Born in County Tipperary, Tom Cleary later taught in secondary schools in London, Manchester and Leeds. He is a born story-teller. In these poems he evokes a land of fact and fiction, where the strange is familiar and the familiar never less than strange. Nothing is as it first appears. These are not safe poems.
The sleeve of my uncle’s best blue suit shone
from the swipes of his arm brushing his trilby clean
on Sunday mornings. At the farm gate
where his coy Virgin smiled to herself in her grotto
he swung off left onto the track across the Common
under swags of cloud, past the spiky grass
where sheep nuzzled and yellow furze flowers
sheathed their fish-hook thorns.
I was a packaged present in my first communion suit.
I ran to keep up, and the shoes polished by my aunt
whispered in the grass. My face was itchy with flush.
My calves ached from the elastic holding my socks tight
at the knee, bruising like stigmata. During Mass,
squashed in my pew by mounds of devotional flesh,
my bottom numb and my nose straining for air
in a miasma of body stink, porter and scent,
I heard his Panis Angelicus soar
pure as a robin’s flute up into the rafters.