Master Breen poses in the top row,
his hands folded across his chest like Cuchulain,
the tips of his handle-bar mustache brush his checked cravat.
My mother — just a girl — stands to his left
in a coarse wool dress she sewed herself —
lisle stockings and clutie brogues.
Her auburn hair about her face, she beams.
At half ten each morning she serves the master his tea.
I beg her, stay in Tullaree forever.
You will miss the warmth of the cow’s udders
and the bleating sheep in the upper pasture.
You can touch the stars here.
Don’t cross the sea, Mother. You will scrub
until your knuckles bleed pink tears on our white blouses.
You will dust shelves and polish floors
to pay our school tuitions
with Yeats turned to stone in your chest.
Your son’s head will be crushed by a truck, three infants will die.
Your husband, a master you’ll serve for 35 years,
will wax as thorny as pyracantha.
Daughter, at Eastertide they shot sixteen Irish patriots in Dublin.
I am a papist scullion in the six counties
which will be chopped off like a gangrened arm in ’23.
The oldest son will inherit the land.
You have never been starved by the raw wind
from the banks of the Bann.
You choose your masters in this life.
Our whispered faith, sustained as we knelt on nettles,
will gird me like the radiant skin of a snake.
And you, my child, will write this poem.