At Spanish Banks

George McWhirter
Through fog, like a long needle Thrust through burning wool; Through fog, the long grey neck Of the heron, drawn.
Through grey skies Into greyer twilight,
We remember the Christmas cardigans Flaming on our fathers' chests.
And the tears
Sparked in our mothers' eyes Still claw,
Liquid red,
Like thorn trees Brim with haw.
Below Black Mountain, the fires banked In the dead kitchen-houses
Smoked, leaking through
The hills of slack, Damped-down, glistening Like nightfall.
Heart fire
Hidden in the hearth,
Sucking on the same air
That carried us, emigrant souls
Through fog
Over the grey blooms of chimney smoke.
Through a fog of incense
Will the taper of prayer be drawn, Pale heron
Burni~g through our Lady of Perpetual help,
Or amId the bricks of First Presbyterian Churches
Will our names be blotted with salt water, Washed out of common register:
Disbelievers, who could not cross the threshold Of another faith?
Who will tell our children How we crossed over, How we died the once
And have no other where to go Above this fir-clad paradise?
How we bubbled through, In our coracles
And boats,
Like blisters of quicksilver
On the great grey mirror of the waters,
Or flew, Gaels
On the rising gale, And were made over,
Fresh as air?
What shall we name the craft Our souls sailed on
In that great fly-past, Squadron of talkers, walkers On air?
How we flew in
Throughout the history of this country Like birds,
Strutting round the tablecloths,
More loyal than any to those picnic places
On Dominion Days.
After this new life,
Do we deserve another Laid by,
One more island, Tucked under cloud Beyond Vancouver's?
Here we came,
The most West of that ancient West, To the farthest compass point
Of the personality. The red flame of our heart-blood, forged in the hearth of hardships - the clans
And calamities, our tribal tempers
Cooled only in extremities,
The peninsulas fingering The ice and isolation.
The trans-oceanic shudder On the tide of souls
Out of little Ulster;
The weight,
The watershed of two seas On its shoulder.
We rose
In weather - buoyant, dirty fair As gulls;
We escaped
Ginger as foxes through the whins;
Page 26, Poetry Ireland Review Issue 28