Poetry: O Halloran’s Fort

A poem by Catherine Phil MacCarthy

Catherine Phil MacCarthy: “No living here, for many of us./ The path was clear from the beginning.” Photograph: Stephanie Joy

Catherine Phil MacCarthy: “No living here, for many of us./ The path was clear from the beginning.” Photograph: Stephanie Joy

 

          “The place drifts away,
          like a wounded ship
          and my face is suspended in darkness.”

                                  Mohammed Ahmed Bennis

We disappeared into the house –
built with our own wit,
two-storeys backed to the hill,
cradled in ash trees, the holding
handed down for centuries –

deep inside: stone walls,
tongue-and-groove floors,
and slated roof. Windows and doors
were battened tight with logs,
the eastern gable with clay,

our peaceful fort, ready for storm.
All June we were its eyes and ears –
drew water from the pump
in gallons, filled pots and churns,
came and went by a plank,

through an upstairs window,
new door, for walking into summer,
hay saved in the meadow,
bog irises in bloom amid rushes,
groves of whitethorn and willow.

That morning we woke at dawn,
with no delay, each to a station.
When noise went up
along the road we knew
the party was approaching

down the slope, a procession,
bailiffs on horses, soldiers and policemen,
a great crowd of onlookers,
dog roses in bloom and wild woodbine,
foxgloves shedding their tresses.

An hour we held fast, against them.
As time wore on, loud cheers from
those who climbed the ditch
and stood on boundary fences
grew deafening. In the silence after,

I listened to swallows nested
in the eaves, time to take with me,
moorhens in the callow,
flocks of starling making a breeze
at dusk in the air above our heads.

No living here, for many of us.
The path was clear from the beginning.

From Migrant Shores: Irish, Moroccan and Galician Poetry, edited by Manuela Palacios (Salmon, 2017). Catherine Phil MacCarthy received the O’Shaughnessy Award for Irish Poetry in 2014. Her collections include The Invisible Threshold (2012), Suntrap (2007), the blue globe (1998) and This Hour of the Tide (1994) . Her next collection will be Daughters of the House.