“Journey into Your Third Century”

(For Grandfather Johnny Igoe, 1852-1945, from Elphin, Roscommon)

You’re near seventy years underground, voice hanging yet in treble and pitch, so much of Yeats
on record talking of Innisfree or old marble heads. The poems you read, summer-way, porched
with the moon, liquid, turf-cut, spaded, black-buttered with promise, besieged, sent out on
Ireland’s black ships, are just alive as you, freed from the holds of dread crossings, fed to the
fish or buried in the new land, the escape complete from turnips, potatoes, drought.
The hunger there is hungered here, the throat dry and impulsive down past recognition, the ache
as sure as echoes when seals call across harbors heralding. I’ve lost you so many times, let you
slip into the bare consciousness of February or September days, my skin more at reading than
eyes, forgetting the phenomenon of your voyage –
Ten, alone, family-sanctioned to be the first of its Irish sailors, cast out by rude vegetables,
economy; you must have pained at the coming, a scout ahead of the horde. Here you sank a pick
in hardpan, poured your brow into great red, neckerchiefs, laid a railroad, a canal, built
someone’s empire in Manhattan, thrust nine children into Massachusetts. A thousand times I’ve
walked the ground you walked on, trod your rounds, your aspirations, found your dreams brickhard
at intersections, side roads, left you marginally, my own feet tinkered.
Still, the constant pressure’s known, names falling out of night, children of the children of the
droughty land, here where things seem realized, at these eyes, by this heart, by hands that play on
infernal machines. I am in the beginning of your third century, have throbbed in your old cottage,
felt the knots root underground, trebled my voice where morning calls answers.
Peat, piled behind the house, ingots of new tenant’s digging, kept the kettle at a soft steam on a
green stove. In the corner where you slept before journey, a small star bore through, called your
name.

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