Going Back

Here: it must be where you stood,

One hand raised to shade your eyes

Against the harsh Atlantic

Grinding shoulders with the rocks below.


How your skirt cut the wind in half!

And how you waited, brooding

For the boats that stitched their slow way in

With ribboned wakes a deeper green,

And each new ship

A promise that you couldn’t keep.


I see the girl you were

Walk back alone to her father’s house,

Caught between two hungers.

Some absent strain of music kept you restless,

And I know how the longing worked on you,

For even at night

The boats sent out a siren tongue –

Foreign to your ear, perhaps, but song.


One day you finally left,

Sailing your boat straight into the cave

Of America’s open arms;

Feeling the wind no monster

There, after such lean dreams

As you had culled from Irish soil.


Mama Mór, I stand here now

Where you once stood,

the unchanged land beneath my feet,

Certain that my bones were formed

From the same air

That made your bones first stir,


But the old heritage

Breeds a different pain in me:

A stranger to both countries,

I cannot make my roots take hold;

Can only stand and hear the sea

Return the poems that you’d willed it

As a child, while the wind

Raises ghosts behind me.

by Eithne McKiernan