March 17, 2009

Woman at Knockeven

The road bends, pebbled and black,
the air wet as breath. Dogs
lope before us, tongues out, trailing white
spit flecks. They zigzag bank to bank
down the chute the road makes
between old stone walls, daffodils
pale and sweet on green hummocks. We
crunch the oiled gravel, our shoes
and jeans cuffs wet, returning from the bog,
that small lake where the dogs
leapt into dark water after ducks.
Above us, brilliant clouds
break the light–skimming in over Liscannor,
the strip of beach, the cliffs–like sighs
of those lost to American cities, singing
for this place, for the heart of this island.

Where a dirt track joins the road,
a woman stands. Behind her, a house
of stacked flat rock–roof gone, windows
cross-laid with stone; and a shed–whitewashed
sides, steel roof, boarded windows. She waits
for us and the dogs. Behind her, hung
between buildings, stretches a steel gate.
The slick noses of cows nudge through,
their ears, large spoons ladling
our talk. She tells us names–

people gone so long now only the memory
of children remains-fourteen in one
house, the narrow rooms, the dark
walls. We talk planning commission, resurfaced
roads, the carving of wet meadow into homes
for foreign rich when she needs
graze for cows. We walk and chat,
then she turns back.

These green
hills, the gentle slope to sea, the bright
dots of whitewashed houses, the flash
of color at windows. How memory
and distance magnify this place, as if sprung
lovely from all the imaginations
in Boston or Philadelphia. In the green
land of their longing, no one remains
but saints to stack stone on stone,
to put up metal fences, to keep cows
grazing, no one but ghosts
keep the bright trim painted.

She doesn’t say
where those fourteen children,
went, or what but water seeps up
from this ground. She has machinery
to store, cows to feed. I watch her walk
away, back and shoulders straight, each
foot firm on the road.

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