My mum would ask, ‘Would you ever think of coming home?’

Those words are what cuts me deepest as an emigrant, even after 23 years away

 

I grew up in rural Co Clare, and emigrated to Australia 23 years ago after eight years in Dublin. Aside from family, I think I miss the eloquence most. It is so lovely to find it wrapped up in so many different voices through the series.

I wrote this poem one morning at my kitchen bench in Sydney, looking out across the gumtrees, about the thing that cuts me deepest as an emigrant, even after all these years.

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In memoriam II

“The town is dead
Nothing but the wind
Howling down Main Street
And a calf bawling
Outside The Fiddlers”

My mother’s words, not mine
In a letter, kept in a drawer
These long years
She had a way with words
My mother

That’s why they came
The faithful of her following
Leaning in to her
Over the counter
For an encouraging word
Or the promise of a novena

Long before we had
Local radio
Our town had my mother
Harbinger of the death notices
And the funeral arrangements

Bestower of colloquial wisdom
Bearer of news on all things
Great and small
Who was home
And who hadn’t come

Who had got the Civil Service job
And by what bit of pull
The Councillor’s niece
Smug in her new navy suit
Oblivious to the circulating countersuit

“Would you ever think of coming home?”
Her words would catch me
Unawares
Lips poised at the edge
Of a steaming mug

Igniting a spitfire
Of resentment each time
Then draping me for days
I’d wear it like a horsehair shirt
All the way back

Until the sunshine and the hustle
Would wear it threadbare
This extra bit of baggage
In every immigrant’s case
Their mother’s broken heart

I never thought to ask her
“Would you want me to…?
So I could look out at the rain
Circumnavigating the empty street
And shiver at the wind
Whipping in under the door…?”

I don’t miss that question now
On my annual pilgrimage “home”
My father never asks it
Like me, I know he feels it
Hanging in the air
Alongside her absence

I miss my mother
And her way with words.

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