The Distance


For Maighréad Uí Mhurchú

Even with her beside him in the boat,
He never liked the water, he fingered a stone in his pocket;
But she looked back at the town of Youghal
Where she grew up, she saw the pleated wake
And the long lines delighted her, their faded distance
Where a line of waves hemmed an edging of sand,
A low line of houses crouching, and between
The boat and the land swam a vacant pool of light –
And beyond that absence lay a world, that was sold
For huddling doubts and envies. She would see
Across the pub lounge where the ladies ordered brandies
The discretion of light, the indigo tones
Of their new suits for Easter, warm as a plum;
She would feel the gap she could not cross again.

When she drew a line on the floor with chalk
And I stood behind it, I could see
How firmly shapes were herded, how they clung:
The stones of the graveyard nudging the steeple,
The roof of a shop pressed down by the barracks wall,
And where the stone steps crossed the railway-line
A dark tunnelled space opening like memory.

Across that empty place, remember her. The crime novels,
The cigarettes, the bottle of stout, her back kitchen
Kept cold by the damp cliff behind it, so the milk
Stayed fresh. The old tree whispers its news
To the trailing bramble, the roots of the whitethorn finger
The founding stones under the ring-fort, whose shape
Can best be seen in the distance, dark against the sky.

Eiléan Ni Chuilleanáin’s most recent collections are The Sun-Fish and Selected Poems (both Gallery Press )