The Untimely Death of my Mother’s Hens, Breda Spaight
New Irish Voices, no.5
Southword Editions, 2019 €6.00 (outside Europe €8.00)
These are brutally vivid memories. There’s death and there’s blood: menstrual, childbirth, scabs from shaving cuts; ‘cherry-red vowels’ and ‘alphabet clots’ (in ‘My Father Tells Me He Loves Me’).
The reader absorbs a complex mixture of urgency, intimacy, violence and despair. Sometimes the settings are plainly factual, at other times surreal. Sometimes the point of view is the little girl’s. Or the mother’s. Or the father’s. Each has a perspective. Each perspective is — oh so hard.
I found the reading experience almost too visceral at times. And yet the landscape is rural, evocative, beautiful:
[ ... ] The hill acre raked,
and the hay wynds’ golden domes
above stone walls, losing the heat
of the day when corncrakes quieten.
This strengthens the chilling contrast when — with that idyllic harvest as background — pregnancy brings nightmare:
Coal shovel on the table: last night’s beating.
She clasps her fingers around her stomach.
There, there, she says; feels it kick.
Its first kick followed the first blow.
She’d held her stomach like you’d run
with washing from the line when rain comes,
the spit of his words on her face —
It isn’t fuckin’ mine.
It would have been easy to portray the mother and daughter here as victims, the father as the threatening patriarch. At first it even seems that might be the way things will go:
He confirmed my life once only
through his spurt of seed, his grunt
in my mother’s ear a sweaty sin.
[‘My Father Tells Me He Loves Me’]
But the richness of experience here, the compassion, is bigger than that. The father is as bruised and battered by life as everybody else. I’ll end with a few lines from ‘Study of My Father at Five Seconds Old’. The poor soul.
The beauty that was his is seconds dead —
head coned from the birth canal crush;
his nape stork-bitten where blood glutted
capillaries as he crossed the pelvic bone.
Hear him cry. See the wet, wide mouth
saying goodbye to paradise; the fists waving