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Dave’s story: The Ice-Cream Man by Michael Longley Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Posted by carryapoem in Stories.
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The poem I carry with me is “The Ice-Cream Man” by Michael Longley, published in about 1991. I don’t have it on a piece of paper, but I can rattle off the first few lines: “Rum and raisin, vanilla, butterscotch, walnut, peach: / You would rhyme off the flavours. That was before / They killed the ice-cream man on the Lisburn Road / And you brought carnations to lay outside his shop.” The poem is addressed to his young daughter, and Longley finishes the poem with a list of wildflowers, and the poem joins the wreath that his daughter brings to the ice-cream parlour.

The first time I read it, it seemed strange, almost insensitive, to breeze over a sectarian murder in just two lines and leave the rest to flowers and flavours of ice-cream. But it was a fascinating gesture, and coming back to it later (and admittedly under advice from others who had read it) it started to open up. The list of twenty wildflowers is more like an attempt at healing – all the flowers are associated with folk-remedies. The poem’s lists make up over half of its meagre ten lines, and it seems they could have gone on forever, but they do not, they cannot. The poem recognises both the need for regrowth and the impossibility of things returning to life. The man is still dead, and his daughter will not see ice-cream in the same innocent light; but life continues, and we remember the ice-cream man.

I carry this poem because of its quiet opposition to violence, its quiet determination. A great deal of what I have learnt about writing poems is found in these few lines.

You can listen to Michael Longley read ‘The Ice-Cream Man’ on the Poetry Archive.

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