ye sure? Are ye sure?
I cannot know the little good it will do me;
the bus will let us down in another country
with the wrong streets and streets that suddenly forget
their names at crossroads or in building-sites
and where no one will have heard of the sweets we ask for
and the man will shake the coins from our fists onto the counter
and call for his wife to come through, come through and see this
and if we ever make it home again, the bus
will draw into the charred wreck of itself
and we will enter the land at the point we left off
only our voices sound funny and all the houses are gone
and the rain tastes like kelly and black waves fold in
very slowly at the foot of Macalpine Road
and our sisters and mothers are fifty years dead.
About this poem
from God’s Gift to Women (Faber, 1997). Reproduced with permission from the rights holder.