ShibbolethHe was a mixed-race kid from England,
son, I suppose, of an errant Newry mother
who had dropped her guard in Manchester,
or some such English den of sin; the boys
gathered round him at O'Hara's shop,
bombarded him with questions he could never hear.
Lourdes might bring the gift of a working tongue,
but for now he was like a little donkey
that lightly-pagan farmers langled by their beasts
to keep disease at bay, and I prepared for triumph.
Heart thumping, I drew one palm across the other
as if to wipe away a cuckoo-spit.
Touched index to index, tapped the life-line twice,
brushed the tip of the ring-finger.
Following the clumsy movements,
his eyes came suddenly alive, his hands
flooded smoothly and alarmingly
in a tide of fluency, knitting a pattern
as intricate as the crazy ribbons of weed
tangled by the silty waves on Cranfield sands.
My shifty eyes and redding cheeks talked to him then,
and he turned away, his casual shrug
more eloquent and stinging than a sharp retort;
he spoke no words in my tongue;
I knew just one in his.
River Bann, Co. Down