The Leaving Cert

entry picture

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.







◄ Tamla Motown

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