by Eavan Boland

(I bought this collection—long overdue purchase—in Boston on the honeymoon, and started it after arriving home last week.  Such changes, endings and beginnings huge as starfilled summer nights, need some kind of expression.  I couldn’t do it, but these poems have done it; and so I believe God kept this book on the shelf for me, when I left Marshall at the pub to wander around looking for a bookstore, when I came home and needed someone to talk to me about marriage and love.)

In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking—they were both walking—north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold.  Of hunger.  Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered.  How they lived.
And what there is between a man and woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.

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