A Tempest in Sullivan County

A Tempest in Sullivan County

Ice clouds spit and hiss/
the bald bird is upside down.
Tuesday strode, proud and helpless
into days of summer longing.
Winter’s grief waits to be born in
some swank Hoboken apartment —

rose-colored caress as his lips drink her musky sigh —
Hear their yesterdays, part.
Sun stalks the room,
too soon melts the moment.
Surprise! The child dies from the hunter’s bullet:
Why guns? Why not never, not one, ever.

The black cat of fate
sings its sweetest lullaby, and flies, late
to mother’s mourning, purring.
Sure, Meg will write and sit and think

and life will crush and maim, and maul.
Gentle bullet, why not slow your time and fail
to pierce the air, the wall, the
sleeping torso.

Cold, the wail of silence,
humming after the blast.
Rip, spit, smack.

Turning, home

Given, you were, to the small green west,
a hundred years ago almost.
Out of time, for me, at least.

Another world before all those world
wars, even before your war had
become civil. But the train

(goodbye), it would have been steam, took you
away south from that story to
another. Here’s the great port,

more bustle than you had ever seen.
Huge it is yet too shallow for
that endless ship, a lighter

ferries you across the bay — your own
Styxx.  Away, from your beloved
land. Lost. Rejected. So was

a terrible beauty miscarried.
The tears that swelled from the last sighs
of land became the swollen

seas, the gray-green baptism of woe.
Borne off to the new Babylon,
far beyond the Isles of the

Blessed, west, more west; exiled from the
Castle of Want, alone, condemned
to the Dungeon of Plenty.

Et introibo ad altare Dei: ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.

Another bead on a family necklace
that already strung across the bruised sea,
not-so-sweet sixteen, to meet your sister
in New York.  Fear on quiet fear until
her outstretched arms. And you brought the next, a
cousin, to kitchens where you worked below
the American soil where you took no
root, no pleasure. No Irish need apply.

It was not, never home. Dispossessed of
your entitled future, farms and cows and
rock walls and turf and gentle rain and Crough
Patrick. Dragged away by that dear land’s drowned
dreams. No room, even in the stable, which
was always the old house when the new one
was built. The farm’s generations went back
from house, to stable, to sty to henhouse.

Ever more decrepit. Forced away, homesick
homelove homelostlonging only for the
home, which made you go, which now you knew did
not love you and now you cannot tell love
from fear from hate from fear from love. And all
your days spent in the big, white ship seasick
and sick of the sea and churning ever
away. So many people, all foreign.

None from your fields. Days above the freezing
north Atlantic frozen too some part of
you. Forevertobeheld in the grip
of this great conflict. Birthing, just like your
country, a grim war. Armed camps held at bay.

Ich am of Irlonde
And of the holy londe
Of Irlonde.
Goode sire, praye ich thee
for of sainte charitee,
com and dance with me
In Irlonde.

the farm girl
who set out,
who were you
when you came
into the
maw of the
tall gray east?

And there was the circling wind.
Blowing past, to futures,
the swirl and spiral,
crumbs on the water,
the whirlwind,
birds nesting at sea.
The wild geese calling to the Pilgrim soul,
nestling wrestling.

mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

She studied, became a hairdresser, proud and stubborn, never easy, married Frank McGuire, who worked on the subway. The old gold watchbroken, lies in its ornate ivory case: From Frank to Kathleen 9-5-38.

She had children, some lived. Some died. He died, too. I am the last child born to live, the only daughter, named Margaret for her mother, Margaret Kelly.

In the end, even Margaret leaves Swinford, coming to America to follow her long-ago children who all came to America to have strange lives and stranger children. But by then Margaret was deaf and found it hard to hear female voices.

Et clamor meus ad te veniat.

Frank sang: “I’ll take you home again, Kathleen.”
He never did, did he? But his sweat and
yours paid for the journey I took with you
back to Swinford, when it was still where your

family, my family lived. No boat
this time, a plane lands in Shannon,
and so we take the train, the

train, not steam anymore back and back.
The white stark cottage, the wet green
land, the faces that you know,

the faces that you don’t remember
that you don’t. That I never will.
Home. And not home any more.

And once more, she will go. Back again,
in her knotted sheets, her roiled
mind. The rosary gathers

dust, the children only tall strangers.
No restraints of love or place can
hold you back.  Back, to those fields,

to tend to
those cows, to
lay claim. To
forge anew the
self you lost.

Kathleen Kelly, mother mine, may you rest in peace.

Urgent Valentine


Urgent Valentine

The sun comes from behind me and I am shadowed, sheltered by our house.

Looking out, the trees still barricade the
far-away, even shorn of leaves.

The road that I can see is nearly black
again, its edges hemmed with snow,

the doubled back seam from plow or  shovel.
The rest – snow spotted, winter worn.

The sun streams shadow trees away from me,
and they fall immensely, soft from

the great spaces those beams have traveled to
this tiny spot of blue and green

that beckoned those rays, beguiling despite
distance and the dark. Born in a

maelstrom of energy and glow — constant
and happenstance — a flood of light.

From that sea, what few conquer night and cloud
to achieve the tree, the release

of long grey fingers to caress the earth.

From our own vortex of what is and what
is not, comes us. I want us to

be as intended as the sun, the sky.
As if we were meant to be — not

just another happy accident of
ray and tree. Not shadows. There is

a sun, and always will be for as far
as human mind can stretch. But its

yield is each day, each day’s passing. There is
sky, but its blue yield is only

a sometime thing, I am and so are you.
But us? That is the bluest sky,

rays that become shadows as they find home.

Greetings, Cactus Wren

Of all the days, this is the one I send you.

Scrubbed by the ice storm Monday, drenched by the rains of Tuesday,
this Wednesday I send.

I send the intermittent sun, our winter sun, almost warm,
tired from its journey through the dark. Still strong enough:
For awe of him, the trees fell themselves

and lay their shadows across the white.

Of course, I send the shadows, too, formed from such
immensity of scattered light that they can dance in the teasing wind,
which, too, I send.

See how the bright bluster of the sun puts that hemming grey to shame,
and blue seems for a few sweet moments to have the upper hand
in the battle for the sky.

And loses again. The snow falls.
The wind whispers of the blizzard to come.

We are winter, welcome us. From us comes the spring.

The Novice

I lift the blind and
there it is —  as silent as a forgotten
dream — the snow.

This, perhaps, the millionth time I lift my pen to see,
and hunt the words.

The land lifts behind our house as though
a bowl:
    wooded, tooth-picked with slim gray trees.
A mystery of whites,
    here, the ground, there the sky,
    but where they have their assignation, is lost
    in trees, and snow.
Each new fall is like a marriage: commonplace and extraordinary.

Nothing moves. Even the topmost branches hold still, with
their white shadows hugged close.

Forgive me, snow and sky and trees, that I must nail
down this moment. Scratching, always scratching
this itch that will not cease.

Forgive me, too, ancient priesthood, wordsmiths who have and will
bless our language with your arts.
In them, through them, with them is rekindled the love of the creator
for the work.

Forgive me, an old novice. You will know I have no choice
but to claim the itch — and these words —
as the wonder right of all who stand in awe,
and parse perfection with a pen.