Remembering Tralee

map of the world
Early map of the world, John Lyons (40 x 40 cm oil on canvas)

Remembering Tralee

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

John Lyons



In time’s sad passing

In time’s sad passing

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

John Lyons


In memoriam

Mary Teresa Ann Lyons

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,
            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.

23 November 1993