Last midnight the Harvest moon shone bright. This morning that particularly golden autumnal light is shining as I tap away at my laptop. Twenty years ago at Equinox (22nd September to be exact) I arrived in Dowra, the first village on the River Shannon. It has been my home since then and in a longish, peripetetic lifetime, it is also the place I have lived longest.
My given name is Barbara, which translates as foreigner, the stranger, the other. I am the third one in my family, named after my paternal grandmother and she shared her name with her mother. Both emigrated from Germany. I migrated as well. What is in a name? Quite a lot I think. Don’t name a dog Rascal or a cat Tiger. If you are driven demented by them it may well be your own fault. We inhabit the skin of our names.
In truth, when I lived in the motherland I felt an outsider and was conscious of it even as a pre-schooler. It did not improve with age. That I wound up being an emigrant twice over was perhaps an act of erasing one layer of cognitive dissonance. Of course, I am a foreigner, because I actually am one!
Having lapped up on Ireland’s shores two decades ago with my beloved partner, we found a cottage outside the village and have been, in fits and starts, renovating and remaking the house and garden. Later today we are clearing a space for the new potting shed. I need to be about my business today.
The rural Irish have a wonderful word – homeplace. It refers to the plot of earth that the family has inhabited for generations in some townland with a name that perfectly describes the lay of the land. Our own townland translates as the ‘the briary place’, or so I am told. Certainly, we have plenty of blackberry roots and shoots that we have cut back or dug out over the past twenty years. But briars also confer a tenacity.
The weekly poems I am posting this week are very, very old. The first must be nearly twenty years old and the other more than ten years. But it does chart an internal shift as those metaphorical briars took hold of my soul.
Homeplace I love the way Eugene Clancy says the words homeplace This battle-scarred boxer lets the syllables roll. They reverberate in his throat – homeplace. I envy the way he can say it so tenderly. Just like John Joe up the mountain at Moneen where all that is left of his family homeplace is a stone floor, his father’s name carved on the hearth, a chimney and what was once his parent’s bedroom. He carved his name too when he left for forty years working away but always feeling the tug and dream like draw. These words are an embrace, a welcome and a safety. I know that there is no place that I can call homeplace in the same way as Eugene or John Joe with that sound so grounded and assured, rooted on a square space where blood and earth mingle. It is my earth, too, but not a homeplace.
Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred The heat of sun warming stone The milky glare of full moon The vibrant glints of planets and stars As the plough furrows the night sky. Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred One New Year’s morning I looked up Welcomed by harsh honking Four whooper swans flying in formation Glide to land on Lough Moneen Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred John O’Rourke’s cows now graze in Paddy’s flat fold of field, His blue daubed ewes Waddle from winter pasture to lambing barn Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred The willow quenches its thirst on our acre Drinking deeply from rain sodden peat An oak nurtured from acorn now stands tall While the ash, as usual, is the last each spring to leaf Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred The cat scratches, chin tickled by dandelion clock The dogs doze in a patch of sun Swifts swoop in barn eaves; the cuckoo heralds spring Wild bees feast on thorn blossom Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred Gaudy gorse blazes on the hillsides Meadowsweet shrouds fields in bridal lace Lady’s Mantle does her juju on the verge Blood taken from bramble thorn mingles in jam and wine Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred They call this ‘the briary place’ and truth be told The roots cannot be gone by sickle or scythe or Smothered or scorched into submission, Anchoring me to this place where each day I marvel Standing on my door sill surrounded by the sacred