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Eavan Boland

The Emigrant Irish

Stephen Murphy

Like oil lamps, we put them out the back —

of our houses, of our minds. We had lights
better than, newer than and then

a time came, this time and now
we need them. Their dread, makeshift example:

they would have thrived on our necessities.
What they survived we could not even live.
By their lights now it is time to
imagine how they stood there, what they stood with,
that their possessions may become our power:
Cardboard. Iron. Their hardships parceled in them.
Patience. Fortitude. Long-suffering
in the bruise-colored dusk of the New World.

And all the old songs. And nothing to lose.
Eavan Boland, "The Emigrant Irish," from Outside History: Selected Poems 1980-1990. Copyright © 1987 by Eavan Boland. Used by permission of W.W.Norton & Company, Inc.