(A sestina for Ireland)
I have turned my face to the winter streets
of Ardara and traced the curling lines of smoke
from lively fires that crackled bright with turf.
And in the thickening cold the mist
that rises from the rain-steeped russet bogs brings in
the smoke and settles just above the window frames.
I have stood at the edge of the battered cliff that frames
the roiling sea beneath Slieve League, and in the streets
of Donegal I've closed my eyes and reveled in
the smell of earth, and the thickening smoke
that eases down like winter soup on the soft, grey mist.
I have stained my shoes in puddles brown with turf.
In Galway I once stole some turf
from a field, where it sat in triangular frames
of hand-hewn clods cool-glazed with mist.
Later, with my stolen lump I hurried back through empty streets
to burn a piece, but found it hard to light, the smoke
too watered down—I tossed the whole thing in.
In Dublin I queued at St. James' Gate to be let in
to try the perfect pint, brown-brewed with turf,
bubbles jigging through the creamy black like smoke
that rises up through the evening grey and frames
the chimney squares. And walking back to Eden Quay the streets
were quiet save some bodhran beating through the mist.
One year I walked from Arklow in a closing February mist
to Glendalough, and knocked on unfamiliar doors to be let in
to pay my twenty euros for the comfort of a bed. The streets
fair glistened with mid-winter snow and smelled of turf
not cut there, but far to the north in Donegal, where in wooden frames
it waits in row-carved russet bogs rich-blanketed with smoke.
An Irish life is measured in the vibrant grey-white smoke
of peat fires burning, hearth by hearth, and in the mist
of centuries of nights spent under lively timber frames.
I left my cherished Ireland on a rainy Thursday morning in
October, left behind my home, my fireside stack of turf.
I drink my Guinness now and ponder only hollow streets.
For all the rain-blessed streets I love, all the earth-rich smoke
from turf fires melting cotton-softly in the gloaming mist,
for every green grass hill that frames the greying sky behind—sláinte.