Crossing the Loire

I saluted the famous river as I do every year
Turning south as if the plough steered,
Kicking, at the start of a new furrow, my back
To the shady purple gardens with benches under plum trees
By the river that hunts between piers and sandbanks—
 
I began threading the long bridge, I bowed my head
And lifted my hands from the wheel for an instant of trust,
I faced the long rows of vines curving up the hillside
Lightly like feathers, and longer than the swallow’s flight,
My road already traced before me in a dance
 
Of three nights and three days,
Of sidestepping hills and crescent lights blinding me
(If there was just a bar counter and ice and a glass, and a room upstairs:
But it rushed past me and how many early starts before
The morning when the looped passes descend to the ruined arch?)
 
She came rising up out of the water, her eyes were like sandbanks
The wrinkles in her forehead were like the flaws in the mist
(maybe a long narrow boat with a man lying down
and a rod and line like a frond of hair dipping in the stream)
She was humming the song about the estuary, and the delights
Of a salt ocean, the lighthouse like a summons; and she told me:
 
The land will not go to that measure, it lasts, you’ll see
How the earth widens and mountains are empty, only
With tracks that search and dip, from here to the city of Rome
Where the road gallops up to the dome as big as the sun.
 
You will see your sister going ahead of you
And she will not need to rest, but you must lie
In the dry air of your hotel where the traffic grinds before dawn,
The cello changing gear at the foot of the long hill,
 
And think of the story of the suitors on horseback
Getting ready to trample up the mountain of glass.

 

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, "Crossing the Loire" from The Girl who Married the Reindeer. Copyright © 2001 by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin.  Reprinted by permission of The Gallery Press.
Source: The Wake Forest Book of Irish Women's Poetry (Wake Forest University Press, 2011)