Thursday, January 01, 2009


There are
five trees behind
my grandfather's house
two apple and three pear
and they shake, I swear
at different times

and as a child
I was frightened by them
when I went out
by night to do my business
as we had at the time
no indoor plumbing.

My grandfather had
along with most of rural Ireland
no electricity either
and the old oil lamps
trimmed at the wick
cast a soft and golden glow

and these little warm lights
would call to each other
across ancient fields
across the acres
and the stars would be fiercely burning
above in the inky sky.

Cold and clear
was the tingling water
with a faint little hint of lime
splashing down into sturdy barrels
from the rush of gurgling gutters
draining the rains of the roof

and in the byre there was Bridie
and her calf, I forget her name
then a dozen or more nervous old hens
that had no names at all
under threat from the swift red fox
coming over the fields.

In the harsh cold of winter
the neighbours would come by
and there'd be talk and news
of the children over beyond
in New York and Chicago
and Birmingham

and on the rare occasion
there'd be the quiet honour
of the shanachie's visit
when the word of mouth
would bring, failing death,
all of the neighbours in.

I was small, those times
only a wee little chit of a child
but I was big if I could live and grow
and remember. My grandfather
put his hard old hand upon my head
and squeezed my arm, he knew that

and there was the open fireplace
where sods of turf would be deftly thrown
on the burning red-green-orange flames
and the porter bottles, placed on the stones
would sweat and glisten, begin to expand
until the caps would go with a "pop"

and the men in their old battered hats
weather-beaten, chap-knuckled
would murmur to each other in Irish
while their women, in frocks and lipstick,
exchanged pointed pleasantries
until the shanachie shuffled in.

He was a shabby weedy little chap
until he raised his face and showed his eyes.
This story, he said, speaking in English
happened, it is true, a long time ago
but our people even then in the long-gone times
were the same as you, our people today

and then there was silence, a settling down
and for the next three or maybe seven hours
he carried us far and then further away
to the glow of the world we had come from
back to Niamh and Oisin, to King Niall
to the hall of the Red Branch Knights.

It was the magic of the voice that did it
just from the listening he could make you see
and I had no idea I was listening to stories
that were a thousand years old or more
and there was no single hint of cobwebs
nor of ancient creaking hinges; everything
everything was as fresh as clear as a drop of dew
on a trembling morning leaf.