My Mother Remembers her Irish
Like Alice, she has fallen down the rabbit hole.
In a room at the bottom,
rejecting a bottle labelled DRINK ME,
she reaches for the cracked urn of language:
SPEAK ME, it invites.
White hair in disarray, she unstops it.
The contents fizz up and over the lip of glaze
as she recovers the sounds she forgot
after schooling. Now, she has broken away
from the language bunker,
its torqued English,
takes to speech at the midnight hour.
As if fighting the Jabberwocky,
she uses old songs to push against a paralysis
of chair-lifts, walking frames,
they emerge on her tongue, ancient oratorio:
síolta; beidh aonach amárach; cad dúirt tú,
a chailín álainn? Ba mhaith liom dul abhaile.
Such softness that rarely found its way in English,
now honeys her tongue in the magical flight of dotage.
Time, released, enriches conversation.
“Did you know that this Republic was born
70 years ago today? Years after the Maglioccos
in the town taught me Mussolini’s anthem”
We speak of Easter music, the St. Matthew Passion,
her ceol cráifeach. She wonders
if the sun will dance, Easter Sunday morning,
on the hill above her house at Kilnadrain,
where she wants to return sometime soon.
Mo thinteán féin, she adds.
A Poem from Gotland
13th November 2015
It was a day of boredom and the words would not flow
Now evening, four degrees centigrade, dark, westerly winds
And the Baltic rushing whitely to the edge of the town
It will rain tonight, but I will not fly in my dreams
As the winds buffet this house,
And innocence has been murdered
While we rest here, our words unflowing
I cannot fly west, cannot help
Know nothing yet of the death of a colleague’s daughter
A 17-year-old who entered Le Bataclan
On a false pass and was shot.
Still I know nothing of the blood and broken flesh
Le Carrion, Le Petit Cambouge,
La Belle Equippe, Stade de France,
Out there in the night the wind moves
Like a rampaging animal among winter’s birches
Finds no holding place
Except where it strikes the wall of this house.
I will survive the night as the young are murdered
As the killers shoot themselves
As hatred takes its stroll through Paris.
Tomorrow it’s hard to believe
That I can try to write again
Or any of us
Buenos Aires Autumn
The trees here are playing with fire,
but on my island, the cold sap rises.
All day in this heat my flesh
is a violin, the strings melt
and are songless.
Something leaves me
or arrives, I cannot be certain.
The Rio de la Plata
sends mud-songs to the estuary,
intent on harmony with other rivers.
Eva Peron rests in La Recoleta,
where afternoon crowds leave posies
wrapped in paper, green string.
In Puerto Madero, the air is smokey
from the steakhouses
near the Puente de la Mujer,
the water of the Salado brown
with a sediment of base notes.
In Ireland, the rivers chant one note,
each minds its own sound-passage
to the sea, rises in wet spring-times
of fluted birch, nippled oak-buds
which will not soften until May.
In the south I feel the breath of a god
about to close passageways of air.
Sing on, some people say,
Be silent, say I, looking
to cross the equator in a rush of clouds
to the drenched hill-woods
and mire of my own fields.
All Poems Copyright © Mary O'Donnell 2020