My Mother's Burial


June sun in an orchard
      And a whispering in the afternoon's silk,
A malicious bee's drone
      Scream-tearing the day's fabric.

An old soiled letter in my hand:
      With every word that I drank
A venomous pain stung my breast,
      Each word bruised out its individual tear.

I recalled the hand that did the writing,
      A hand as recognisable as a face,
A hand that dealt out old Biblical kindness,
      A hand that was like balm when you were ill.

And June collapsed back into winter:
      The orchard was a white cemetery by a river
And from the heart of the silent whiteness all about me
      The black hole roared in the snow.

The whiteness of a girl on her first Communion Day,
      The whiteness of the wafer on a Sunday altar,
The whiteness of mild drawing free from the breasts,
      When they buried my mother, the whiteness of the sod.

My mind was scourging itself in the attempt
      To savour the burial entire
When there gently flew into the bright silence
      A robin, unflustered, unafraid.

It hovered above the grave as if it knew
      The reason for its coming was hidden from all
But the one lying waiting in the coffin:
      I resented their extraordinary exchange.

The air of Heaven landed on that grave,
      A terrible, saintly merriment held the bird:
I was barred from the mystery like a layman
      And the grave, though right before me, was miles away.

The freshness of sorrow washed my lascivious soul,
      Pure snow fell on my heart;
In my white heart now I will bury the memory
      Of she who carried me three seasons in her womb.

The labourers came with a harsh sound of shovels
      And roughly swept the earth into the grave.
I looked away, a neighbour was brushing his knees;
      I looked at the priest and there was worldliness in his face.

June sun in an orchard
      And a whispering in the afternoon's silk,
A malicious bee's drone
      Scream-tearing the day's fabric.

Little halting verses I'm writing,
      I'd like to catch the tail of a robin,
I'd like to vanquish the spirit of the knee-brushers,
      I'd like to fare in sorrow to the end of day.


                                              Irish; trans. Patrick Crotty


Sean O Riordain, Irish, trans. Patrick Crotty, Eireaball Spideoige, Sairseal O Marcaigh Tta, 1952.