by James Claffey

Nurse holds my arm steady, the stitched scar raised, swollen and angry, red tinges around the sutures. Mam’s worried face is about to melt like a Dali clock, into misery and blame. I have to be a brave soldier, she says, putting a cold hand on the knobby knee beneath the flannel material of my trousers. 

Silver, pointed, a-glint in the artificial lights of the clinic, the tip breaks the surface of the scar tissue. From the welled area comes the bloody pus, soaked up with gauze the nurse gently wipes about the crusted edge. A cry breaks from my lips, and Mam’s eyes behind cat’s eye glasses, well with salted pity for her little soldier. 

“Can I have the zoo animals?” We are walking along Liffey Street and Mam takes me into Hector Grey’s Emporium of Imported Goods to choose a toy for bravery. There’s hardly room in the small room to move. Tea chests “Made in China” block the aisles and cheap toy guitars hang from the ceiling. 

“You can have the zoo animals, Son.” 

Mam forks over a quid to the blue-coated woman behind the register.

I’m already deep in the jungles of Africa, being stalked by a lion: a lion whose razor-white teeth will tear the flesh on my forearm and accompany me in play and dreams for night after night, as Jesus, bloody heart in hand, looks down from the bedroom wall. 

I keep a secret cotton-wooled in a painted box. A floating secret, light as red feathers, heavy as the thump of a dead tree-limb falling on drifted snow. The wish for the death of my Old Man. A building ululation, wells from my larynx, the Adam’s apple palpates with a steady rhythm. Out the window a silent white seabird stands on one leg, the skinny limb supporting its body’s weight; the bird’s punkish crest ruffles in the breeze. 

I let go of the sound—the kept vowels and consonants of grief. Watch them escape into the air, like a caged creature given an open door. The wail goes out into the world, tears through the air, and fills the brimless vessel of the day.


James slipped out of Ireland one night when the moon turned a lonely ball shade of blue. His compass points toward the future; his glass’s bottom points toward the sky; and his bluebird eyes are two wars poignant, flitting for an avocado branch.
%d bloggers like this: