Last Letter

Katharine Tynan to Francis Ledwidge after his death, July 31st, 1917, in the battle of Passchendaele


A last letter I write on the backs
of places you were homesick for:
Crewbawn, Crocknaharna, Currabwee

while you laid a road for an assault,
or in a mud hole crouched drinking tea.
From a different Front, your words to me

form raindrop-rosaries on cobwebs
read by the sun between the fence posts
you scribbled upon, their chants blown

by winds you gentle - over the hill
of Slane. I recall death a challenge
great as life to you, its secret under stones

of those passage-tombs of Knowth,
Newgrange, Dowth you tapped, fingers
playing the river Boyne’s flecked fluency,

Tell me, Francis, what is the banishment -
murmured by Meister Eckhart, wished for
in wells - of an alone-ness tough as the winter

you endured, rheumatic in the Balkans
on your trudge to Salonika? Hung up
with your boots: your mortal coil. A lorica

I send you. Like the legendary witch, let me
drop a cairn for you to remain here in the spell
of Crewbawn, Crocknaharna, Currabwee.

Patricia McCarthy’s forthcoming collection Horse Between Our Legs has the first World War as it theme.