lines for my mother

I can remember her
what she had to say
spoke once of cromwell with a frown
and o’connell smiling
and timid in maggie finns apartment
after maggie died
with a low voice for the banshee
and there you have it
all that I can remember
all the irish she left me with

she did the washer woman once
with our neighbor mr. burke
danced herself red in the face
and breathless at the kitchen sink
when I tripped it on the fife
and she sent us all to school
st patricks day with those shamrocks
pinned to our collars
japanese I think wired for clover
and wound with bright green silk thread

there was the candle
christmas eve after the fasting meal
beeswax and blessed
small tower of ivory
the dark wintry night
for the brickley dead
a little flame and lingering

and there you have it
all that I remember

oh and once al smith
the old brown derby himself now
carried her books on a rainy day
through the fulton fish market

she would never speak of the family
always ended in tears when I pressed her
or side tracked to some strange memory
a candy store or the draymen
frozen in the winter storms

but I learned the grave in calvary
found the great uncle there
and one great grandmother
who died of brights disease
and my grandfather patrick
and his wife hannah and all
and all their children born to misfortune
three sisters and six brothers
my aunts and uncles
she outlived by forty years

and as for myself and my three brothers
we were the kittiwakes
sheltering in the wounds
of everything she ever loved

—From Prayer Against Famine and Other Irish Poems, 2004