My grandmother is a headstone with my name
in a Wexford churchyard three years before I am born;
my grandmother is a thumb-print of blue patterned china
that I dig from the ruins of a house
on the edge of a cliff field at Rosslare Strand;
my grandmother is a caul from some favoured baby unknown,
still kept in my retired sea captain father’s wallet,
given to her only child for his first voyage,
and got from a local fisherman when herrings were still the haul;
my grandmother is a scrap of a tale told sixty years later,
across the country in a potter’s workshop near Dunquin,
of matchmaking and intuition and tea-leaves
and the courtship of the potter’s parents;
my grandmother is a photograph of curly-haired winsomeness
with dainty feet, (unlike her name, not bequeathed)
sitting on a step patting a black dog;
she is a gold wedding band impossibly small
kept now next to her husband’s pocket watch in my desk drawer;
my grandmother is an unheard pure singer and purveyor of tales,
of lively eye and vigorous tongue;
she is a wakeful fear on a frosty night
that the sea which had already taken the road
would take the house with a great crack and severance of earth;
my grandmother is an undisclosed but tenacious illness
that claimed her.
I visit the house she married to until the sea’s greed forced them out;
I visit the house she died in, within sea sight but out of its range;
I visit her childhood home, now too a ruin,
the farm driveway of rocks,
pink and green ovoids from the distant beach,
lined with an unruliness of confettied rowans,
in another season replete with its berry, the scarlet talisman.
Startling a hare that doubly startles me,
both hearts race,
but not as fast as the hare
as it scarpers up the adjoining field.
There I find a fallen tree,
flesh-hued, hollowed, sculpted,
two branch stumps like the horns of a noble beast.
I run my hand along its silken rump,
hungry for a token that grew
from the earth and water and human provender of this place,
in its body the age rings of my history.
The next evening I return and cut with a saw a warm bracelet
from one of the arms of that lovely wood.
I carry it home across half the world.
The sum of these treasures is mighty,
but in the end the unsatisfactory disparateness of things
falls far short of what might have been between us
if we had shared time, even a little.
For now, for this time being,
I am endowed with a look of the eyes,
a hint of the tune,
a brush of the knowing,
and somehow inside me, vastly unknown to me,
her memory, unitive, flows.