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Picture 10217205 © Illustrated London News Ltd / Mary Evans

Black Apples
by Maurice Devitt

for Paul Hackett

One day after school we were sitting
on the grass patch at the top of the hill,
watching the Holy Faith girls swing by
and filibustering to avoid going home.
You told us a story about black apples –
had read somewhere that after a bite of one
you would never grow old.
There was a tree in Byrne’s orchard,
you said, though no-one knew which it was.
Set halfway up the road, the house
could be approached from top or bottom,
though we favoured the top – walls lower,
neighbours less athletic and cats more prevalent
than dogs. Suggesting an exploration,
on Saturday night we set off to follow your lead –
squirrelled with difficulty over every wall,
while you sprinted adroitly through the threatening dark,
wiry limbs making light of each new obstacle;
flattened ourselves like starfish every time
a light flicked on, a dog barked, or a kitchen door opened.
We channelled Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer,
every garden a fresh surprise – slack washing-line,
rusty swing or a rotary mower idling on the upper lawn.
As our eyes lifted above each wall, we locked onto families
circled around the blue screen of the Late Late Show,
alert for houselights suddenly turned on or faces
pressed blindly against the glass. You were the only one
who made it into Byrne’s, while we were scattered
by a scream into the night, a manically barking dog
and the clatter of bin-lids. We had agreed to meet in the lane
behind your house, four of us waiting nervously
for you to appear. When you did you were breathless,
face scratched, jumper ripped and bounty scarce.
We looked at the apples but none of them were black.
You said you were disturbed before you could find the tree.
Years later, I met you perched at the bar in Tolka House –
you hadn’t aged, and I have to say, I was suspicious.


© Maurice Devitt


Picture 10217205 © Illustrated London News Ltd / Mary Evans


A previous winner of the Trocaire/Poetry Ireland, Bangor and Poems for Patience competitions, Maurice Devitt was a featured poet at the Poets in Transylvania Festival in 2015 and a guest speaker at the John Berryman Centenary Conference in both Dublin and Minneapolis. His poems have been published widely and he has been nominated for Pushcart, Forward and Best of the Net prizes. His Pushcart-nominated poem, ‘The Lion Tamer Dreams of Office Work’, was the title poem of an anthology published by Hibernian Writers in 2015. He is curator of the Irish Centre for Poetry Studies site and in 2018 published his debut collection, Growing Up in Colour, with Doire Press, who will also publish his new collection, Some of These Stories are True, in 2023.

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