Aiteacht* (The poets saw it first)

Hail forever, poets, harpers, artists:
you of privilege who
by your dream-trance visions
have seen and heard
we recognize your right of demand;
sing and bring to us
(mere mortals)
the truths of existence
the extent of extent –
the time of distance,
the space of time.
You alone among us sense
the secrets from beyond
you alone have crossed boundaries
we may not cross.
Bring forth now to us your Death Tale
from the mists of invisibility.
As you have seen it,
so be it.

 

*meaning “sensation of things being not quite right but not being able to tell why.”

A long overdue poem inspired by a Druid Gaelic Dictionary I found online, prompted by the NaPoWriMo day 17 prompt which suggested creating a poem around words found in a specialized dictionary. Interestingly, there is a druidic term (achar feadha’s feadh achair, which the dictionary explains is “untranslatable”) for what quantum physics now tells us about gravity; that it is not a force of attraction but a curvature in the fabric of space-time.

The bleakest months

In winter’s bleakest dark-day months
when winds whip in from churning briny sea
and wraith-clouds storm and race each other –
grey shades scudding o’er ragged countryside –
ravens soar and call for war into the solitary void;

when only rocks will shelter sheep from rain,
tumbled down through browning gorse and broom,
still stonefenced pastures hold their brilliant green
from white-dressed hills down to steely waves,
and fog-kissed leaves sparkle in the gloam;

Those cruel months would call me out to stand,
hands skyward,
to watch and feel and breathe the power of the land.

 

 

The cruelest months, I find, are the most beautiful. NaPoWriMo day 4.

 

 

Mists of green and gold and myth

Oh land of happy wars and sad love songs, of failed uprisings promising freedom: I have drunk from your myth since birth, your wings – those ideals, blind faith – lifted me up, called me home and I answered, believed, held the dream up to the sun and let the light pierce it with rainbows, closed my eyes and willed the years and miles to crumble until I believed myself a part of the words proclaimed, the deeds celebrated.

Among ghosts, I trail my fingers over bullet-dimpled patterns, breathe the gold and green air of expectation, taste the dust and smoke, celebrate and mourn and sing and weep for a dream idealized (realized?).

But life is never so vibrant, never so symbolic, as a dream and with this one, though I wake from it sometimes, unintentionally (do not think on it too deeply lest its magic fade), I allow the taste of the memory to linger, to enshroud me and hold me in its thrall for as long as it will keep me.

In honour of the Easter Rising centenary and the dreams of this Irish descendant.
Opening phrase borrowed from Irish musician, Tommy Makem.

Into the Blue

The sky in Ireland is many layered and dramatic. There are more shapes and types of cloud than I have seen anywhere else. They ride the air currents, criss-crossing each other like lattice, paths cutting across paths at differing angles.

And the sky feels big, especially out in the open landscape, as though there is more sky than land. A massive dome encircling that small, jewel-green land.

One’s eyes refocus with all that space, they become accustomed to seeing vastness rather than looking at everything up close. And with sight stretching out, so too does the breath. All that space, all that air, all those clouds scudding back and forth.

There is blue sky to be seen, too, but it’s often a small patch, somewhere up above all those layers of cloud, glimpsed in between, often by chance.

My impression now, 12 years later, is that I can still remember each clear-sky day I experienced during those 5 years. But memory plays tricks like that.

There was one day that was particularly memorable, though. I was studying Irish in the South West for the summer and my classmates and I decided to make the most of our day off. We hitched a ride to Dunquin and convinced a fisherman to take us across the water to the largest of the Blasket Islands.

It was a hot day, or seemed hot compared to the other days that summer. It might have been 25º. The sky was an impossible blue, deep and wide and stretching away from Ireland out over the Atlantic into forever.

After we’d explored the abandoned ruins of what had once been a thriving village, we walked up the hill to the spine of the island. It was a large, rounded hill covered in heather and other small flowers suited to the constantly blowing winds. A few of us lay down there in the sun and stared up into the blue of the sky. The water, I remember, reflected the sky so perfectly that it seemed, with Ireland at our backs, that there was nothing else in the world. We were on a bit of green in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by pure, uninterrupted blue.

That is what perfect peace looks like – feels like.

I don’t think I ever saw another day that was quite so clear while I was there. Then again, maybe I did but just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to notice.

