‘Tick-tock, tick-tock’ goes the clock in the bedroom
he shares with no-one. He sees that it is time
to rise and fetch his cows.
His routine of fifty years, since he was eight,
is to milk them at morn and again at night and
he’s never been on holiday, nor taken a break
from 13 acres and seven beasts.
One for every day o’ the week’.

Pat is short, stocky, and wide as a gate
and he walks with feet pointed out, and a crick in his neck.
The cap on his head, he tilts to the front and a bit to the side
and he rarely takes it off, save to wash or go to mass.
His skin is sallow, his hair still jet black, but the life
in his eyes is almost out.

He had wanted to play for his county ‘some day’ but
never got the chance nor the time, to escape the grind.
Born in the Vale, as the youngest male sure wasn’t
he the one who’d take care of the land?
‘Go and help your father, you know he’s not well’.
‘Yes, Mam’, he said.

Out in the shed he sat down on a stool, to pull frothy milk
from warm teats into a pail,
and he noticed the cows walk into the byre; they all knew their place.
‘Mind that brown one, she’s got a wicked face’,
was his dad’s last piece of advice.
‘Yes, Dad’, he said.

‘Well, you’re the man now’, said the grinning priest
as he washed down his cake with a mouthful of tea.
‘I was thinking of England’, said Pat. ‘Or Australia or America’.
‘But, what about your poor mother? Where are ye at!
No, your place is here and that’s just that’.
‘Yes, Father’, he said.

Some years had passed when Pat went to the mart.
And there he met a pretty face that melted his heart, and they arranged
to meet later, to go to the flicks – and soon they got close and shared a peck on the lips.
Then came the night when he brought her home – ‘Mam this is Mary’.
A curt hello to put on a face, and a word in his ear over by the press,
‘Well, you can just take that lassie right out of my house’.
‘Yes, Mam’, he said.

With nothing to hope for and his dreams in small bits
he settled down to a lifetime of being underwhelmed.
Yes, he liked his greyhounds and the occasional day out, and maybe
the odd stout at the coursing outside of Tipp Town.
But when his Mam passed away he really took to the drink, for it
was the only thing that could stop him from thinking and sinking
into despair about what he could have done, who he could have been.

Now he sits waiting to see Dr Molloy and his memory
goes back to when he was a boy, the day
that his Dad came out with a look of disdain.
‘Come in Pat, how’ve you been?’
‘Mixed middlin’, says he and looks to the floor.
‘Well, the news is not good, it’s gone too far.’
‘Was that my life?’ he asks. ‘Was that my life?’

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George Sheils
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