“Stories We Were Told” and “Sirens”

Stories We Were Told

for Catherine Corless

The young warrior Fionn didn’t mean to steal knowledge. He just burst the blister
on the scale of a mythical salmon roasting over the fire. He sucked his thumb
and knowledge entered him.

Other Warriors: Setanta, Brian Boru, Sarsfield, Red Hugh, Hugh Dubh, Wolfe Tone,
Robert Emmet, Daniel O’ Connell, Parnell, Father Murphy, Padraig Pearse;
Michael Collins, DeValera.

Cowboys shooting at ceilings yelling Yee Haw, standing in dusty streets, arms akimbo,
right hand near the holster, ready to draw. I wanted, did not want, to be a saloon girl
in a flounced red petticoat,

followed by a bandy-legged cowboy up the wooden stairs to bed. Better to be flagellated
in Mutiny on the Bounty, better to be a warrior than a fish. Because The Salmon of Knowledge,
An Bradán Feasa was Sabdh,

and the sacred pool where she swam. And the Hazel tree shedding nuts into the pool. She could
be a salmon, Bridget, Gobnait or Leah and Bovemal who shared their plant wisdom with Fionn.
In all my years in school,

I never once heard the word goddess, Greek or Irish, until I found the versions collected door to
door by Ella Young. Before salmon leave saltwater for sweet, they pause. The Salmon
are standing the fishermen say.

When the warriors dived naked into the pool we could not follow. We had to go there at night,
bring herbs and wildflowers; St John’s Wort for depression, sage for heavy bleeding, hot flushes,
raspberry leaf for labor.

Rock rose for terror, buttercup for loss, walnut for change, centaury for a strong will, larch to
find a voice, self-heal. We brought the children with us chanting Bríd Bríd Breathe. We stood
and we stood – then we leapt.


You hear? It throbbed pure, purer, softly and softlier
James Joyce

The children are singing
a high-pitched song about fish in the trees.

A wing across her left shoulder-
Min’s white-blonde hair. The colour of seaweed – Shona’s hair, wild with curls,

A day in Sean Phobal,
Mansfield’s daffodil field above the sea.

Our dance, a homage to the women,
they called unmarried mothers, hoors–sirens, incarcerated in convent laundries,

their babies taken from them.
We danced, pegged sheets on a line between apple trees.

Bumps just visible, 
Clara was pregnant with Min, Laura with Shona, baskets on hips they moved

through the other women.
A great day for drying. Sheets cauled above us, sang softly for unheard lullabies,

softlier for babies lost;
Saskia whispered ‘I was one of those babies.’

Fish in the trees, fish flying in the trees
Min and Shona sing, climb up through apples to a tree house.

Mermaids swim through mothers.
Below us the Blackwater Valley, river entering this sea, these children.

Image: Photo by Michael Gäbler, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons, /color enhanced from original, mirrored along vertical axis.