Poem of the week: An Informant

A new work by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin. Photograph: Brian McGovern

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin. Photograph: Brian McGovern


When I asked her about the fate of the mission ship
sent away so many years ago
(and we knew then they’d be lucky to make land)
I could see she knew. She couldn’t stop talking,
but her words sounded foreign.
I heard her sigh at last, taking off her gloves,
then silently picking up one of the lamps,
and she moved to the front door.
It was stiff, it hadn’t been opened
since the last visit of the Vicar Forane,
but we found the key and pulled it wide.
She laid the lamp down in the doorway
and looked along the broad walk, to the gate
that is a roofed arch, with an alcove
intended for laying down a coffin,
so the bearers could take a rest. Sighing,
lifting the lamp, she carried it down there,
and I understood the words she used,
and what she wanted, for the action
to be complete. That we would leave it
there in the archway until the oil was spent
and the lamp died of its own accord.

The flame that had flickered pale in the daylight
shone steadily in the deep shade of the arch.
This is the short form, she said, we must
do this at least. This much we owe their names.

Today’s poem is from Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s new collection, The Mother House (The Gallery Press)