Poem introduction

This poem contains an Ulster word, 'clatty'. It derives from the Middle Dutch, 'clatten', meaning to be daubed, and it's used to describe a sort of lumpy dirt that sticks to things.


Years nailed to the wall as an ornament
the tongs grow clatty, plastered with lime
and disuse. Once, they would be taken down
to cross your cradle with at night. Blessed
and blanketed and doused with holy water
their lightning metal hid from thunderstorms.
They could cure or curse and knew their own.

The long years cut the shape of crooked fingers
on the handle, have sooted them full-way up
the shafts, burnt the claws to blackened stumps
dark as her eyes, dead as the ash in the fire.
And when they take the coffin out, and before
the house is sold, or tossed, or the roof falls in
take them out across the threshold; bury them.

Nigel McLoughlin

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Books by Nigel McLoughlin