Three Irish Poems

Three poems inspired by my returning to live in Ireland, the country of my ancestors:


If I just sit still and listen
to the silence and my heart
I can imagine them all.
Kate stayed on alone for years
gossiping with the shadows
when everyone else had left.
I’m an accidental man, said Thomas
every day of his life as he dug,
an accidental man, that’s that.
Deirdre walked around at night
howling at the moon until it howled back;
I can’t hear it, but they all could, I’m sure.

Rindoon Castle, County Roscommon

This is a special kind of quiet.
The builders always bring their gift of silence,
locking the unwanted language behind stone walls,
from where it shouts for help more and more weakly
until there is no one left to understand it
except those crouching in low turf houses
just out of sight of the stern watchtowers.

No bard ancestor waits for me here;
his voice would mean nothing to me, anyway,
as I brought with me only the builders’ words
after three generations far away
that cut me off from the prisoner’s roots
so that I do not know exactly what I’m missing,
having only ever heard this silence.

Departed 16 January 1849; arrived 11 May 1849

So much she could never remember:
the long, thin evening shadows on the docks of Dublin,
stretched to breaking point towards another world;
the others left behind in ditches,
hands of a hundred wound-down clocks pointing the way,
each frozen forever in its specific moment;
the inland spaces emptied of people
but loaded with future ruins already crumbling;
her birth at the base of a ladder in a hold
dark and pestilent as any afterlife
while the equator slipped under the stern;
the quiet splash – safely out of sight of land, captain –
as her mother’s orphaned body met trailing sharks
more honest than those in the workhouse;
the love and sacrifice of nameless women on the lowest bunks
who preserved her; being carried at last
over mudflat shallows to Melbourne,
wiggling her tiny fingers at the dawn.

Published in Causeway

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