The Saturday Poem: Brightening, by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

A new poem by the bilingual writer

Doireann Ní Ghríofa. Photograph: Pat Boran

Doireann Ní Ghríofa. Photograph: Pat Boran


‘and the fire brought a crowd in’
– Austin Clarke, The Planter’s Daughter

When night stirs in me
it brings no dream of sea,
no quench, no liquid reprieve.
No. Night raises only the old roar,
sets the stench of petrol
spilling once more. O night.

How polite, the strangers
who pushed me
to choose heirlooms to send out
to safety. How their smiles grew
shaky when I chose only
the front door key. O Home.

In night-damp grass, I stood alone.
Old men watched me from the lawn;
I knew their mute gaze, grown grey,
grown cold, as I knew all
the women on the gravel, folding
whispers in their shawls.

I turned from them and saw it begin,
our windows brightening,
lit one by one from within:
cellar, hall, kitchen.
How the ballroom shone.
How the library blazed.

If brigade bells sang,
they sang in vain, for flames
were already spilling up the drapes,
erasing every hand and face
from their gilt frames, swiping
china and ivory knives, fox-furs and silks,

tugging precious stones
from each brooch’s grip.
Ghosts, those flames, racing up the stairs,
sending smoke through slates,
a constellation of sparks
to star the dark. O paraffin splash.

O Ash. When the eaves creaked,
one boy turned to me, shy grin
turned jeer. O, the house
of the thief is known by the trees.
When I turned to leave,
I could feel my back gleam.

Now, I may have no home of my own,
I may be alone, but I am not meek.
I am a stone released from old gold,
shining, shining, and oh,
I blaze a Sunday through every week.

Doireann Ní Ghríofa is a bilingual writer. Her first English-language collection, Clasp (Dedalus Press) won the Michael Hartnett Poetry Award. She was a recipient of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature.