My grandmother used to tell me stories
of her mother’s people, the Nortons
from Mayo – who moved to Scotland,
Wisconsin, anywhere. You know the Irish,
she said – too poor to stay at home.
No, I didn’t know the Irish,
not even when I went to Dublin,
Galway, Cork – years later, searching
for that trace of recognition
I was so sure would come to me.
You know the Irish, my grandmother said –
we had royalty back there, Lady Jane
Dempsey I think it was, who eloped with
her footman – which doesn’t surprise me.
There was a lord, too, though that name’s lost.
Everyone from Ireland has royalty somewhere,
she said. And each time I heard them,
those old stories changed again.
I asked my father at her funeral.
She talked to you, not me, he said.
Now he’s gone, and when my children
ask sometimes, I trace those old tales again,
a little more unsure each journey through.
You know the Irish. It’s what we have.
It’s all we have. I’ve come to say it too.