Waiting for the perfect wave
Through a peephole of sorts,
bored by who knows what,
has appeared the sun,
forming luminous igloos
from pepper coloured houses,
speckling distant Donegal hills,
and between them and I
ten miles of ocean remains unchanged.
And often drawn to its steely surface
like a horse-shoe magnet,
on days like this, is a full-bodied
rainbow — but not this time.
So from my window seat
and making do with current inspiration,
a fresh mug of coffee in my hand
and the spirit of Billy Collins resting on my knee,
I’m thinking, it’s only a matter of time
before my pen is uncapped,
when into the room
bursts my three year old son
to tell me the bamboo chopsticks
I’m using for a bookmark look like a boat
and that ocean waves are like tongues,
and as if to prove I’m looking
in all the wrong places,
he rushes up and over me
and with a perfectly placed flick,
licks me on my nose.
We called him Blue Grandad
Not because his eyes were milky blue like larimars
or because he always wore blue overalls, but because
he only ever drove blue cars. Blue, he said, reminded him
of the ocean, where he’d sailed months at a time
as an engineer on merchant navy ships. A mile at sea
is longer than land’s mile, he once told me. If pressed
he’d talk of his duties below deck, always finishing on,
Sure I was only there in case we got a flat wheel.
When he wasn’t making us laugh, he was reciting the poems
he’d written in the quiet of his dimly lit bunk. Dipping his pen
into the water’s black well, he’d write of the brightest stars
he’d ever seen. Stars the sky would surrender to the sea
only for them to taunt the waves and rise again.
There was a poem about a pâtissier from Aquitaine
who could plait quicker than he could tie his boots,
and one about a fortune teller who wore a lace of jewels
across the smooth brown sands of her belly. A lucky night,
he claimed was her prediction, prompting a familiar tut
and eye roll from Granny, to which he’d reply with a wink.
He also wrote about home and the things he missed; cutting turf
at Mackle’s bog, the walk to church on Sundays,
the funeral of his youngest brother.
One time when reading me a poem about fishing for eels
at dawn in Lough Neagh, he stopped midway
and looked up beyond me, as if hearing something,
yet I had only heard him. I watched his lips silently shape a word.
Leaning in, he beckoned me over with his hand and whispered,
I was ordered up one night, you know, up on deck
to give the men a hand. There was trouble.
I’d fired a gun before, but… Then he leaned even closer, the bows
of our faces almost touching. I maybe killed a man or two that night.
And for once silence filled the space between us.
Silence. Pause. A long em dash.
And from each end we clung, drifting there together
for what seemed a nautical mile, until finally,
with a sparkle of larimar, a wink of an eye, it broke.
Then he straightened himself
and after a long intake of breath, he cast us off again
into the early morning mist.
Niall M Oliver is an Irish writer who has recently returned home with his wife and two boys after a decade living in London. His poems have featured in The Honest Ulsterman, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Black Bough Poetry, Crossways, The Lake Poetry, and a few others.