2nd Prize Winchester Poetry Competition 2017 

Sacred Heart

At The Lodge we’re greeted by O’Connor’s daughter 
or someone like her ―this is thirty years later―
and ushered up the avenue. Go on,
she says, three terriers mincing round her feet, a long
shadow thrown by her open door across the hill.
The new owner’s gone away. Business in Achill.
Anyway, he wouldn’t mind.  We edge on, laggard  
and shy, past the water meadow, the haggart
where all our dogs lie, nose to tail,      
smiling their bonny smiles beneath the soil 
and pressing the larches up against the sky.
We pass the fine new house, creep by
into the yard, check out the outhouses, bereft
and empty now, no bitches, no calves, nothing left,
no hens, nowhere to keep a hare. The orchard
― grand name for a straggle of ugly trees ― fruited
well though, still stands at least. Bountiful         
too, with bletted Bramleys, sour windfall 
for the snails, in mouldering heaps. We turn
to the  farmhouse, try the latch. We’re in!

And in we are indeed. And everything’s strange. 
Smaller too somehow. They’ve taken the range
of course, stripped the wallpaper, the floor,
peeled everything back to the bone. Low doors  
insist we dip our heads before entering the rooms.                             
Stunted windows peep out onto the lawn.
Narrow stairs lead up to where we slept,
deeply and often. We trail our fingers in the dust,
trace our names, picture ourselves sleeping
back then, our low snores and gentle shiftings
in the night. In the kitchen ―great Valhalla of the farm ―
where all the most important things went on,
poker games played long into the night, curses
when someone lost a hand, wild  talk of horses,
O’Grady’s mare and how she just might,  
midnight feasts of illegal, buttery trout
fished from a river we’d no business with at all―
we startle, take a turn. They hung it back on the stippled wall,
the workmen. So devout! Or superstitious.                 
That bloody heart. Those eyes. Staring down at us.