Since her name dropped like a stone in the women’s talk
I am haunted by the ghost of my mother’s sister.
She comes to me out of 1939
in a little white dress and pristine Mary-Janes
clutching the gloves she’ll drop on the Donegall Road.
She stoops from the kerb. The Donegall Road, the West,
is a disused room in my family’s House of History:
the distaff wing, the city’s sealed-off place.
She steps from the kerb to the not-quite-lorry-free roads
of 1940. Next year my mother is born.
Next year to the day. My mother’s birthday cake
is iced in black and sweetened with black ashes;
the candle-flames are little points of dark
as dim as her dead sister’s eyes that day
on the Donegall Road. The name they sang: her name.
Colette, Colette. My grandmother’s atonement
for being so provocatively bereaved
is to lay her womb, like a flower, on heaven’s altar.
The Virgin smiles and leans to soothe her brow.
After my mother, she begets seven sons.
Colette, Colette: your name is a hiccup of grief,
and the hollow knock inside an empty closet.
A seed of loss, it sprouts beyond the day
we tuck your little shoes, now yellow with age,
like a breech birth in the soil of granny’s grave.