for Patrick O’Reilly (1835-1903)
As a young man in my native townland
of Kinnea, I walked across sunset fields
between hedgerows to her open door,
settled down beside her peatsmoke fire,
sipped whiskey, allowed myself to study
her beauty, hoped life would never change.
The autumn leaves began to change,
brought auburn and orange to the townland.
We walked on the drumlins to study
the lowering sky, gazed over fields
where our ancestors ploughed, rained fire
on invaders, barricaded the door.
When neighbours knocked on my midnight door
with an urgent warning, I was forced to change.
Necessity poured water on my fire,
drove me in desperation from the townland
of my birth, across the emerald fields,
over the ocean into exile to study
longing. I devoted myself to study
distance and departure, discovered the door
to return to my beloved Kinnea fields.
Decades of lonely work enabled change,
brought me home to my beloved townland,
restored me to my own hearth and fire.
I sit alone and grey, tend my fire,
savour whiskey, write my story, study
the history of my county and townland.
I strip, sand and repaint my green door,
make preparations for belated change,
welcome new flocks into my fields.
Lambs bleat and frolic in my lush fields,
graze beside their mothers beneath the fire
of the Bealtaine sunset. Late life change
brings autumn pleasures, inspires study.
At midnight on Samhain I pass out the door,
walk the boreens of my beloved townland.
A change approaches. I remember. I study
the past, the fire that drew me to her door.
Bury me in the fields of my dear townland.
After alighting from the Paddington
train at one AM, I stroll quiet, near-
empty streets through crisp Autumn air, flaneur
Dorchester, Southgate, St. James’s Parade
and Monmouth. On the Upper Bristol Road,
heading for Royal Victoria Park,
I approach a woman wearing a black
dress walking barefoot, carrying red high heels.
As my long strides bring me closer, I hear
her crying, see her white shoulders heave
as she sobs, passes beneath weak streetlights,
through shadows of Georgian buildings. I slow,
switch to the north side of the road, fall back
the length of a cricket pitch, watch her home.
My aging father stands at the kitchen
sink, bent forward at the hips, sleeves rolled
to his elbows, washing cutlery, plates,
bowls and teacups by hand, where he has stood
every evening of my life. I whip
a tea towel from the drawer, take items
from the drying rack where Dad has placed
them after rinsing away lemon suds
in the second sink, shake hot water
off each plate, knife, fork, bowl or teacup,
dry and place them in the cupboard
or arrange them in the cutlery drawer.
As we wash and dry, Dad and I discuss
our lives, books we’re reading, travel plans,
gardening, his deceased parents, friends,
teachers and students from our past lives,
our childhoods, politics, poetry,
the weather. Mum sits on the red velvet
couch in the lounge room beside the fire-
place knitting yet another jumper
for one of her eight grandchildren,
using Aran wool I bought in Galway,
while Van whispers and pleads in the corner.
Masked crowds form long lines at security
checkpoints, Starbucks, bathroom entrances,
restaurants, convenience stores and fast food
outlets, social distancing abandoned.
Couples en route to Costa Rica
and Hawaii get hammered at crowded
bars, down doubles of Grey Goose and Patron,
sip twelve-dollar draft beers, pay tabs with crisp
Benjamins. Passengers charge phones, stretch necks
and arms, placate children, sip coffee, eat
overpriced food, cough discreetly
into elbows, wheel carry-on luggage,
dodge beeping electric golf carts,
watch soundless reports on CNN
about Israel dropping bombs on children.
© Nathanael O’Reilly
Nathanael O’Reilly is an Irish-Australian poet residing in Texas. His books include Boulevard, (Un)belonging, Preparations for Departure and Distance. His poetry, published in fourteen countries, appears in journals and anthologies including Anthropocene, Bealtaine, Cordite, The Elevation Review, Mascara, New World Writing, Westerly and Wisconsin Review. He is the poetry editor for Antipodes: A Global Journal of Australian/New Zealand Literature.