Mary Ann Larkin


Racing the sun these mornings,
I think of Desmond O’Grady,
not the night at the Irish Embassy
when he charmed the cleaning ladies
into a pounding chant of Cuchullain’s epic,
his curved fingers beseeching them
in an ecstasy of besotted bliss,

but of how he staggered to the well
on the Greek island each morning
before the sun ballooned from the sea,
trembling hands winding up
the bucket of icy water
to thunder it
over his fog-bound head,
shock the blood
through the heart’s chambers,
the fuddled mazes of the brain,

and, as he clutched his quivering torso,
how he made obeisance
to the earth and to the water,
pure and cold,
as was the poet,
cleansed now and ready.


What keeps coming back
is not the opals the fire mined
into the early morning dark
or the lone fireman,
turtled beneath his pack,
slow motioning down Channing Street
into the burning house,
but the way Mrs. Cunningham,
two doors up,
set out her porch chairs
for Mrs. Crossland and her daughter
and, after bringing them coffee,
wiped away the ashes,
from her white porch table
all night long:
The ladies lifting their saucers,
Mrs. Cunningham bringing
still another damp cloth
to banish the soot
from Mrs. Crossland’s fire
as quickly as it falls.


I had forgotten Mother reading
Keatings’ History of Ireland,
the green buckram cover,
the letters in gold
so I knew it was important
like the encyclopedia or the Bible.
The book moved with her
from nightstand to table
with her Camels and coffee.
It’s not a book you read straight through,
she told me, absorbed all the same.
She read Keatings along with
the society pages that taught her how
to live in this new land
where no pebbles traced the way back,
where the old people shivered into silence.

A cousin had given her the book
perhaps knowing of some yearning in her
not to be a stranger
with no old tales to tell her daughters
of the queens almost before time was:
Sea Lamb,
Queen of the Winds,
Ruler of Wild Oxen.

Did she smile to read
that even the fish sang
in that lost land of abundance,
that the willow-leafed arrowheads
were carved with the half-moons of women,
that Brigit the White Swan,
the Bride of the Golden Hair,
was also Mary, Goddess of Poetry,
her namesake?
After dinner and into the night, my mother
learned her people’s story.
You should read this, she’d say,
it tells all about Ireland.
But the book looked too severe
and I could find no plot.
Still, I wondered
why the reading took so long
and why you couldn’t
just go straight through.

Mary Ann Larkin

Mary Ann Larkin’s book of poems, The Coil of the Skin, was published by Washington Writers Publishing House.  She is also the author of four chapbooks:  White Clapboard; The DNA of the Heart (with her husband Patric Pepper) by Pond Road Press; A Shimmering That Goes With Us from Finishing Line Press; and most recently, gods & flesh from Plan B Press in 2007. Her poetry has appeared in Poetry Greece, Poetry Ireland Review, New Letters and other magazines and in more than twenty local and national anthologies, including America in Poetry and Ireland in Poetry, the art and poetry series published by Harry N. Abrams.  In 2003 she and her husband founded Pond Road Press, which published its third book, Tough Heaven:  Poems of Pittsburgh by Jack Gilbert, in 2006.  She has taught writing and literature at a number of colleges and universities, most recently at Howard University in Washington DC.  She has written about literary issues for Foundation News and National Public Radio and worked as a fundraiser for The Watershed Foundation, Africare, and other nonprofits.  She comes from Pittsburgh and now lives in Washington, DC, and Truro, Massachusetts.



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