A Poem, Place-names, and an Old-Home Problem

IMG_9035Carrickmourne: that is the name of the place where I grew up. In Irish it is Carraig Mhuirne – Muirne’s Rock. Muirne is an Irish name, and at some time in the past this person must have been very important.  Was a stone was their most treasured and significant possession; so much so that they named their whole town-land after it? If you think about it, this seems a little strange. It’s not the only example of such strangeness, however; more Irish towns than I can count are Carrick-something.

Carrick, I think, must not be only a rock. It is more than that – it signifies the deepest, densest element of a place, the heart of it, the rock underneath the earth. Stone was in Ireland of the past not incidental; it was the material of life. Every farmer no matter how small had a stone wall around their land, it was how they defined their place in the world.

Ireland was and is full of stone, pale limestone for the most part, in which the preserved relics and bones of the past are visible, patterned across it. It is the hardest kind of ground but in it you can read the history of the ocean.

I do think the name of my home is right, and it fits the place and fits me.IMG_9037

Do other people feel for their first-remembered homes the painful plentitudes of yearning for them as I do? I’ve suffered more attacks of nostalgia than fits of coughing this past year, which is indeed saying something.

I’m a little surprised at the tenacity, as well as the depth, of my own feelings about this place now. I am still young but my thoughts surrounding Carrickmourne sound to me like the thoughts of a ninety-one-year-old, insisting how it was all better, all simpler in her day. Especially my longing for the fields, for that sky – I find it hard to understand. I didn’t particularly like it then. I remember being dragged almost by the teeth out for walks when I wanted to stay sitting reading at home. I found cows terrifying, the way they converge on you as you walk through their field (I still do, to be honest.) I wasn’t great at telling the bulls from the cows and I’d lean towards thinking every cow was in fact a bull. Sheep I didn’t mind, they’d run away from you not towards you, and I could collect the wool that they left like little gifts in the barbed wire fences or in the hedgerows.IMG_20160509_093958

I suppose those places are part of me, though I never fully appreciated them – like, for example, a body part such as the kidney – whose functions you don’t celebrate, you even resent slightly, but which you certainly miss when it is gone.

I’m too young to be consumed by nostalgia and it frustrates me. – I feel this deep longing pulling me back towards the silence of the countryside, away from the addictive noise of the city – but I do not quite trust it.

I hear two voices in me. One tells me that it is never a good idea to act on nostalgia; it is a longing for something that by definition no longer exists and can never be found again; to go after the lost thing is to seek only disappointment. This sensible voice insists “be practical, work on letting go. Enjoy where you are right now. Work on accepting.”

IMG_20160508_221814_280But there’s a stubborn, silent bit of me that refuses to accept, insisting it is possible, it is real, my want to live somewhere with fields, with real seasons you can feel changing in the air you breathe – and to make something new out of something old.

I don’t know what to do about it – so I write it out. The poem that follows the drawing is inspired, in part, by Michelle O’ Sullivan’s “The Flower and the Frozen Sea” -which I’ve written about in a different post – but it is my own work and built of my own experience. I suppose you could say “the recipe is lightly adapted,” in food-blogging language! Sorry it is rather sad-sounding. It is extremely difficult to write happy poems.Eva's Image Number 2


Petal, you call her. She wants to be
a dark blue whale; such hugeness she finds

Below the blue ice, a body of shadows
built out of songs – without a nose
for slurried fields. It is cold:

Spring slipped out of the branched nets
spiked with buds, and cast by ash trees out in March.
This year their spring catch has thawed
into a resentful fog
and left only the scraps of itself,
with snarls of sheep’s wool in the birch –

like these snatches of whale song, captured from a long-ago
patterned in the limestone
beneath where the birch trees grow.
It is cold, but she wants no coat – her shiver

gifts itself to you, if you have the frame to feel it. 

And if you do, it sings now in you, or it passes away and out –

out, and out, and out, and out,
its one note left unresolved.IMG_9029


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