Poem no.17: On Fridays, we eat fish

“On Fridays, we eat fish,”
She told me as we’d walked up, chatting, from the Waterside.
The train track, routed by the river bend,
Arched underneath the city’s second bridge.
A towering form (or so we thought so then);
Two mighty levels for the traffic that roared by.
Mindful of warnings, kept alert by news,
We exited the station: took the lower level of the bridge.

To navigate the upper storey, then,
Was foolhardy and just not worth the risk.
We knew the news reports – civilians shot;
A soldier ambushed on his way back from patrol.
We walked the rattling, fume-soaked lower deck
Then up the hill and down into the Bog*.

Newly friends, we’d learned each other’s rituals;
But lecture halls and theatres were neutral and benign.
Walking on home turf was different when the soil was new;
Signs and signals were foreign – caught us unawares –
But we were young enough to want to learn.

We’d walked the rough-edged pavement to the house
When suddenly she stopped – and all too casually inquired –
‘My mother was worried you might be insulted…I mean…
(She struggled here) She thought you might prefer
If she took down the Sacred Heart while you were here?

I could not answer for the grief that swamped me then;
I had no right to ask it – and made clear to tell her so.
Her friendship and her family were what had drawn me in;
The rules of her house would be mine while I was there.
And so it was I found my second home –
A tiny terrace in a torn city with a generous, beating heart.

I’ve visited often in the years since then,
And on Fridays, we eat fish.

© Anne McMaster 2016

*The Bogside.

2 thoughts on “Poem no.17: On Fridays, we eat fish

  1. An angry woman in the 70s wanted the Church Council of Greater Seattle to do more and say more and feel more about the troubles. I can still her her say “kneecappings” and see her redly passionate face.
    I felt the danger and the love in your poem. It made me cry to find some bit of peace existed.

  2. I’m so glad you got what I was describing! Yes, times were really bad here. But I’m still in contact with my friend some 30 years after meeting at university! I’ve never been sectarian or prejudiced against anyone because of their religious beliefs. People are people. Thank you so much for this feedback: I was really unsure whether to post this poem or not but I’m so glad you understood what I was aiming for!

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