Guest Poem by Briege Duffaud

Briege Duffaud is a Northern Irish writer of poetry and fiction. Her poems and short stories have been published in English and European magazines, including PIR, French Literary Review, The Frogmore Papers, The Spectator, and Acumen. In the past she published two novels and a short story collection. She lives in London. This poem is from Acumen 107.


A school day, normally. He may have thought of that,
missed friends and reading books. Or not. (I never knew
his thoughts nor wanted to.) But still. Nine miles
cutting over frosted fields to the Newtown hiring-fair,
to shiver in a hungry street while meat-fed farmers
peered and poked. A cart rattling him north
to a season’s servitude. He was ten.

I only heard when he was dead, that this occurred.
Old to be a father, when I was young he told us nothing.
Questions were forbidden, no voice permitted
in that small crowded house but his.

We knew nothing of his older sister dead
in the TB ward of Blayney workhouse
in an epidemic year, parents lost without her wages,
glad of the few pounds a child sent home.

Our house was rich with books: piled on a broad shelf
above the kitchen door, on dresser-head and windowsill.
Evenings, done labouring stony fields, he read to us:
cowboy books and Captain Scott, Peary at the Pole,
wolves and pemmican and snowy wastes to dream about.
I never knew that we were poor.