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October 2018, vol 14 no 3

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Kim Richardson

The Water of Life

I am in Kehoe’s on South Anne Street and a man is standing behind the bar on a great wooden barrel pumping whiskey out of it into a funnel-spout copper jug. The jug is huge and, when full, takes another man’s two hands to steady it.

inserting the funnel
into each bottle –
the eye of a surgeon

His companion watches as the pale liquid climbs the sides of the bottles. The air is thick with drink and the bar tight as a drum. When the bottles are full and the jug empty, the pumper renews his task.

“Shall we?” Seán nods in the direction of the two men.

“We shall.” I catch the barman’s eye, hold up two fingers, palm first, and jerk my head towards the barrel. The whiskey glasses that he brings sit short and squat beside our pints on the stout-slick bar.

“So, what’s it like—to be a dad?” Seán is looking at me, his face brown-whiskered from the sea and the boats. The word catches me and I consider it. I take a sip of whiskey.


The lights in the bar are bright and the frosted glass screens of the snug scatter small rainbows from their beveled edges, as do the painted mirrors on the back wall. The Spirits of our Forefathers, says one. On this mirror, a ghost steps down from a row of family portraits above a long dining table to snatch a glass of whiskey from an astonished diner. I see my pale face reflected beside that of the ghost. Guinness Is Good for You says another; a man strides across the glass, carrying a huge steel girder.

pint glass
and whiskey glass –
a miniature of itself

As I sip the whiskey I can't help thinking about you in the high metal hospital bed that the cold spring sun slices across when I visit in the afternoons. You weep, then, at the sound of a baby crying. Seán’s voice brings me back. "How long will they be in?"

"Oh a while, I expect."

The bed has scuffed the wall behind, beside the bell-pull you couldn't quite reach. A dark scratch on the pale paint marks the time passing. The sun moves along it each day as I sit and we wait.

"They don't know." Or won't say.

An incubator is where seedlings jostle towards sunlight under Perspex. Instructions on seed packets say pinch out surplus plants at base, leaving remainder spaced three inches apart. Just some, then.

beside the little one
wired for his life
a plastic Jesus