My mother was born in the shadow of mountains her old bones long since laid to rest I know the place the house the houses where she was a girl I know the school I know the shoreline where she would go in the summer to bathe and walk along the beach
My bones out of her bones have grown old too but my muscles retain their youthful vigour I know many things and yet am ignorant of so much more
Perhaps I long to return to that place in the shadow of mountains where calm waters run down to the sea Perhaps is a word I have used too often in my life perhaps
Drove from Bray down to Wicklow a thick coat of snow lying across the land heaped high on the sides of the road and in smaller piles perched precariously on the branches of trees
Winter had turned this part of the emerald isle white so that the sheep in the rolling hills were hard to distinguish from the ground they trod
I knew that my aunt whom I’d left hours earlier in a hospital bed in Tralee would be gone before the next spring came and the landscape reappeared in full bloom I thought of the thin veins on her hands and her forehead visible through the pale skin and I recalled the shallow breath that softened her voice so that she seemed already to have become half shadow and yet her sharp blues eyes were as full of life as ever
These cold frosty mornings, such as the one I awoke to today, always remind me of the days my mother spent in the Brook hospital in Shooters Hill, towards the end of her life. The poem below was written immediately after visiting her one day in the hospital when I, like all her children, had been stunned by her sudden decline. The accompanying photo was taken two years earlier, around the time of her seventieth birthday and that is how I like to remember her. She was born in Tralee, Co. Kerry in 1922, and her family emigrated to Welling in 1937, for reasons I never fully understood. From the photo it can be seen that even at her age then, she had lost none of the beauty that led my father to call her his Rose of Tralee throughout their life together. But the radiance of her physical beauty was nothing compared to the inner beauty that glowed within her and was manifest in her eternal smile. She was blessed with the tough genes of the Kerry people and she worked tirelessly throughout her life as a proud wife and a mother of six and as a teacher of primary school infants. In so many respects she was the life and soul of the family, and if I had to sum up in one word what drove her to embrace life with such inexhaustible energy, I would have to say love.
Your final resting
Half-moon over November night: snow on the ground and icy dusting of snow in the boughs of trees in the ancient woodlands by your last bed. A barn owl sits motionless in the darkness, in the half-light of the half-moon. A lone cry in the woodlands, the lone cry of the November owl under the half-moon. And then silence. And then peace. A ﬁnal flurry of snow.
That you should love and be loved. nothing more. That you should love and be lived by that love. The two-way gift, the life-gift and the love-gift, and not the one without the other. All life is two-way just as all love is all life in the giving and receiving. And so Divina asks me where was she before she was born, because living and loving cannot understand the state of non-being. And I say to her: You were there in our love where you will always be, there in our love.
And you, my mother— I gave birth to you just as you brought me out of yourself and into the light, barely a half-moon from now, barely three and forty years from here. You born again in the moment of my birth into that deep love-gift of motherhood; And I have loved you as the father of your motherhood of me, son and father to you as the mother and daughter of my love.
And your dying — this two-way sadness which we call your death is also a kind of lying in, is also a kind of new maternity, a fresh maternity as you lie here now in peace and at peace, nurturing us into that new life, that life with and without you, that never-losing-you life of your death. Your six children around your last bed, at the breast of your love.
November sun — and magpies soaring in the chill air, seen through the window of your last resting A sadness yes, a grief undeniably. And yet an overwhelming sense of love undying. Not of ashes to ashes but of life to life through love.