Poems by Moya Cannon
for Ronan Galvin
The boy, a musician already at fourteen,
walked four miles with his friend
along the Glen Road
to the fair in Carrick.
When they had seen enough
of sheep and huxter stalls,
they noticed a gramophone
and gathered up courage
to ask the shopkeeper
to put on a record.
They hung about so long,
listening and wondering
that the shopkeeper, who knew
the mountainy townland
they came from - Mín na bhFachrán,
named for bogbine,
known for music -
proposed a barter,
the gramophone for turbary rights.
The boys walked home,
taking turns to carry the gramophone
and three records.
We don’t now how many cartloads of turf
the shopkeeper took out of the bog
or for how many summers
or what the boy’s father,
a fiddler in a valley of fiddlers, said
or who got the better part of the bargain,
only that they had dry turf in Carrick that winter
and that new music was played in the valley.
Songs last the longest..
my mother, who could not sing, told me.
As a young woman, she helped garner
the last grains of Tyrone Irish.
A teetotaller, her job
was to carry the whiskey bottle
which uncorked memory -
the old people remembered scraps of songs
when they remembered nothing else.
And today I heard a recorded lullaby
sung by a woman long dead
in Kulkhssl, a language also dead.
No one understands the words
or knows what the singer might have sung
to an infant who could be a grandparent today
walking, haltingly, in the shade,
down a street in South Africa.
Did she sing about stars, or rain,
or tall grass, or blue flowers,
or small boats on a quick, brown river
or antelopes in a mountain valley
or a dark spirit who might snatch away
a little child.
Whatever promises or prayers
the song’s words held
in that forever lost language
the mystery remains
that any infant on this hurried earth
could still understand the lullaby’s intent.
Through its rhythms and syllables
love pours still
through a round sieve.
Moya Cannon is an Irish author. She studied History and Politics at University College Dublin, and at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.She served as editor of Poetry Ireland in 1995. Her work has appeared in a number of international anthologies and she has held writer-in-residence posts for Kerry County Council and Trent University Ontario (1994–95).
Her first book, Oar, (Salmon 1990, revised edition Gallery Press 2000) won the 1991 Brendan Behan Memorial Prize. It was followed by The Parchment Boat in 1997. Carrying the Songs: New and Selected Poems was published by Carcanet Press in 2007.