In Mullan's Fields

crusty cow-clap lay like anti-personnel meringues,
dark in summer heat; and if you stepped on one
it squirted foulness like a squeezed pimple. Behind
the big house ash-leaves trembled in the breeze,

piles of sticky goat-pills shone like blackcurrants
on yellowing grass; the smell of hawthorn was everywhere.
Occasionally a tractor tutted up the road to Crieve,
past the ghost house where the Hannas used to live.

Noel took me snaring, wire and wooden pegs
deep in the pockets of his khaki greatcoat, an eiderdown
on winter nights; in Korea it hadn't warmed him much,
but did a better job in Cowan Street, at number thirty;

now it was handy for smuggling home old Mullan's rabbits.
His big nicotined fingers shaped a noose, I nicked
one end of a peg, sharpened the other with his clasp-knife,
banged it into the earth with a ducky, by a rabbit-hole.

In the pale shadows of the horse-chestnut trees,
Noel twisted wire to peg; we set six snares.
Through summer he kept us all in stew, saved two bob a go
from Murphy the game dealer in Abbey Yard, famed

for his poultry and his prices. In the back kitchen
I'd slice the head off with the biggest bread-knife, tear
away the skin like a fur glove, pull out the smelly guts,
and four chops of the hatchet splintered off lucky feet.

And all the while Noel sang or whistled Irish tunes;
he was a great Irish dancer, teller of stories.
Later he sang and danced his way into a good woman's heart,
and later still, he broke it.


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Notes on the poem:

None of your tame "cow-pats" (line 1) in Co. Down - the wonderfully onomatopoeic 'clap' evokes the sound of cows doing their bit for organics

a 'ducky' (line 16) was a large stone, most often glacially rounded

'hatchet' (line 24) - we never called an axe anything else

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