Blood, sweat and tears

Sat, Oct 16, 2004, 01:00

Irish Language Poetry: Awarded Gradam Chló Iar-Chonnachta earlier this year, Fiacha Fola is an extraordinary sequence of poems written through the eyes of a woman affected by the Hepatitis C scandal.

Irish Language Poetry

'cailís mo chuid fola' (the cup of my blood) takes us back to her childhood. If she had known then

"nárbh ionann m'fhuilse/

is fuil na ngirseach eile . . ."

that her blood was different would it have changed anything? Would she have dragged her husband-to-be - "trí ghréasán an ospidéil" - to see if their blood matched?

And if not, what then?

Ultimately, she knows that she would still have gone ahead and said:

"tabhair dom mo ghasúir ar ais nó ar éigean".

(give me my children, whatever the cost)

Poem after poem, we are drawn into the unfolding tragedy of her life. In 'meán fómhair - mí na mbreithlaethanta', through birth and loss, we share her trust in the medical profession, in the expensive private hospital, while all the time "sníonn an séiream tríom" (the serum weaves through me).

There's no weak link here. Every poem provides another chapter, another essential link in the chain of events. The stark simplicity of language heightens the powerful range of emotions. In 'i wanna sleep forever' we share the exhaustion of the woman who could sleep for a week if it weren't for the pains in her legs

"D'fhéadfainn mo scíth a ligean ar feadh seachtaine/

dá ligfeadh na pianta i mo chosa dom"

We laugh, in 'lionn buí na gcaolán', when an Indian doctor dismisses her concerns about jaundice, telling her the colour of her skin is quite normal

" . . . nach bhfuil a dhath /

mícheart le dath mo chraicinn /

gur dath nádúrtha atá air"

We feel her anguish in 'coinnigh ort', when the obstetrician tells her he knows nothing about jaundice but as far as women's matters are concerned she can resume her marital duties immediately!

"gur féidir tabhairt faoi dhualgais/

an phósta ar an bpointe boise"

But most of all we feel the smallness of this ordinary woman in the face of all the experts who tell her, in a variety of ways, to go home and get on with it.

She is still that same small ordinary woman when she finds herself in a courtroom for the first time - "mo chloigeann ina liathróid leadóige" (my head a tennis ball) - bouncing back and forth between the three judges and her own legal team of three.

She has seen this scene in films. Ironically, she has heard the speech of a man sentenced to death. Here, she waits on the sideline while they discuss her case -

"is luach a leagan ar mo chloigeann" (and put a price on my head).

In this incredibly powerful collection, Celia de Fréine has given us an absolute page-turner. Fiacha Fola is the best collection of poetry I have read this year.

Fiacha Fola By Celia de Fréine, Cló Iar-Chonnachta, €10

Áine Ní Ghlinn is a poet, lecturer and children's writer. Her most recent children's books are Cuairteoir (Cois Life) and Lámhainní Glasa (O'Brien Press), both published this year