Nevertheless, whenever I’d visit Canada during those five years abroad, I’d find myself staring up at the clear blue, spellbound. The sky is less complex here. It is either monotone grey, or blue with a few white clouds, or a deep expansive blue. And that deep blue seems bluer and happens more frequently here. I’d never noticed before, never appreciated, that we, too, had our own deep expanse of openness; ours stretches up into infinite blue.

Even now, whether biking to work or relaxing in the garden, the sight of a clear blue sky draws my attention, transfixes me, draws me in. I stare at it, imagining there is just blue sky and me.

I wonder why there aren’t as many myths about the blue as there are about the sun, the stars and the moon.

 

She had the Walk of a Queen

Plunkett’s Cottages off Sandwith Street, Dublin, 1913. Source: Derelict Dublin 1913

I hadn’t been able to sleep that night. I never could when I worked at the factory. Instead, I stood in our low-hung doorway, looking out into the gloom. The narrow cobbled back streets at the heart of Dublin darkened quickly back then, before there were electric streetlamps, before they brought light to the tenements. It was the stone walls, too; they stood close together, squeezing out any of the light that might have reached us from the main road. And most of the residents would have retired or gone out by then, extinguishing their candles before they did. Anyone moving through the warrens at that hour did so in almost complete darkness.

Several men were huddled together further on, the embers from their pipes bobbing faintly as they spoke. Liquid sloshed in a bottle as one of them tipped it up, then down again, and passed it on. Hoarse voices and raucous music drifted up from O’Mahony’s place at the bottom of the alley. It seemed a fight was brewing.

While I lingered, too awake to return to bed, the shadow of a woman fell across the top of the laneway. In the flickering of the distant gas lamps, it seemed to dance up the walls. Sensing a presence, everyone else stopped moving and turned to look. The place fell silent.

The fog that had rolled down the River Liffey from the sea swirled around her so that she seemed to be rising from it, like a goddess. She towered, tall and stoic, in a high-necked cloak and a blaze of red hair, her feet anchoring her dancing shadow. Even from that distance, I could see the pride and defiance in the way she held her head.

Though time seemed to stop, she must have paused only briefly. The tamp-tamp-tamp of two sets of police boots were clunking up the road somewhere behind her. She turned her head slightly to glance back before plunging into our world.

The footfalls slowed to a stop as her pursuers were brought up short, unwilling to follow. They lurked just beyond the walls for a moment before their footsteps could be heard receding, grudgingly I imagine.

She glided, unflinching, between the narrow stone walls of the alley. Light seemed to emanate from her as she greeted all who lived here: labourers, weavers, dock workers, factory girls like me, and the rest of the wretched among us who had emerged to see the great lady. As they tipped their hats or bowed their heads, murmuring “Ma’am,” she nodded and smiled, enquiring after those she knew. Despite the late hour and her recent escape from the authorities, she took her time, discussing evictions, the food situation and promising to “keep working for Ireland.”

Perhaps she didn’t see me, standing as I was in the shadow of the doorway, but she passed just in front of me – so close, I could feel the air move. It stirred my hand, drawing it after her. I felt myself reaching out, daring to touch her rustling cloak. The sensation at my fingertips was soft, vibrant, electric.

When someone cleared their throat nearby, I jumped, snatching my hand away and sinking back against the door. A gravel-gargled voice asked, “Madam Gonne, were those men bothering you?” So it was her!

There was laughter up and down the tenements; everyone knew that the authorities watched her, aiming to catch her at some subversive act or other.

Maud Gonne smiled and I swear she winked. “Oh, not really,” was all she said before she slipped from view, turning the corner down by O’Mahony’s.

They used to say she walked with the gods, but they don’t say that anymore. They say other things instead, things I’d rather not believe. What I do know is that she was Ireland’s heroine–our goddess–and that once she passed by here, right past my own house, so close that I was able to reach out and touch her.

.

In her autobiography, A Servant of the Queen, Irish revolutionary, Maud Gonne, lightheartedly describes the creative ways with which she frequently evaded the Dublin Castle detectives sent to watch her.
“And she had the walk of a queen” is the final line in W.B. Yeats’ play about Irish nationalism, Kathleen Ni Houlihan. Maud Gonne, Yeats’ life-long muse, played the title role in 1902.