Campbell Corner Language Exchange

The Poetry of Eavan Boland

What Language Did

At the Glass Factory in Cavan Town

What Language Did

The evening was the same as any other.
I came out and stood on the step.
The suburb was closed in the weather

of an early spring and the shallow tips
of washed-out yellows of narcissi
resisted dusk. And crocuses and snowdrops.

I stood there and felt the melancholy
of growing older n such a season,
when all I could be certain of was simply

in this time of fragrance and refrain,
whatever else might flower before the fruit,
and be renewed, I would not. Not again.

A car splashed by in the twilight.
Peat smoke stayed in the windless
air overhead and I might have missed :

a presence. Suddenly. In the very place
where I would stand in other dusks, and look
to pick out my child from the distance,

was a shepherdess, her smile cracked,
her arm injured from the mantelpieces
and pastorals where she posed with her crook.

Then I turned and saw in the spaces
of the night sky constellations appear,
one by one, over roof-tops and houses,

and Cassiopeia trapped: stabbed where
her thigh met her groin and her hand
her glittering wrist, with the pin-point of a star.

And by the road where rain made standing
pools of water underneath cherry trees,
and blossoms swam on their images,

was a mermaid with invented tresses,
her breasts printed with the salt of it and all
the desolation of the North Sea in her face.

I went nearer. They were disappearing.
Dusk had turned to night but in the air -
did I imagine it? - a voice was saying:

This is what language did to us. Here
is the wound, the silence, the wretchedness
of tides and hillsides and stars where

we languish in a grammar of sighs,
in the high-minded search for euphony,
in the midnight rhetoric of poesie.

We cannot sweat here. Our skin is icy.
We cannot breed here. Our wombs are empty.
Help us to escape youth and beauty.

Write us out of the poem. Make us human
in cadences of change and mortal pain
and words we can grow old and die in.

 At the Glass Factory in Cavan Town

Today it is a swan:
                          The guide tells us
these are in demand.
                         The glass is made

of red lead and potash
                         and the smashed bits
of crystal sinews
                         and decanter stoppers
crated over there —
                         she points — and shattered
on the stone wheel
                         rimmed with emery.

Aromas of stone and
                         fire. Deranged singing
from the grindstone.
                         And behind that

a mirror — my
                         daughters' heads turned
away in it — garnering
                         grindstone and fire.

The glass blower goes
                         to the furnace.
He takes a pole
                         from the earth's
core: the earth's core
                         is remembered in
the molten globe at
                         the end of it.

He shakes the pole
                         carefully to and fro.
He blows once. Twice.
                         His cheeks puff and

puff up: he is
                         a cherub at the very
edge of a cornice with
                         a mouthful of zephyrs —

sweet intrusions into
                         leaves and lace hems.
And now he lays
                         the rod on its spindle.

It is red. It is
                         ruddy and cooler.
It is cool now
                         and as clear as

the distances of this
                         county with its drumlins,
its herons, its closed-
                         in waterways on which
we saw this morning
                         as we drove over
here, a mated pair of swans. Such

blind grace as they
                         floated with told us
they did not know
                         that every hour,

every day, and
                         not far away from
there, they were
                         entering the legend of

themselves. They gave no
                         sign of it. But what
caught my eye, my
                         attention, was the safety

they assumed as
                         they sailed their own
images. Here, now —
                         and knowing that
the mirror still holds
                         my actual flesh —
I could say to them:
                         reflection is the first

myth of loss. But
                         they floated away and
away from me as if
                         no one would ever blow

false airs on them,
                         or try their sinews
in the fire, at
                         the core, and they

took no care
                         not to splinter, they
showed no fear
                         they would end as
this one which is
                         uncut yet still might:
a substance of its own
                         future form, both

fraction and refraction
                         in the deal-wood
crate at the door
                         we will leave by.