Peace, Ballydavid (Ireland III)

Two friends sit on a wall, sipping their coffees in the silent, grey morning, watching the sea.

It’s early. Before the others stir, I’m walking the flower-draped hills of Ballydavid, or is it Feothanach, or maybe more precisely, it is the space in between these two named points, a place that remains unmarked.

Aside from the wild beauty of this place, it is the forgottenness of it I think I love the most.

I pass a tiny shell-strewn beach where gulls dance and shriek, then follow the road, not much more than a narrow track, as it climbs steeply up, past waterfalls hidden by exotic, garish blossoms — orange and purple — past farms, abandoned holiday homes, and the odd cluster of sheep. Songbirds sing and chirp from every bush.

I’m trying to find a path I’ve been assured will take me up to the peak, to a cliff-top that sweeps up to the sky only to drop off, plummeting to the sea hundreds of feet below.

I can imagine the view – nothing but waves stretching into forever; I remember everything from when I lived here one summer 19 years ago. The memories are crystal clear, but the path remains elusive.

Behind me, Mount Brandon is cloaked in heavy clouds, as always. I smile as I recall laughing with a friend all those years ago, betting each other we’d never get a picture of its crest. I still have the postcard she sent me later that year, triumphantly displaying a Brandon without cloud.

Stretching between the hill I’m climbing and Brandon are the emerald fields of a million songs and tourist brochures, rivers, more sheep, the distant dots of cottages and stone houses, the black winding road with its Irish language signposts. I keep turning to look – this is my heaven, my favourite place on earth. I still can’t believe I’m back here.

The landforms feel deeply familiar, soothing in a way that suggests a connection, a belonging I can’t quite explain by simply saying I lived here once, briefly. Ancestral perhaps, though my ancestors came from somewhere else.

Looking at the peaks of the Three Sisters further down the coast, the slumbering giant of the Blaskets, Sybil Head, Brandon, I feel finally calm, finally at home. As though in the intervening years since I was last here I was just stumbling from place to place, task to task, lost.

I stand for a while looking down the coast as it tumbles, rock-strewn and jagged, until it turns inward and jags out of sight. I smell the briny salt of the cold sea, the dampness of the low clouds, the earthiness and sweet grass of this land. I breathe it in, trying to hold on to it, knowing a time will come when this all feels like a dream.

I never do find the path, but I do find something I had lost, something I hope I can carry with me now forever. That missing piece of me.

I pass the two people on the wall again as I pick my way back toward breakfast. They are still sitting on there, looking out to sea, talking. I wonder what they are talking about, and I think of the friends I have here, in Ireland, friends I could sit on a wall with and talk to until our own coffees went cold. And I wonder, what if I’d never left? What would my life be like now if I’d stayed? Can I ever come back?

I will always live with this tension, the pull of this place, the pull of my other home.

Ireland.

Canada.

I’m not sure where I will end up, whether I will ever move back to Ireland, if it would be the right choice, or if I will stay put for the million reasons I can drum up in a pinch. I dream of living in so many places, and I fear never living in any of them.

But I think no matter where I am, I will always feel torn, I will always wonder about this place, the place of my dreams, this quiet, tucked away corner at the Western tip of Ireland.

Toronto, by air

A city afloat –

grey blocks, stacked and still,

reach to where the land ends

to where lake and sky meet;

soft pink streaks through the whites of fog and cloud.

My window onto desertion:

the only stirring in the early morning chill

is the silent breath-billowing of steam, exhaust,

lives suspended.

2. Night, imagined

I’m standing under midnight sky
watching stars streak and blink,
silent, white over indigo.

I’m standing on the edge –
day/night, dream/thought –
listening to the city’s life coursing
its ebb and flow pierced by staccato.

This timeless place, floating,
this moment nowhere, infinite,
is mine, unanchored;
I step out into the clouds
and slip free.

1. Thoughts of a night

The scent of Lilacs and fresh leaves reaches in through the window, bringing with it the coolness of star kissed midnight. I am alone in some ways, drifting already between reality and dream, between you and home and somewhere else. Life, possibilities, are just beyond my fingertips, just beyond the window frame, out where blossoms mingle with air, with sky and ozone and the otherness that is always beyond our four walls – any four walls. I lie here, silent, and contemplate timing, considering not if but when I will lift myself up, go into the night and embrace all that is out there.

Alone, in concert

 

Lowest of the Low, Ottawa, Canada – copyright Silverleaf 2016

 

Absorb each note until your ears ring
stamp and roar and — alone, careless — sing
let the words loose into the full night
joyous, hoarse, deaf; this natural high
each lyric, each riff and beat
etched forever at the core of me
drumming up the sweet ache of home
sick for lost time more than for places I’ve known.

There’s my shadow from 20 years ago
she’s weaving through the crowd
and the band plays on and I know
it can never, no matter how loud,
drown out the memories of how
it smelled that night in Mount Pleasant cemetery in fall
and each night between then and now,
how much has changed and yet nothing has at all.

I just want this moment to last,
to suspend belief and hold us fast.

I wrote a while back about one of my two favourite all-time bands, the Lowest of the Low. They’re a Toronto band from my teens and university years and, having lived in Ireland and ultimately moved to Ottawa, I never dreamed I would get to see them again live. But as if by rock-miracle, they played here last night and I went to see them – alone. It was the best concert experience I’ve ever had. 

I also realized for the first time just how much of an influence singer-writer Ron Hawkins had on my early attempts at writing – and the influence his lyrics still have on me today. 

A @lowestofthelow poem for NaPoWriMo day 9.