Moya Cannon

Forgetting Tulips

for Brídín and Kathleen

Today, on the terrace, he points with his walking-stick and asks
‘What do you call those flowers?’

On holiday in Dublin in the sixties
he bought the original five bulbs for one pound.
He planted and manured them for thirty-five years.
He lifted them, divided them,
stored them on chicken wire in the shed,
ready for planting in a straight row,
high red and yellow cups —

treasure transported in galleons
from Turkey to Amsterdam, three centuries earlier.
In April they sway now, in a Donegal wind,
above the slim leaves of sleeping carnations.

A man who dug straight drills and picked blackcurrants,
who taught rows of children parts of speech,
tenses and declensions
under a cracked canvas map of the world —
who loved to teach the story
of Marco Polo and his uncles arriving home,
bedraggled after ten years’ journeying,
then slashing the linings of their coats
to spill out rubies from Cathay —

today, shedding the nouns first,
he stands by his flowerbed and asks,
‘What do you call those flowers?’

From Carrying the Songs, Carcanet Press, 2007