The Night of the Big Wind in Ireland, 1839
All along Ireland’s western seaboard people made peace
with their God, as I try to do now after my son calls again
drunk, this time to say he’s taking off for the woods,
that I should come gather whatever I want
from his narrow loft with its wide bed and ragged
rubber tree. I sit frozen in my chair and continue reading
about Ireland’s Big Wind, when, on the evening
of Saturday, January 5th, snow fell dense and heavy,
and by morning, a sky loaded with motionless clouds.
That afternoon, a stillness so profound
they say voices floated between farmhouses
more than a mile apart. I like to imagine my voice
floating to my son when he wakes from this binge.
Are you still alive? I whisper to air, and hear him reply:
I can’t go on like this. Today’s the day I stop.
But within hours, he’s drunk again and hope melts
as fast as the snow on the 6th, when a band of warm air
shoved the cold east, followed at dusk by wind,
rains mixed with hail, more cold. Sometimes he’s wretched
with regret, admits he’s made a mess of his life,
though by now we’ve lost all trust, even when he’s sober—
those short runs of fair weather, stars clicking
into place. I rarely heed the warnings that he‘s at it again:
edginess, that sketchy beard, a hoary film of worry
that descends. Then the dreams—he’s fallen off
a mountain or into a stream and lies broken somewhere
under branches. By midnight of the 6th, the wind spun
into gales and raged until dawn. Next morning, sun glazed
a wasteland, orchard walls down, slate roofs picked clean,
sea water streaming inland, flooding houses and shops,
gardens and barns, the smell of salt insinuating itself
for weeks. I know all about such smells, how they swim
every tributary of your being and render you senseless.
If my son won’t stop this time, if he takes to the woods,
I’ll do as I always do—climb his stairs, bucket and brush
in hand—and scrub as the Irish scrubbed, down on my knees.