Tom Cleary, born in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, taught English for over 30 years in London, Lancashire and Yorkshire. He now lives in Hebden Bridge. His work has appeared in Smoke, The Stinging Fly, Writers’ Forum, Orbis, Sylvia is Missing and The Interpreter’s House. His pamphlet The Third Miss Keane was published by Happenstance in August 2014. In 2015, he won a Northern Writers’ Award as one of six New North Poets. His poem Black was longlisted for the National Poetry Competition in 2016. In 2017 his poem Whatever Happened to Dominick was shortlisted for the Wordsworth Prize.
Dispatching a Horse takes you by the hand to old Catholic Ireland to witness scenes of childhood innocence mounted against an often sinister backdrop. Sometimes merciful, sometimes unforgiving, each poem in this collection is a photograph telling its own story of rural people and the unexpected mysteriousness of their everyday lives in the alleyways, asylums and market towns of a bygone time. Natalie Rees
Family Photo (c.1912)
Look at this photo now, these shadows trapped in their Edwardian artifice, that faded ornamental screen and those plush velvet curtains, plants and ferns to the sides and aspidistra pots like inverted Junker helmets. And here’s my grandfather, gruff patriarch, with cowled eyes, his Stan Laurel hair standing on end as if electrified, a little field of question marks. This is what I have achieved. Look.
It’s the oldest daughter’s day of days, her graduation ceremony, and the medal’s pinned to her blouse. Her smile is tensed, a taut straight line, her eyes have a strained glitter. She might any moment burst into tears. She clutches a spray in both hands, as if in prayer.
And my grandmother too, that strong stately woman, her eyes half closed, her lips compressed, certainly not a smile, she holds her head slightly to one side, patience itself, with a programme folded in one hand. She’s holding herself in, containing herself.
Behind her, soaped and oiled, the oldest brother stands like counsel at the bar. He knows who he is. He’s above it all. I am who I am. To his right and left the other two adult sisters look troubled, stare like angry twins, a little scared too, certainly defiant.
The younger girl behind her mother is serene, she’s giving nothing away, very pre-Raphaelite she is in her pale shift-like dress, and the sulky youngest one on the right is doing as she’s told. My father, the young boy at the back, has had his tie straightened by his mother, his jacket adjusted and his quiff licked and smoothed. He’s away elsewhere. When this ends he’ll be off.