2015 Dermot Healy Poetry Prize winner – ‘West’ by Tom French

So it was, I stood with my living kin

in the walled-off acre where my name

is engraved on a tilting cross,

and our children, ringing from the tall grass,

changed into their Hallowe’en costumes,

and I stood and waited at the gate for Grace,

dressed as a skeleton, to make her way

over the broken ground, to take her hand.

I was moved then, and I am  moved again

to hear my father’s sister Mary tell of the time

she saw her father cry, speaking of nine of his

mother’s people – the Kingstons – taking ship

in the bad times at Cobh, of the eight sewn

into their clothes when the spirit left them,

to be buried at sea; of the one who arrived

where they’d been bound, dumbstruck with grief.

On what winter had left of the coast road

we met a Sherpa van with English plates,

the driver pointing to the gate we’d passed,

for us to reverse to and let him pass.

With the sun at his back, as we sat in the centre

of that road, he could have read her lips

when she said, “I won’t be told what

to do in my own country by English.”

I thought I should have known her all my life

when she told me I had her father’s silence,

and tried to make up for our lost time

by taking to heart what she said about the tide,

and what she said about poetry that I got

second-hand from her friend, when I sent her

my poem made of townland names –

“What is it, now it doesn’t have to rhyme?”

Now my youngest son comes from school

and says they’re learning about The Fields of Athenry

and what it means, I tell him of our Kingstons

and the one who vanished in the New World,

repeating verbatim what I was told,

fearing embellishment, remembering, when I asked

to record her – “Just because my father cried

telling it, doesn’t make it true.”

When she took me for fish and chips to Casey’s

the day after reading poems in Skibbereen

and introduced me as her brother’s son,

and the man behind the counter said

he knew me, I dined in Union Hall, my people’s place,

in my father’s sister’s company, and gloried

the whole road back to where I call home,

in being – a stranger in a strange place – known.


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