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
Goode sire, praye ich thee
for of sainte charitee,
com and dance with me
the farm girl
who set out,
who were you
when you came
maw of the
tall gray east?
And there was the circling wind.
Blowing past, to futures,
the swirl and spiral,
crumbs on the water,
birds nesting at sea.
The wild geese calling to the Pilgrim soul,
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.