I first encountered the poetry of Eavan Boland when she did a reading at my university when I was an undergraduate. It was the mid-90s, and I was minoring in writing and we were required to attend a certain number of poetry readings. I pretty much hated being required to attend poetry readings, though I realize now that I've been to a good number of them. I'm bad at them. Kind of in exactly the same way that I'm bad at sitting through conference papers. At poetry readings, my mind wanders, and I become irritated by the way poets so often
read in that wAY
that lilts uP
at the end of every liNE
in that breathy voice that takes the sense from the lines. At conferences, my mind wanders, and I become irritated by jargon that takes the sense from any argument. The same thing really. In that way, I suppose, poetry is not so different from criticism, at least as I experience it in person. At any rate, one of the poets whom I saw read while I was in college was Eavan Boland. And she was amazing, and I fell in love with her poetry. I think I was supposed to see her read again a couple of years ago in Ireland, during the centennial celebration of Bloomsday. (Happy belated birthday to good old JJ, incidentally, whom I forgot to mention yesterday). Part of me wishes I'd have seen her read again, but a bigger part knows I made the right choice in doing whatever it was that I was doing (which I suspect included some sort of non-attendance of the reading in order to drink Guinness or whiskey or something).
The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.
It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.
4 years ago