Sunday Oct 01

WallEamonn Eamonn Wall, a native of Ireland, has lived in the US since 1982. He is the author of seven collections of poetry including Junction City: Selected Poems 1990-2015 (Salmon Poetry/Dufour Editions). From the Sin-e Café to the Black Hills: Notes on the New Irish (U of Wisconsin P, 2000), a study of Irish American writing, was awarded the Michael J. Durkan Prize by the American Conference for Irish Studies for excellence in scholarship. Writing the Irish West: Ecologies and Traditions, a comparative study of Irish and American ecocritical writing, was published by the University of Notre Dame Press in 2011. He edited two volumes of Irish poet James Liddy’s essays for Arlen House/Syracuse University Press: On American Literature and Diasporas and On Irish Literature and Identities, both 2013. Wall lives in St. Louis, Missouri and teaches Irish and British Literature at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Visit his web site here.

Courtown Harbour

Yellow-bellied craft all afloat
under a fair-haired autumn sky,
two boys lounge back, arched
against field stone, the harbor
wall is a tawny brown, goats
latched-on the village hill, lines
of washing hung-out to dry. Do
you see the hulk of the old hotel
or the path uphill to Joe’s Café
where I had sought your hand,
how shocked I had been then,
you so eager to receive me,
that for a moment I had recoiled,
albeit so briefly? Decades fade,
an ice-cream kiosk boarded-up,
warm days are memories of hats,
Sally’s was white, my father’s
mariner’s blue, she like a breath
of air, her image pushed early
into eternity, my father’s lately
evaporated. The sailing boats
always there, tethered perhaps,
hanging wholly unreliable today.

The Old Hotel in the Market Square


Rubble and dust have settled down, a clock
circles firm monotony above the town.
Local people walk street-side of the striped
hoarding to which bill-posted invitations cling.
Discharged now in walkers’ eyes, the dust
bedded down by rain: all accept this hotel site
is derelict. Next weekend, posted bills declare,
buses leave for Knock at half-past nine.
An English circus will soon arrive in town.
Church bells call all uphill one more time:
Ballyveelan’s faithful hailed to Lenten prayer.


In the capital, city of diesel and feta cheese,
on a high stool over a drafting board,
an architect knows that to draw is to make
flesh. He left his village to seek in the capital
the certain curve of steel, the marble cool,
the view from the café window of the south-
bound traffic. He reveres all that promises
inaction, evasion, erasure. Rural towns
are the terra nullius on which he invents
the future. He sees rain falling on capped
heads in washed-out corners of the state.


In these washed-out corners of the nation,
no child knocks on the old storyteller’s door,
the piano teacher has turned her face
to the garden wall to count the climbing slugs,
no one volunteers to write our history down.
The chorus has departed another rural town.


The bank manager’s great oak desk
is fixed to block the narrative of the town.
He has placed on his full-deep trousers
many charts and maps and a horny
sheaf of multi-coloured envelopes,
his lap, remaining, a zone of cool. Atonally,
he taps on his keyboard as old prints
of planter houses that formed a backbone
of the town gather dust about his yellow
walls. There’s a twiddling of thumbs,
a sigh, a call to coffee with the staff,
a pause on a downward step to ponder
a five-iron struck at dog-leg number nine
when he flirted, for one shining moment,
with the captain’s prize. His assistant
lets the manager know that a developers’
queue has formed in the lane outside—
Dublin designates retail the hotel site.
Quakers, who were they? He will seek
an explanation, their initials posted high
on fieldstone throughout the Market Sq.


From my far-suburban home, on the distant
fringes of our capital, I am making a brief
return to Ballyveelan to conduct a day
of business with a well-known merchant
of the town. On a bench in Market Square,
with an hour to kill, I share an Abrakebabra
take-a-way with an old man, ragged
and wise: he is seated tight beside me.


In truth, the old man says, all towns remain
contested ground, and all of us have of late
been compromised though it would seem
churlish to complain: every year I see my
pension rise and, for no good reason, it is
raised many hundred euro more. He wears
a Garda surplus overcoat, Jack Charlton hat,
pulls hard on an old clay pipe. Be careful
not to judge too harshly, he scolds me, when
I have waved my hand toward the derelict
site before indicating, right next to it, a gaudy
sign lit-up to raise awareness of American cuisine.


The old hotel is much alive in me, he says,
the burgers at Thunder Road Café are best
when moistened with a squeeze of burger sauce.
Though that vacant site across the way
might seem to you a no-man’s-land, our town
cannot be reckoned a Van Diemen’s Land: you
should not count locals here as aborigines.
I climbed three steps to the foyer on my wedding
day: for many years, I returned to the hotel’s
lounge there to play; my fiddle tuned, my bow ready
to strike for all the rebel note. Our old town
you forsook, my brave bucko, now here you are returned
to lecture and harshly criticize—he flourished as he rose.
He flung our kebab wrappers toward the middle
of the Market Square. Long-versed in city ways,
I sought out the always most elusive rural, rubbish bin.

