Valise of Memories

In memory of Margaret Maher, housemaid and confidante of Emily Dickinson


My mistress filled my valise with her vowels -
the battered trunk that journeyed with me
from the shadow of Slievenamon. Now she is dead.
She made me promise to feed them to flames.
I cannot yet bring myself to do the deed.

I try to dismiss their wild whispers
but they bang their fists against the walls
and stamp their syllables.
They long to live in the mouths and minds of strangers.
I am tormented by the quarrel between the promise
to my mistress and the bequest she left behind.

The soft grey wool of my mind is marked by dropped stitches.
All day, I mumble and fumble, spill soup on my apron,
catch my fingers in the mangle.
Though I keep my chest clasped shut,
I cannot quieten their pleading.

Their stifled screams shake me from sleep.
I stumble to the chest, raise the lid, scratch a match.
The flame stares at her scribbled papers.
Pinching the spark between finger and thumb,
I quench it and lift the papers from darkness, one by one.

Doireann Ní Ghríofa is a bilingual poet based in Cork. Her Irish language collections Résheoid and Dúlasair are both published by Coiscéim, and a bilingual chapbook, A Hummingbird, Your Heart, is available free to download from Smithereens Press.