The Ice-Cream Man
Rum and raisin, vanilla, butter-scotch, walnut, peach:
You would rhyme off the flavours. That was before
They murdered the ice-cream man on the Lisburn Road
And you bought carnations to lay outside his shop.
I named for you all the wild flowers of the Burren
I had seen in one day: thyme, valerian, loosestrife,
Meadowsweet, tway blade, crowfoot, ling, angelica,
Herb robert, marjoram, cow parsley, sundew, vetch,
Mountain avens, wood sage, ragged robin, stitchwort,
Yarrow, lady’s bedstraw, bindweed, bog pimpernel.
Eurycleia fetched a basin, poured cold water into it,
Added hot water, and got ready to wash his feet.
But Odysseus shifted out of the firelight, afraid
She might notice his scar, the key to his identity,
A wound a boar inflicted years back, a flesh-wound.
His wet-nurse cradled his foot in her hands and touched
The scar, and recognising him she let go of his leg
Which clattered into the basin — water everywhere,
Such pain and happiness, her eyes filling with tears,
Her old voice cracking as she stroked his beard and whispered
‘You are my baby boy for sure and I didn’t know you
Until I had fondled my master’s body all over.’
I began like Odysseus by loving the wrong woman
Who has disappeared among the skyscrapers of New York
After wandering for thousands of years from Ithaca.
She alone remembers the coppice, dense and overgrown,
Where in a compost of dead leaves the boar conceals
Its bristling spine and fire-red eyes and white tusks.
Michael Longley (Belfast, 27 juli 1939)