The Leaving Cert
for my mother
Mislaid for years, I had never seen it
– the certificate they gave you the day
you finished school. Thirteen and biddable,
I doubt you had been much bother at all,
picking up quite easily the basics
prescribed for the life that lay before you.
Beyond the geography of small towns,
fields, and enigmatic hills, among which
your predecessors scratched out a living
or moved away, you’d followed the Master’s
travels, his pointer assertive on maps,
his 'memories' a well-intended ploy,
when his horizons were limited too,
his learning shaky: a sprinkle of words
in a dying tongue, his high-sounding speech
and wisdom adding weight to his display –
though any time refinement failed, the strap
or a cuff would teach the clowns and dunces.
But there it is for all to see, the sum
of what you needed to know, entangled
in a script you never got the hang of.
A plodder in Irish, your English fine,
you’ve always been a reader: family
sagas, memoirs, whatever comes your way;
and learned enough doing sums to eke out
the pennies, those tougher days you had to.
Your sewing basic – good enough to patch
and mend – religion still sustains you,
making little fuss when those you’d nurtured
turned their backs and let it wither away.
Never admitting to brains, but smarter
by far than what’s suggested on that brief
resumé, what was the spur to frame it
– quiet pride? nostalgia? – when it turned up
again in a box heaving with papers,
clutter, your children’s own pleasing reports.