Eavan Boland, “The Oral Tradition” and “Mise Eire”

Mise Eire”  
I won't go back to it -

my nation displaced
into old dactyls,
oaths made
by the animal tallows
of the candle -

land of the Gulf Stream,
the small farm,
the scalded memory,
the songs
that bandage up the history,
the words
that make a rhythm of the crime

where time is time past.
A palsy of regrets.
No. I won't go hack.
My roots are brutal:

I am the woman -
a sloven's mix
of silk at the wrists,
a sort of dove-strut
in the precincts of the garrison -

who practices
the quick frictions,
the rictus of delight
and gets cambric for it,
rice-colored silks.

I am the woman
in the gansy-coat
on board the Mary Belle,
in the huddling cold,

holding her half-dead baby to her
as the wind shifts east
and north over the dirty
water of the wharf

mingling the immigrant
guttural with the vowels
of homesickness who neither
knows nor cares that

a new language
is a kind of scar
and heals after a while
into a passable imitation
of what went before.

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The Oral Tradition”  

I was standing there
at the end of a reading
or a workshop or whatever,
watching people heading
out into the weather,

only half-wondering
what becomes of words,
the brisk herbs of language,
the fragrances we think we sing,
if anything.

We were left behind
in a firelit room
in which the colour scheme
crouched well down –
golds, a sort of dun

a distressed ochre –
and the sole richness was
in the suggestion of a texture
like the low flax gleam
that comes off polished leather.

Two women
were standing in shadow,
one with her back turned.
Their talk was a gesture,
an outstreched hand.

They talked to each other
and words like ‘summer’
‘birth’ ‘great-grandmother’
kept pleading with me,
urging me to follow.

‘She could feel it coming’ –
one of them was saying -
‘all the way there,
across the fields at evening
and no one there, God help her

‘and she had on a skirt
of cross-woven linen
and the little one
kept pulling at it.
It was nearly night ...’

(Wood hissed and split
in the open grate,
broke apart in sparks,
a windfall of light
in the room’s darkness)

‘... when she lay down
and gave birth to him
in an open meadow.
What a child that was
to be born without a blemish!’

It had started raining,
the windows dripping, misted.
One moment I was standing
not seeing out
only half-listening

staring at the night; the next
without warning
I was caught by it:
the bruised summer light,

the musical sub-text
of mauve caves on lilac
and the laburnum past
and shadow where the lime
tree dropped its bracts
in frills of contrast

where she lay down
in vetch and linen
and lifted up her son
to the archive
they would shelter in:

the oral song
avid as superstition,
layered like an amber in
the wreck of language
and the remnants of a nation.

I was getting out
my coat, buttoning it,
shrugging up the collar.
It was bitter outside,
a real winter’s night

and I had distances
ahead of me: iron miles
in trains, iron rails
repeating instances
and reasons; the wheels

singing innuendos, hints,
outlines underneath
the surface, a sense
suddenly of truth,
its resonance.


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