Prayer for an Irish Father

By Norman Williams Norman Williams
On a damp June Saturday, as colorless
As cellar stone, the working classes from
Dun Laoghaire spread their picnic blankets, tins,
And soda bread along the coastal cliffs.
Two hundred feet below, the ocean knocks
Debris and timber on the rock, and near
The precipice, I watch a father swing
His daughter out, as though to loose her on
That long descent, past rookeries of gulls
As intricate as mosques, through casual
Alliances of mist and fog, and toward
The cowlicked Irish Sea, as fathomless
And bitter as their history. With each
Return, the young girl cries out her delight,
Then girds once more against the peril there:
As though she knows no child is desired wholly;
That there is not a mother, dreading birth,
Who does not sometime curse her recklessness,
Nor father, yoked to press or forklift truck,
Who has not brooded on the chance of some
Untimely accident. Pray God that such
Black thoughts do not now reach like beggar’s mitts
Into his mind, or better pray that he
Has vowed, despite them all, not to permit
His difficult and gnarled grip to give.

“Prayer for an Irish Father” from One Unblinking Eye by Norman Williams. Published in 2003 by Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, Athens Ohio (

Source: One Blinking Eye (Ohio University Press, 2003)

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Poet Norman Williams

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Living, Parenthood


An attorney in Burlington, Vermont, Norman Williams earned a BA from the University of Colorado in 1974 and a JD from Yale University in 1979. He is the author of the poetry collections The Unlovely Child: Poems (1985) and One Unblinking Eye (2003). He has received an Ingram Merrill Fellowship, an Amy Lowell Fellowship, and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The Unlovely Child won the I.B. Lavan Award. Poet . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Parenthood

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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