I had about twenty minutes
from the time you left your place
until you reached mine
to think of a restaurant
where we might eat dinner.
Instead, I stared out through a frosted window
at a full moon hanging like a bare light bulb
in the dark stairwell of a ghost-ridden night
and thought about what a good poem it would make:
the night, the moon,
the pale pavement beneath it
shining like alabaster in the ethereal glow,
and how exasperated you will be
that I can't think of a single restaurant
in twenty minutes.
I am standing on a cliff-top above the North Atlantic
stretching cold and gray to the horizon.
Not too far away lies the farm
where my mother was born.
I occupy the foreground
and the ancient fort of Dun Aengus
the background and the salt spray
on the wind must have stung bitterly that day
because my head is tilted to the side
and my shoulders are hunched
as if I'm bracing for an impact.
And I have to admire the steady hand on the camera
that all of it -- me, the fort,
the fields surrounding it
and the cold sea in the distance --
is so clearly defined in the gray light.
I remember asking the woman
who took the picture for me
what could possibly have compelled the ancient Celts
across Europe to this desolate spot.
Surely there were more inviting places
to stop along the way --
the Loire valley
or the hills of Tuscany, perhaps.
The Celts might have been vintners, I joked,
but she responded very seriously
that it was just plain restlessness that drove them here
and I understood immediately
because it's the same restlessness I felt then
and still feel staring at the photograph,
just one in a pack of photographs
of Ireland's jagged coastline and rolling green hills
taken the summer I explored my mother's birthplace,
the same restlessness I imagine she felt
looking back down the narrow road
to the small farmhouse she left for America.
That was 1964.
Two years before, John Glenn
orbited the earth in a Mercury rocket,
and I can't decide which took more courage --
sitting atop a roman candle
as it hurtled out into space
or boarding a plane
to start a new life half a world away --
and I sincerely hope
that along with her impulsiveness and quick temper
I inherited some of that courage and sense of the possible
and if so I feel I owe her, at the very least,
a poem, a really good poem, one that connects
her life to the space program
and even to the ancient Celts,
who got this whole train of thought moving, after all.
And sure enough, as I gaze deeper into the photograph,
I start to see the Celts emerge from Dun Aengus
and huddle at the cliff's edge,
bracing themselves against the wind,
holding back their long, plaited hair with one hand
while with the other they lower boats into the rough surf
to map the currents that might take them over the horizon.
Maybe for kicks they place a message
etched in dry sea-weed
in the bottom of each boat they send out,
or, even better, a lamb or a pig
they trained to tack against the wind,
like America's silver-suited monkeys
or that Russian dog in the early test rockets,
just about the time my mother's attention
became fixed on America's distant shore.
©2004 by Liam Day