Ireland (Fabius, N.Y.) Tucked between pastures on Nana’s farm, riddled with ravines, tangled trees, crisscrossed creeks: a wild place. We hiked open fields to enter the woods—in full leaf, sunlight changed to dusk when we passed over the threshold. We called it Ireland, as generations had before, named for the hungry, rocky place left behind. How long before their clearing and plowing brought them to the edge of this green place? Was there something in the cut of the hill, or the way the breeze lifted their hair, licked the leaves, or was it the smell of sweet grass that gave them glimpses of an older place across the sea? We inherited the longing for home without being told—the way Ireland was whispered with cloudy blue far-away eyes, shoulders shrugged, at times a passing sigh. Inside the trees we claimed our tributaries from fairies, climbed mossy rocks, believed we were transported afar. Back in school one Monday, a nun asked our younger brother to write what he had done over the weekend. We went to Ireland, he inked. We just got back. *published in Verse Virtual, April 2023 https://www.verse-virtual.org/2023/April/austin-li-ellen-2023-april.html
Even though I wrote the gist of this poem several years ago during a day-long writing retreat on the Ohio River, it was just recently curated on Verse Virtual (thank you to editor Jim Lewis and all of the guest editors at VV). It’s not like I’ve tried many times to get this piece out into the world. I’ve been holding back, hoping to find the right journal. And speaking of holding back, how is it possible that I last posted a year ago? I suppose I needed to settle into a different writer’s space long enough to compose a blog post. I’m still not settled, but I’m starting to move in a new direction.
I graduated with my MFA in Poetry last year (thank you, Solstice MFA in Creative Writing, now at Lasell University). Since graduation, I’ve spent the past twelve+ months joining new writing groups (Greater Cincinnati Writers League and Cincinnati Writers Project), continuing with other long-standing gatherings (an informal group of women writers who first met at Women Writing for a Change, and “The Writer’s Table,” a generative workshop led by Sherry Cook Stanforth and Richard Hague, both legendary local Appalachian writers) and even starting a new generative writing group. I’m also participating in Pauletta Hansel’s “Draft to Craft” seminar-style writing series. All of this is to find a new way forward, a new literary home—this home made of many pieces.
No surprise that the poetry manuscript I shaped during my time at Solstice centers around finding a home and creating a sense of belonging. And the current state of this collection? You guessed it: I hope these poems land in the right home this year. This riff brings me back to “Ireland (Fabius, N.Y.).” Even though this poem may lead you to believe I’ve written about a mythical place, this Ireland exists—at least in the hearts of my extended family—in Fabius, N.Y., a rural area east of Syracuse. My mother was raised in a large Irish Catholic family, with ten children, including Mom, on a dairy farm. By the time her generation married, dispersed (except for two brothers), and had children, this wild area—accessed by crossing fields and sometimes, at least once that I recall, being chased by a bull—was a magical place where we played. The “we” being me and my five siblings and various combinations of our thirty-six Dwyer cousins. We all logged time exploring in the trees, the ravines, and the creek(s) in “Ireland.”
When I shared this poem publicly, some cousins wondered who named this patch of land “Ireland.” In the writing of this poem, the answer to that question didn’t matter. It’s the longing for one’s true home I wanted to access. My Irish ancestors fled Ireland during the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s (or The Great Hunger), an immigration forced by starvation and desperation. An ugly and complicated removal that separated families and, I would argue, left a trail of silence in the wake of trauma. A reverence remains for a place one loves but must leave. My family set aside a corner of land to honor the home country (“the old sod,” my mother says). A place of joy, not grief. I will ask my mother—at 96, the last of her generation—if she remembers how “Ireland” was named and who did the naming. The farm, sadly, is no longer in the family. But that wild area, Ireland, still lives. At least in our collective imagination.
And a note on the home across the sea—I recently read this poem at a poetry series I co-founded in Cincinnati, “Poetry Night at Sitwell’s” (another attempt at belonging), and shared with the crowd how the Irish revere poetry. Poetry Day Ireland (April 27th in ’23) is an island-wide celebration. Their poets even get tax breaks! And a poet I studied under at Iowa’s Summer Writing Festival, Jude Nutter (who lives in Ireland every summer), says every Irish person you stop on the street can recite Yeats and Seamus Heaney as a matter of course. The Irish genuinely love their poets. Someday, I hope to study there, even if just for a brief time. The ever-present pull to go home.
2 thoughts on “About Ireland”
Beautiful, Ellen. You have awaken so many treasured memories for me. Thank you Cousin!
Oh, thanks for reading, Pattie! I wish we could go back!