Jack Lattin of Morristown

by Sheila Hillier

A wager dreamt up on a noisy evening
with him back from Paris talking in French
in a Kildare accent, calling for oysters,
the candlelight there making everything mauve
but the jet on his waistcoat and round wigless head
black-fuzzed, his huge eyes as bright as a frog’s.
Cloncurry was there, Rahilly the poet,
Lady Mary’s daughters, Begnet and Clare
their hair twined about with organza ribbons,
not blue as expected but indecent yellow.
And all of us laughing as he made the bet
uncrossing silk legs on the tapestry cushion,
bowing towards the ornate velvet chair
then leaping impatiently on to the table,
the rush of his movement extinguished the candles:
“the devil is in me to dance twenty miles,
from this house to Dublin, new steps every furlong,
Larry Grogan come with me, I’ll fiddle, you’ll pipe!”

His faced glowed as red as coals in the grate
while I started a reel to get him in practice
and he danced out the door, it was two in the morning with a
summer moon over the silver white road,
and he danced and caught up those going to market
who cheered him, bent down under firkins of butter.
Past hawthorn, past barley, past old Castle Mansfield,
he wore out the patents, insulted the leather
the whistling and cheering frightened the thrushes,
crows flapped away senseless, the liveries alarmed,
no rest at crossroads, no stopping at ditches,
drinks on the move to the gates of the city
and Rahilly, Wogan and Walsh there to greet him.
The work of his heart was more than his years –
this fiddler, this dancer was danced black and blue
he died the next day, not quite twenty-two.
Oro! Oro!, brave Jacky Lattin.