Poem of the Week | June 15, 2010

This week we feature another poem from TMR 33.1: Uncharted: “Emigration Photo,” by the Irish poet Kerry Hardie. She has published five collections of poetry with the Gallery Press, Ireland, the most recent of which is Only This Room, 2009. She has also written two novels and won many prizes, including the Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry, the Michael Hartnett Award and the Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Award for Poetry. Her work has appeared in journals and magazines in the United States but has been available to students only in The Wake Forest Book of Irish Women’s Poetry, 1999 (Wake Forest U.P.), edited by Peggy O’Brien, a new edition of which is forthcoming.

“Emigration Photo” was the result of a collaboration with the artist Hughie O’Donoghue who had bought a collection of old photos in a car boot sale and was incorporating some of the images into a series of paintings. We could discover nothing of the picture’s origins as only a faded stamp identified it as the work of a photographer in the small market town of Clonmel in County Tipperary but it seemed to us both to be an emmigration photo, taken in the early years of the twentieth century, specifically for the family in Ireland to keep as a memento of the young man they would probably never see again. Sometimes I think that such photos gather to themselves an emotional resonance which remains long after the deaths of those who experienced the emotion, long after the photo itself has begun to change and disintegrate.

Emigration Photo

For Hughie O’Donoghue

He is the one who will leave, has already gone
has stood in the open door
hearing his thoughts like a voice—
You will never see this again.

And he’s stopped, and the mist has come down on his mind:
He’s looked at the yellow leaves in the grass,
the rain lying down on the tussocky field,
the cows nosing over the gate.

Stand over there—
He has stood by the net of the thorn.
Take off your hat—
It’s been thrown on the grass behind.

He’s strong, his body too strong
for his jacket, his strength
is bursting its buttons, shooting its sleeves,
pushing its pockets awry.

He lives warm and alive with death
but listens, intent, inside life which will sear
the skin from his hands and the flesh from his feet
when the soles of his boots are gone.

He will weep, drink, weep, drink again,
having flesh that will teach
how to live, how to die,
who it is who is doing either.

And the light which made this moment of him?
This light already reclaims him.