poems I Am Kerry – Poem by Sigerson Clifford

I am Kerry like my mother before me
And my mother’s mother and her man
Now I sit on an office stool remembering
And the memory of them like a fan
Soothes the embers into flame.
I am Kerry and proud of my name.

My heart is looped around the rutted hills
That shoulder the stars out of the sky
And about the wasp-yellow fields
And the strands where the kelp streamers lie;
Where soft as lovers’ Gaelic the rain falls
Sweeping into silver the lacy mountain walls.

My grandfather tended the turf fire
And leaning backward into legend spoke
Of doings old before quills inked history.
I saw dark heroes fighting in the smoke,
Diarmuid dead inside his Iveragh cave
And Deirdre caoining upon Naoise’s grave.

I see the wise face now with its hundred wrinkles
And every wrinkle held a thousand tales
Of Fionn and Oscar and Conán Maol
And sea-proud Niall whose conquering sails
Raiding France for slaves and wine
Brought Patrick to mind Miolchú’s swine.

Ah! I should have put a noose about the throat of time
And choked the passing of the hobnailed years
And stayed young always shouting in the hills
Where life held only fairy fears.
When I was young my feet were bare
But I drove the cattle to the fair.

‘Twas thus I lived skin to skin with the earth
Elbowed by the hills, drenched by the billows,
Watching the wild geese making black wedges
By Skelligs far west and Annascaul of the willows.
Their voices came on every little wind
Whispering across the half-door of the mind
For always I am Kerry . . .

Sigerson Clifford (1955)