Geography and Sweetshops

© By Paula Cunningham

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Lisfannon, Buncrana, Bunduff, Mullaghmore, Rossnowlagh.
The best places to swim were always over
the border. In the car killing time

we played I spy with my little eye…
and Spot the soldiers, their camouflage
too dark for August grass

…something beginning with
h… The wee white house, windows for eyes
one either side of the thick red line on the map.

We imagined the little old woman -
she was always little and old -
waking each morning in the

South and having eggs
for breakfast in the North
and maybe crossing again

to clean her teeth
and check her hair
in the big old bathroom mirror

in the South.
What accent would she use?
Did her cattle favour

Southern or Northern
grass? Where did they give good milk?
And where did her children

go to school and did they like to change
their accents too and did they ever
get confused?


The sea and Southern bread, and sweets we couldn’t get
at Auntie Maggie’s shop. Skittles, Golden Crisp,
and richer, smoother, creamy Dairy Milk.

In the sweet-shop in Buncrana, women
smile at us and call us refugees. We learn
to use our strongest

Northern accents
and look sad. This guarantees
free sweets at the beginning.


Back home, we never knew
when Auntie Maggie’d come to stay.
We knew to open the windows

when the siren went. We knew
if an inspector called that this
window or that door

hadn’t been broken before.
We knew that Auntie Maggie’s blood pressure
was bad and that it blew sky-high -

she’d get bloodshot eyes -
each time an unattended car
appeared outside the shop

but that mostly people forgot
and it was nothing,
a scare. And then it wasn’t

and she’d come to stay
and her Maeve didn’t eat gravy
and she didn’t have to

and Auntie Maggie’s boys could say bad words
and nothing happened
and they could eat sweets all the time

and she’d say nothing
and they were ruined.
And when the windows came in all the sweets

in the shop would be ruined too
and even the ones buried at the bottom
and even the ones in the store-room that didn’t have

a window
would have to be destroyed
but we would have eaten them anyhow

and we could have cried
at the thought
of all that waste.

Further Infomation