Because my mother's mother carried her Irish language
across a stormy Atlantic to St. Paul and never lost it
Because my great grandfather who lived to be 100
sang in Irish as he bounced us on his bony leg
Because on the front porch of my grandmother’s house
the cousins, all named Mary, learned 100 names for green
from rebel songs and why the old ones hated the English
Because I lived sixty years before I learned my mother’s father
died drunk under the hooves of a horse he was driving
Because my cousin, Sheriff '’Connell, who took bribes
from Chicago gangsters, gave money to my widowed grandmother
Because I read about him in St. Paul histories and thought saint not sinner
Because my father's tiny mother came from Galway
with a family too full of priests and nuns
Because she loved to talk in the way of Irish women
over tea and toast at small tables
Because I grew up in the quotidian music of women’s murmuring
Because men were either silent or overbearing
I learned my life with Ann of Green Gables and Little Women
And the bus plying the Old Fort Road to school
became my Bridge at San Luis Rey
Because art and music were in the church
I thought beauty belonged to God
Because roots of my young astonishment
cling to my inner life like the pine cone which
even after fire has living scales
Because in the convent we were told to be silent
I picked up a pen
Because of my heart's homelessness
Because a poem waits for me to see it—
the way Monet’s last painting
his exact pink and red primroses
waited for his uncurtained vision
Because my grand daughters
listen to my tales of trolls and beanstalks—
their eyes pools where words sink and grow
the way I once listened to the old ones
Because words unwrite as they are written
unspeak as they are spoken
Because love will not let go
In the wake of a tall ship
a narrow door on the near horizon
opens to past or future
I do not want to die without writing
my unwritten watery universe.
What Stone Knows
Blackbirds on a wire face Dingle Bay
whistle a challenge to fishing boats
fastened against whipping water and wind.
These naked fields where one’s voice must go
into an orphaned silence
where wanderers of the last night
still seek a crevice of shade.
Autumn air tintinnabulates, as sunlight
caresses the slant of carved symbols
in the Ogham stone.
I trace their curves, hungry for names
as if they were not already deep in me,
words that say what stone knows.
My hands begin to speak at sunrise—
say my hungry heart is a blackbird.
Earth keeps my feet fastened to flesh
but my body like heliotrope turns—
into bright red needles, watery wires,
the composition of light.
From stone walls called lace
Granite cliffs, open sea, island.
The soul is a place.
We make our way to it.