In Glasnevin Cemetery

The ground in front of Michael Collins’ grave is covered in wreaths of flowers. One yellow coreopsis has been placed where the “Uncrowned King” of Ireland lies.

De Valera’s grave is hard to find—I seek it out to favor my father who earlier this year left this world for eternity. Someone leads me a mazy walk along the avenues, my godmother the chief suspect: she was General O’Duffy and Liam Cosgrave to her core.

Other memorials and graves are easier to locate. I linger this autumn morning for Jim Larkin and Maud Gonne and think hard for hunger strikers young and old. The republican presence is very strong. History comes alive for me again.

There is intermittent drizzle and some accompanying wind. With spray and cloth, the café staff kills time. Lately opened, where they work relates kindly to the larger space: the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee and a range of scones with neat thought all arrayed.

Outside, rooted to the path, a tour guide removes silver spectacles and with a cloth handkerchief wipes them clear of rain. He had smiled when I sought directions to Brendan Behan’s final resting place.

My aunts gathered at the table had invited me, decades ago, to join them for their game of twilight poker. History/politics was their given subject, whiskey/vodka their drinks of choice.

By then, I had commenced with foam and razor while spouting harsh opinions. My aunt and godmother lit another menthol cigarette.  

Out-of-doors, the breaking waves attached a languorous soundtrack to the flashing Co. Wexford night. If I listened hard to what my aunts revealed, I lost my shirt at cards so I quickly learned to listen as I played.

I am a grown-up of our world these days who plays with warm hands cards dealt me long ago at Poulshone. “County Home Hand,” one aunt shouts out in horror, five cards hurled at the rubbish pile.

I had wiped the dinner table down and crusted, before cutting into quarters, their plates of buttered sandwiches. I sat by the kitchen door awaiting their arrival as a wave.   

On a rowdy double-decker from Glasnevin Cemetery back into town, I sink down into seat metal and blue plastic, three dead aunts screaming uproarious liquid laughter in my ears.

The day brightens. I tap my left foot to the Dublin beat. This racket on this bus is the driver’s problem, not mine.

Waiting for the Paddle Steamer    

The paddle steamer’s arrival fixed
for noon, all can board for half-a-crown

push upriver to the hills, disembark
at Baldwinstown. The sky is hard,

the river, I can recall, deep metal
gray, rebels gathered near Barkley Hill.

I watch a slim woman on the far quay
strip mannequins—first of colour, later

of their forms. The steamer has not come:
with serious formality, grandfather spits

into the Little Royal, releases my hand
to light his pipe. At home, mother speaks

disapprovingly of smoking, Look,
she cries, at Madame Fleur, crooked

roads converge about her eyes. I suppose
we will continue with our waiting

here. It will never come into view,
the paddle steamer. I know this. Our town

dies slowly as the days grow warmer
so I read, remove an apple from my bag.

My own stepfather arrives at my mother’s
door. Hark, the paddle steamer—near or here?


They shout and hollo down the noisey streets.
                                                               John Clare

An uncouth voice stamps to his parked car
there to rein curses toward his wife, till,
catching our looks—we are waiting curb-side
for the evening bus—the couple now in unison
lodge hardcore expletives at us who stand,
we know it too, guilty of curiosity.

                                                       Like badgers
run to den by shepherds’ dogs, we board,
our bus pulling away from the fractious quay
in, we would all agree, a timely manner,
to be in motion, on the road, sure measure
of separation from the whims of this small town,
so that, meeting the highway,
clear of the last stop sign, the mood returns
to what it had once been, the fields of winter
barleycorn running in a rhythmic shoal toward
a hillside gathering of evergreens, this image
honed and sliced by stout hedgerow and thin
electric pole.

                        Downhill and clear, the bus
gathers speed, the badger is at home round
here. Now, an oil tanker is visible to the right
between woods and horizon so I say, though
not aloud: Sailors, I will not join you on the sea;
instead, I will emerge with badgers to roam
dew soaked fields come moonlight
while you on the cranky main, as you labour
in old oilskins, will squelch an unholy symphony:
sea shanties accompanying rampant abuse
of the Holy Name.

                             In ditch, on woodland track,
better the badger set to cackle, groan and die,
poison has been set by louts: 4X4s just lately
returned to town. The countryside giving way
to the yellowed edges of the capital, I wonder
can poem or prayer mitigate power of the state’s
hard words topped-up with ricin bait; badgers,
our citizen army, emerging shyly under moonlight.
Toward ten on a splendid autumn August night. In
tandem, the Irish Sea shuffles along with city feet;
With urgency, bus thundering toward its terminus.