In the worst hour of the worst season of the worst year of a whole people a man set out from the workhouse with his wife. He was walking – they were both walking – north. She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up. He lifted her and put her on his back. He walked like that west and west and
sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox
And when I take them out of the cherrywood box these beads are the colour of dog-violets in shadow. Then at the well of the throat where tears start they darken. Now I wear at my neck an old stress of crystal: an impression of earthly housekeeping. A mysterious brightness made underground where there is no sun only stories of a strayed child and her mother bargaining with a sullen king. Promising and arguing: what she can keep, what she can let him have. Shadows and the season violets start up in are part of the settlement. Stolen from such a place these beads cannot be anything but wise to the healing arts of compromise, of survival. And when I wear them it is almost as if my skin was taking into itself a medicine of light. Something like the old simples. Rosemary, say, or tansy. Or camomile which they kept to cool fever. Which they once used to soothe a child tossing from side to side, beads of sweat catching and holding a gleam from the vigil lamp. A child crying out in her sleep Wait for me. Don’t leave me here. Who will never remember this. Who will never remember this.
Eavan Boland was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1944. One of Ireland's preeminent contemporary poets, she is the author of A Poet's Dublin (Carcanet Press, 2014) and A Women Without a Country (W. W. Norton, 2014), among others.