by Eavan Boland
This is St. Louis. Where the rivers meet.
The Illinois. The Mississippi. The Missouri.
The light is in its element of Autumn.
Clear. With yellow Gingko leaves falling.
There is always a nightmare. Even in such light.
The weather must be cold now in Dublin.
And when skies are clear, frosts come
down on the mountains and first
inklings of winter will be underfoot in
the crisp iron of a fern at dawn.
I stand in a room in the Museum.
In one glass case a plastic figure
represents a woman in a dress,
with crepe sleeves a satin apron.
And feet laced neatly in suede.
She stands in a replica of a cabin
on a steamboat bound for New Orleans.
The year is 1860. Nearly war.
A notice says no comforts were spared. The silk
is French. The seamstresses are Irish.
I see them in the oil-lit parlours.
I am in the gas-lit backrooms.
We make in the apron front and from
the papery appearance and crushable
look of crepe, a sign. We are bent over
in a bad light. We are sewing a last
sight of shore. We are sewing coffin ships.
And the salt of exile. And our own
death in it. For history’s abandonment
we are doing this. And this. And
this is a button hole. This is a stitch.
Fury enters them as frost follows
every arabesque and curl of a fern: this is
the nightmare. See how you perceive it.
We sleep the sleep of exhaustion.
We dream a woman on a steamboat
parading in sunshine in a dress we know
we made. She laughs off rumours of war.
She turns and traps light on the skirt.
It is, for that moments, beautiful.