The Mother Dough

by Edward Barker

He were forever glancing behind; I’d see him under streetlamps
as he waited for the clouds to catch up. When they did
from his pocket tin he’d bring out the mother-dough,

feverish with spoor-droppings, cuckoo spit, cobweb clots.
In those days he’d bet an owl from her feathers, a bride
from her ring, on a charm pluck the dimple off a hangman’s cheek.

The night of the Ceilidh I wagered him for that sponge
of unusual properties; it was said how a lame mare had taken
the Arc-de-Triomphe after it was rubbed on her tendon,

how a tar-penny’s worth could save a woman in still-birth.
His dice were no match, and he mulched into a dry, dead leaf.
I took for the heather with two of the dogs. One morsel

and the bitch gave birth on the spot. Them were rabid pups;
in seconds they suckled her to the bone. I drew lots with my shadow,
took the flake of it to my lips; rotten marrow, fermented sweetbreads,

enough to bring up the gag; that was when I heard my headstone ring
like St. David’s bells on All Soul’s Night, saw my bones
sprout from the grass in the tanner’s yard, full of ghost-blossoms.

You can leave yourself alone only so long. To the false dawn
I was a pane of glass, the surface of a lake, either side of a hand,
but when I lifted it I saw there were no hands that were not wind,

no chambers in the heart but the clack of stones
they drop in the well of the pockets when they fit the noose.