In May, my daughter, Rebecca, graduates from college with her degree in physics and a minor in creative writing. It's been exciting as her mom to follow her explorations in both particles and poetry---especially when she emails to say more of her work has been accepted by her school's literary magazine, The Cellar Door. (I'll try to link when "On the Way to Mars" is published later this spring. It's a favorite of mine.)
Many of her poems are about science, and I've shared them here and here. The one I'm sharing today isn't. In the fall of her junior year, Rebecca spent a semester as an exchange student at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. As an Air Force kid, she'd lived all over the world, and was well-practiced at adapting to new people and places, so much so that I didn't worry much about her heading to Dublin alone to find a room to rent.
I guess I should have, because the room she found, while close to campus, was in a flat with clearly unwelcoming landlords. Ones who left her ugly notes if she left a scrap of lettuce on the kitchen counter. She did get to travel throughout Ireland, sing Mozart's Requiem with a local choir, read James Joyce and eat pub food. But when she shared this poem with me, I was reminded of how isolated a strange place can make you feel, no matter how seasoned a world traveler you are. And how much the small kindnesses exchanged between people---or lack thereof---can cure or wound.
I told her that her words made me sad because not everything about her time in Ireland was rosy, and she said: Oh, Mom, it's a poem. I had to make it more dramatic.
|In Northern Ireland|
by Rebecca Holmes
In the last two weeks after I left the rented room
and came to stay with a classmate’s family, it was
the icy inherited house, the high ceiling,
the apples drying over the stove that cured me,
the mince pies. It was the kindness, it was—
it was sleeping the whole night warm like a little sister
on a mattress on the floor, the cold scuttle to the shower,
the steam flooding from a plate of eggs
and potatoes, carols on the radio, dry toast
with butter and jam. It was the antidote
to a frozen grocery store aisle where I stood
between the American-style chocolate chip cookies
and bags of Christmas candy, to walking
back to the room alone past all the bridges
over the Liffey—each early DART ride to school
together was a piece of it, as we ran between the cars
to the front of the train while snow fell over the bay,
slipped the turnstiles at Pearse Street Station,
ran until the flakes melted in the waves.
|Homemade mince pie|