Neilstown Matadors

Dermot Bolger

Super models would kill to be this thin.
The diet is stress, cigarettes and coffee.
My child-raising days should be done,
But somebody had to step into the breach,
Somebody had to pick up the scarlet cloak
And hold it in front of the rampaging bull.


Old spectators in the bull rings of Mexico
Pay no heed to fearless young toreadors
Who imagine themselves to be invincible.
Their interest stirs after a fighter is gored,
Because only when he re-enters the arena
Will they witness his true test of character.


Some afternoons after school in this room,
Waiting to see the Drugs Taskforce worker,
When my granddaughter suddenly smiles,
When she looks up from her colouring book
With eyes that match my daughter’s eyes,
With eyes knowing nothing yet of the danger
Of dealers peddling needs that need to be fed,
With quizzical eyes that I would kill to protect,
She asks the question that she loves to ask:
“Gran, what did you do before you did this?”


What did I do before I took on her welfare?


I fought to raise a daughter on these streets,
I stood in queues and worked on checkouts,
I searched for my child on dangerous estates,
I stood up to debt collectors calling to my door,
When she shivered in detox I tried to nurse her,
I sold my possessions or saw them all robbed,
I cried until one night there were no tears left,
I prayed with what remained of my ebbing faith,
In time I wrapped my grandchild into my arms
And took the place of the person I loved most,
I made a nest amid the belongings I possess,
I stood up in the ring every time I was gored,
I watched the bulls run and raised my cloak
Repeatedly to provide what shelter I could,
I picked myself up and wiped off the blood,
I waited at the school gate to take her hand
So that, walking home, no evil could touch her.


I don’t say such things as I stroke her fingers.
Instead I say, as her eyes widen with wonder:
“Every night during your ten years in this world
As you sleep I enter the bull ring with my sword
To stand where your mother would have stood:
A gladiator standing guard, a secret matador.”



Neilstown Matadors


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